Logo SAVE - Sisters against violent extremism

06. December 2007

London / UK - Islam and the Future of the West: A debate with Ed Husain and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

A debate with Ed Husain and Ayaan Hirsi Ali featured by the Centre for Social Cohesion, London

Ed Husain was one of the speakers at our conference “Muslims and the West: Living together – but how?” on October 18th in Vienna, Austria. Please click here to read more about this event.

Rafael Kropiunigg, a student at the Royal Holloway University of London in England, attended the debate and posted this to us:

On Tuesday November 20, 2007, Ed Husain and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, two of the most knowledgeable experts on Islam in a modern context, came together in Westminster to debate on Islam and the future of the West. Both speakers share a common history; at once victims of extremist ideology in the early stages of their lives, they sought and found ways of moving beyond such radicalism to assume more moderate values. These motivational speakers believe that political Islam is a modern concept that provides the foundation for the evolution of extremism in the West; at the same time, they strongly disagree on many of the finer details concerning this issue.

Ed Husain, author of The Islamist, set the grounds for debate with his first confrontational criticism of Hirsi's approach toward the question of terrorism. He claimed that Hirsi had openly stated that “the war on terror should be a war on Islam.” Husain countered this argument by saying, "I strongly disagree; Islamic faith is what got me out of it." He offered examples of audience members who had been influenced by political extremism and escaped it by reaching out to Islam. A crucial point Husain elaborated on was the distinction between Islam and Islamism: ‘Islamism’, he suggested, is a political ideology derived from the 1950's; ‘Islam’ is religion that does not incorporate political values. The modern conception of 'Islamism' is, regrettably, often confused with the religion that takes on a more traditional form.

The next controversial issue that Husain emphasized was the role of the Sharia, the concept of Islamic religious law. Husain stated that, today, the Sharia is receiving negative media attention, although the concept itself is not a modern one. Husain implied that Sharia law, in fact, has been adapted to honour life, property and much more, and that the concept of stoning as a form of punishment has been rejected by the great majority of Muslims, despite the fact that it was adapted by the prophet Mohammed. According to Husain, "The problem is more complicated than we make it out to be. The problem does not lie in the Koran." Again, Hirsi did not support Husain's standing on this matter.

"Why is it accepted that nine-year-old girls are wearing headscarves?" Husain questioned in a rhetorical and provocative manner. “In 2007, I hope Muslim men are beyond temptation of that tyranny," he continued. On the subject of social integration, Husain raised the point that he, himself, had never learned about the process by which Britain became a social democracy. "I think we have a lot to learn from Christian reformation. It takes time and understanding. Chief Rabbis said it took two world wars to develop," Husain stated.

In the West, integration is extremely important to prevent the emerging of ghettos. Islamic women, especially, often suffer in the West. They are subject to domestic violence and often have very little access to social services. Husain's concept of the potential implementation of rehabilitation centres as a means of taking people out of a backward mindset and promote integration was not a popular idea with Hirsi.

Conclusively Husain commented, "The Islam we foster in Great Britain today is the kind of Islam we will see 30 years down the road. If we fix it here, we have every beacon of hope to shine it to the East."

Ayaan Hirsi Ali commenced her speech by criticising Husain's attack. "I said the war that the West is fighting is a war on Islam." She moves onto a critical approach of Muslims, in general:
"Every time Muslims debate (I was also a fundamentalist) they either get angry and emotional about it or stay quiet. I think that Islam can be reformed; I am here to defend Muslims. However, Muslims are incapable of reforming. It is not an excuse to say that stoning was implemented by Christians a long time ago. Look at countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. There, stoning goes on in the name of the Sharia."

These are all points on which Husain most strongly disagrees with.

Islam and Muslims are distinct, meaning they choose how to follow their faith. The moderates choose what they do and do not follow, literally, in the Koran. Many fathers give away underage daughters with the argument that Mohammed also did it, which (we later find out, according to Husain) is not true. Further, Hirsi claims there is a conflict of values. Islam demands that the individual undermine her or himself and, thus, become a slave of her or his own faith. Liberal democracies, on the other hand, allow the individual to choose and follow personal beliefs freely.

"There are people out there who believe that killing me is good," Hirsi articulates, suggesting that liberals are responsible for shutting down wrong values. She does not believe in compromises. Two value systems that continue to ‘agree to disagree’ are no longer working. "I would not give up my freedom just to compromise. Laissez-faire worked for many decades, since the minorities were so insignificantly small. Western minorities living in Saudi Arabia obeyed them. Yet, the Bali, Madrid, Twin Tower bombings changed everything." She notes that we can no longer agree to disagree. “Muslims who come to the West to seek a better life are welcomed; it is their choice after all. But they may gladly return to their home countries if they are not happy with their choice of a better life. If they want Sharia, the can go back." She finished the speech with a strong statement: "You either put up or you shut up."

As a young undergraduate student at the Royal Holloway University of London, I feel I can relate to what Ed Husain is saying. In my opinion, both the problem and the answer to successful integration lie amongst youth. It is evident that youth are often more corruptible, confused, lonely, and disoriented. Thus, young students may look to the extremes for answers. It is the responsibility of the state to implement more integration policies and teach young people living in Britain about the history of the country and the importance of identity. As long as individuals feel that they do not belong, the danger of the emergence of extremist groups will prevail.

Ed Husain wrote a commentary in the Guardian on this debate. Please click here to read it.


« Back to overviewSend a friend Print article