Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Spending the legacy of freedom

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some worrying indications that the kids are not alright. Fundamental elements of our society like free speech are increasingly under attack from a kind of weaponized identity politics whose goal is not to introduce and debate new ideas but to silence voices that they find threatening or offensive (often those are assumed to be one and the same).

Recently, I came across an interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali in which she spoke about the inability of many in the West to realize that the foundational ideas of freedom are not a default state but a legacy handed to them by previous generations. I’m jumping into part 2 of a longer interview, all of which is worth watching. Hirsi Ali was discussing the principles of freedom, equality, and tolerance for differing views that she believes results in the beautiful outcome of freedom for millions of people. “You’re free to do what you want and life is stable and it’s predictable,” she says.

“You can have your friends in your community, you can build, you can have a passion and develop it. You can indulge your senses—art, music, love for cooking, love for others. It’s so much more attractive. In fact, when I came to Holland and here in America, often I think ‘But this is paradise.’ I want to live as long as possible.”

She goes on to say that the voices of the West ought to challenge some of the regressive views of the world found in the Middle East, asking individuals to make a choice about whether fundamentalist views of Islam are really the best choice for the world. She argued that these ideas create a world which is, not surprisingly, materially deficient and poor. “If the principle of Sharia is the prevailing principle, people will be poor,” she said. “If you lock up women that way and you keep them ignorant you’re going to have a society that’s extremely poor,” she added.

The problem as she sees it is a failure of many in the West to recognize how valuable their cultural inheritance is. “I remember being in Holland and seeing this idea of freedom, it was the identity of the Dutch man, almost a biological identity,” Hirsi Ali said. He continued, “People took it so for granted. They couldn’t understand why people didn’t just adapt. They didn’t see that it was something that they had learned from their parents and their environment…their parents had learned from their parents.

“I always compare it to wealthy—children of wealthy family businesses. First generation is the one that makes the money. Next generation kind of knows what the first generation went through, they are conscious of the fact they have to carry these responsibilities forward. But ultimately a generation comes that spends and doesn’t know where it all comes from.”

“We’re living at a time when lots of Westerners are really spending this legacy of freedom and they don’t know…they don’t know what it is not to be free,” Hirsi Ali says.

The whole interview is worth watching, but this bit (which starts about 10 minutes in) seemed especially appropriate as we get ready to celebrate Independence Day.