Timothy Garton Ash har møtt Ayaan Hirsi Ali på britisk jord, og ble imponert over hennes styrke og tankekraft. Ayaan tar opplysningstenkerne og liberale filosofer på alvor, i en tid da mange i Europa ser ut til å ha glemt dem.

Ayaan lever med beskyttelse 24 timer i døgnet, og det er hennes problem, ikke de som gjør henne utrygg. Hvis noe skjer med henne, kommer avisene til å fordømme det, men ikke noe mer. – Det handler ihvertfall ikke om islam, skrev Dagbladet på lederplass.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is much more than just a voice for the voiceless oppressed. In person, she is a thoughtful, calm, clear, almost pedantic spokeswoman for the fundamental liberal values of the Enlightenment: individual rights, free speech, equality before the law. At dinner afterwards, she told me how these liberal individualist ideals were first quickened in her by reading English literature as a schoolgirl in Kenya, where her family had fled from Somalia. She loved the work of Charles Dickens and George Orwell. (As a young Muslim girl, she briefly thought the horrible behaviour of the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm helped explain why Muslims don’t eat pork.) Then, studying political science in the Netherlands, she discovered the classics of western liberalism. Two authors she particularly admires are John Stuart Mill and Karl Popper.

This right to free speech, which is to an open society what oxygen is to human life, is under direct threat from people whose position is very simple: if you say that, we will kill you…
How does our government react? By extending police protection to threatened individuals, to be sure, as it did for Salman Rushdie. By making the right noises about tolerance, peaceful protest and free speech. But also – shamefully, stupidly, cravenly – by itself proposing to restrict that right, in an ill-considered, ill-drafted bill to bar «incitement to religious hatred». Among the motives behind the reintroduction of this already once rejected bill in Labour’s last election manifesto were appeasement of some self-appointed spokespersons of the Muslim community in Britain and transparent political opportunism – as the distinguished human-rights lawyer and Liberal Democrat peer Anthony Lester observes in an excellent book prepared by English PEN (Free Expression is No Offence, edited by Lisa Appignanesi); he says that the bill was introduced as «a targeted bid to woo British Muslim support for New Labour in marginal constituencies where hostility to the illegal invasion of Iraq had alienated many Muslim and other potential voters from Labour to the Liberal Democrats».

Det finnes fellestrekk mellom det britiske lovforslaget og Erna Solbergs antidiskrimineringslov, som trer i kraft 1. januar. Utgangspunktet er det samme, og bevisstløsheten om skadevirkningene likeså.

Blair must show leadership in the battle for free expression
Ayaan Hirsi Ali risks her life for free speech. Will this government risk losing a few votes for the same cause?