Is fundamentalism on the rise

They are fundamentalists. Although they have no faith. And they burn US flags - even on American streets

Ayaan Hirsi Ali sharply criticized Islam - and was targeted by Islamists. She believed she found freedom of speech in the United States. But now she sees similar tendencies there. This time with the illiberal left.

September 11, 2001 turned many Americans into heroes. The greatest of them were the passengers and the crew of Flight 93. They not only thwarted al-Qaeda’s plan to attack the White House directly at the risk of their lives, but they stand for the credo with which Patrick Henry 1775 the residents Virginias called for participation in the War of Independence: "Give me freedom or give me death!"

Do these words still have any meaning in America in 2020? For two decades I fought against the fanatical illiberalism of the Islamist currents from which al-Qaeda arose. I broke with my Somali family and ultimately with their beliefs because I was convinced that human freedom, not an outdated doctrine, should be sacrosanct.

Freedom of speech under attack

So merciless are the Sharia advocates that they repeatedly threatened me with death. But I always comforted myself with the thought that in the United States, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech precedes all creeds. For this reason, I decided to live there and became an American citizen in 2013.

It would never have occurred to me that free speech could come under attack in my new home. Even after my first encounter with what is now called “cancel culture” - in 2014 I should have received an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University and was then rudely unloaded - I wasn't too worried. I classified the alliance of campus leftists and Islamists that brought about the sudden change in the extremist fringe groups.

But the power of the illiberal elements on the American left has increased, not just in academia, but also in the media and numerous companies. An ideology has been instilled into a generation of students that has much more in common with the intolerant teachings of a religious cult than with the secular political thinking that I became familiar with during my studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

On the wrong track

In the debates that followed 9/11, many sought materialist explanations for the terrorist attacks. Some blamed it on American foreign policy in the Middle East, others cited educational deficits and the lack of job opportunities in the Arab countries.

I countered that none of these arguments could be used to explain the motivation of those who planned and carried out the attacks, because the perpetrators were anything but underprivileged. Their goal was religious and political: they wanted to wage jihad against their co-religionists, unless they bowed to a literal interpretation of Islam, the Arab governments wanted to denounce their corruption and their Western allies as infidels. Ultimately, they hoped to overthrow the existing order in the Middle East and establish a caliphate.

The American politicians, of course, gave preference to materialistic thought patterns, because they showed ways in which the evil could be dealt with: invasion, regime change, democratization. Anyone who pointed out that the terrorists might have acted out of unshakable, immaterial convictions made themselves unpopular.

Secular fundamentalists

Nineteen years later, we see a similar dynamic at work, but one that comes from within rather than from without. Naive viewers explain last summer's protests with the material disadvantage of African Americans. This actually exists, as do the (even worse) socio-economic problems of the Arab world. But it is not the real driving force behind the protests, which, as it appears, are led mainly by well-off whites.

Their ideology has many names: «cancel culture», social justice, critical racial theory, intersectionality. For the sake of simplicity, I call all of this "wokeism" - after the word "woke", which often stands for an overly sharpened social awareness of problems.

I don't want to put wokeism and Islamism on the same level. Islamism is a militant variety of a centuries-old religion. His followers have a coherent picture of what God requires of them to be rewarded after death. Wokeism is in many ways a Marxist creed that does not point to an afterlife. Instead, it divides society into innumerable identities, while Islamism is content with a simpler order: believers and unbelievers, men and women.


There are many other differences. But let's look at the similarities. In both places, supporters of ideological purity are committed and are convinced that they are on the right side. Neither Islamists nor the people who call themselves “woke” are open to discussion; both prefer to indoctrinate those who give in and condemn those who resist.

Both ideologies have their rituals: Islamists shout "Allahu akbar" and "Death to America"; whoever is “woke” shouts “Black Lives Matter” and “I can't breathe”. Islamists offer their prayers to Mecca; those who are “woke” bend their knees when the national anthem sounds. Both like to burn the American flag.

Both believe that those who are unconverted should be bullied or deserve worse. Both are offended at every opportunity and demand not just an apology, but concessions. Islamism zealously against blasphemy, wokeism wants to ban "hate speech". Islamists try to silence their opponents with the term “Islamophobia”, while Wokeism uses “racism” instead.

Islamists abhor the Jews. Those who “woke” say that they only hate Israel, but anti-Semitism is widespread in the movement. Both have a common love for iconoclasm: statues, watch out!

Both ideologies want to destroy the existing system and replace it with utopias, which then always turn out to be hellish anarchies: the so-called Islamic State in Raqqa, the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone”, which was proclaimed during the “Black Lives Matter” protests in Seattle and had to be evacuated by the police after a series of acts of violence. Both are collectivist: group identity comes before individuality. Both tolerate - and often glorify - violence on behalf of their cause.

Claims to power

So let's forget the children's tales about such enemies of free society. Their displeasure is not solely due to economic disadvantage, and they will not be satisfied with jobs or other demands. Their motivation is ideological and power is the only thing that satisfies them.

I hold on to the hope that most Americans will still be willing to fight as a nation to preserve our freedom, rights, customs and history and, if necessary, to die. That was the spirit of Flight 93. It was the spirit that defeated al-Qaeda and ISIS in the end. But it is not the spirit that guides the protesters on behalf of the “wokeness” today. And it's time we faced this fact.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and founder of the AHA Foundation. From 2003 to 2006 she was a member of the Parliament of the Netherlands. Your text appeared in the original in the "Wall Street Journal".