I still can’t quite believe that it’s been over 5 years since I became AHA Foundation’s Executive Director. We’ve had many victories in this time. We’ve seen a slew of new laws passed banning female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage across the nation, including the bumper year of 2019 when we witnessed the highest ever number of state FGM bans in a single year.
We fulfilled our founder Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s dream of reaching out to college students when we launched a campus program, the Critical Thinking Fellowship (CTF), to promote free speech and Enlightenment ideas at colleges across the nation. We have spearheaded the creation of a new network committed to exposing and opposing Islamism, the CLARITy Coalition.
But this period represents only about a third of AHA’s history, which stretches back to October 19, 2007, when we were incorporated as The Foundation for Freedom of Expression in the District of Columbia. As the original name shows, we started out with a narrower focus, but we broadened out very quickly to helping the most vulnerable in our society: women and girls at risk of FGM, child/forced marriage, honor violence, and other such abuses.
Yet, as our campus program shows, we never lost sight of that original ideal, either: we saw these seemingly disparate projects as rooted in the same underlying principle of fighting for liberty for all.
And that is also why our name became AHA Foundation, after our founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. AHA was set up to put Ayaan’s ideas into practice, and ever since our incorporation, that is exactly what we have done. Ayaan is a tireless champion for women’s rights and free speech and inquiry as well as a committed opponent of Islamist extremism. AHA Foundation stands for these things, too, and we are proud to stand alongside our founder in these difficult and often sensitive but essential battles.
As we celebrate 15 years, we have some news for you. AHA Foundation has a revamped mission statement, one that will hopefully carry us into the next 15 years and possibly even beyond. It is a call to arms: “to preserve, protect, and promote Western freedoms and ideals.”
Though this might seem like a big change, I want to emphasize that we stand for exactly the same things we always have: the emancipation of women, free speech, free inquiry, anti-extremism, and secular, Enlightenment values. These freedoms and ideals mainly originated and were advanced in the West. They are the best of the West. They are applicable to and protect everyone, everywhere, regardless of skin color, religion, or any other characteristic.
The fights we have been involved in since 2007 are the same ones as in 2022. But we must take stock of new realities, and our revamped mission statement is a recognition of the sheer scale of the task ahead of us.
We stand at a juncture in history. These inspiring Western ideals are everywhere under threat. We face many challenges, from cancel culture to Islamist extremism, and we must choose now whether or not we stand up for Western freedoms and ideals or cower and lose them—not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren, too.
We must not let partisan divides obscure the commonalities we as Americans, as citizens, all share: we all believe in these freedoms and ideals. We must not let polarization undermine them. At AHA, we are well aware of the historic turning point we face, and we will not stand idly by and just hope for the best: we will act in defense of our Western freedoms.
We will continue advocating for legislation to protect women and girls from FGM, child marriage, and other oppressive traditions. We will continue fighting to protect free speech on campuses and beyond. We will continue opposing Islamist extremism. All of this, and more, remain at the core of AHA Foundation. Our revamped mission is a reaffirmation of our commitment to these fights as well as an indication of the scope of our goals. Stay tuned for news on new projects that expand on our existing commitments.
As we look forward to the future, to the next 15 and more years, we are excited to share with you this revamped mission statement. We hope you will keep supporting us as you have done in the past. Together, nothing can stop us. Together, we can ensure that Western freedoms and ideals triumph over tyranny.
So join me in raising a glass to 15 years of AHA Foundation and to Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself, without whom none of the past decade and a half of our achievements would have been possible. And raise a glass to yourself, too, because without you, we would never be able to do our essential work.
Stand with us as we go forward to preserve, protect, and promote Western freedoms and ideals.
Here’s to the next 15 years!