Skip to Content

Share

Joel Whitney: Ayaan Hirsi Ali on AEI’s Openness to Dissent

March 26, 2010

In February 2007, Ayaan Hirsi Ali approached the American Enterprise Institute with a fresh gaze and found it very open to outside ideas, and found her new colleague David Frum a “delightful guy.” My challenge to her now is, will you defend him?

The American Enterprise Institute’s badly timed dismissal of David Frum has capped off the hallowed Tea Party era. It heralds what GOP scapegoat extraordinaire, Bruce Bartlett, calls ““The closing of the conservative mind” “:http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/bruce-bartlett/1601/groupthink-right-would-make-stalin-proud. In a piece for his blog, Bartlett claims Frum said that AEI scholars who favored Obama’s healthcare plan were asked to pipe down.

Liberals, unsurprisingly, pounced, insisting that “the GOP has effectively been divided”:http://harpers.org/archive/2010/03/hbc-90006783 into Frum’s and Karl Rove’s, but with Rove in charge. Many defend Frum as a scapegoat and symbol of reasonable dissent, or engage in what Scott Horton considers Schadenfreude. But Matthew Yglesias, on “Twitter”:http://twitter.com/mattyglesias, “reminds us”:http://bit.ly/btgACG when Frum himself was the purger.

My initial sense of David Frum as merely the zealot who coined Axis of Evil has evolved. It was first challenged by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, in a February 2007 interview, called Frum a “delightful guy,” which convinced me to eventually “interview him”:http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/858/the_limits_to_my_selfimportanc_1/ about the state of neoconservatism just before Obama’s inauguration. I found Frum admirably willing to debate ideas and engage in discussion with someone he was unlikely to find much common ground with. And he entertained some hard questions. (Although in his stuttering reckoning with Plame-gate, he stopped short of directly defending Joe Wilson’s right to his professional opinion.)

bq. My challenge to free thinking AEI scholars like Hirsi Ali, who must remember what it feels like to be scapegoated, is: Will you defend Mr. Delightful Guy?

But what about AEI? Blogger “Connor Friedersdorf”:http://trueslant.com/conorfriedersdorf/2010/03/26/actually-aei-folks-have-been-weighing-in-on-health-care/ poo-poos Bartlett’s claim that AEI scholars who agreed with Obamacare were hushed. Why? Because none of the ones who haven’t been fired want to say anything but how _totally awesome_ AEI is. And that fits at least with what Hirsi Ali _expected_ of her new employers and colleagues back in 2007.

She insisted AEI was very open to outside and unorthodox ideas, such as her well-publicized atheism, and even—she implied—her quest for social justice perhaps through social welfare programs, what Tea Partiers might call “socialism.” How did she know? This is what they told her when they were begging her to come work there.

All to say, I wish I were convinced. The Bush administration made such a routine of it, that I feel instinctively convinced this _is_ a purging, and that it spells trouble for the GOP. (First Colin Powell and Francis Fukuyama, then Andrew Sullivan. Now Frum.) Why do I think this? The timing, the timing, the timing. Beyond the timing, turning back a phrase like Waterloo at the GOP coiners, in their culture, is tantamount to quitting, un-staying the course, as it were, declaring independence. You can be critical of the small on the right, but not the Grand Narrative. Unity first.

My challenge to free thinking neocons, centrists and AEI scholars like Hirsi Ali, who has a new book coming out in May, and who _must_ remember what it feels like to be scapegoated, is: Will you defend Mr. Delightful Guy?

Meanwhile, the left’s purging of dissent is a matter I will come back to another day.

Here’s what Ali said in our interview:

**Guernica:** Well, that might be a good place to ask you about the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), your new employers. A lot of their critics would point out that the neocons…

**Ayaan Hirsi Ali:** The American Enterprise Institute is not a political entity; all [the journalists today] have asked me that. It’s a think tank. What AEI tries to do is influence public policy.

**Guernica:** But they do have a preponderance of neoconservatives there.

**Ayaan Hirsi Ali:** They do, and there are some Democrats there. They started as a free market think tank that wanted as little government interference as possible in the affairs of society–limited government. When I read about them I found very little on foreign policy. Their foreign policy seems to have started in the last few years. If there were a Democratic administration in the White House, they would try to influence that administration as much as possible. I haven’t come into a political organization; I’ve come into a think tank. They think about different issues. There is a controversy between some of the scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and me–not all.

**Guernica:** Such as?

**Ayaan Hirsi Ali:** I think all the scholars who are against gay marriages, abortion, euthanasia; I know very little about it. I have my ideas on limited government, I’m for limited government but I’m also for–I mean, it’s not as simple as that. I don’t think that being a superpower, the wealthiest country on earth, and having your homeless people and psychiatric patients walking in the streets and eating out of garbage cans is something to be proud of. But I don’t have the answer.

The issues that I’ve just discussed, the fact that I’m an atheist, I’ve discussed it with my employer and he said, “It’s fine.” They are not interested. He said, “We learn from people we find controversial.” I’m talking about Chris Demuth, who employed me and he said controversy, for him, is the means to progress.

**Guernica:** That seems to be in line with your…

**Ayaan Hirsi Ali:** That seems to be very much in line (laughs) with me. But also, going to a think tank, I didn’t become a member of a church (laughs)–or some religious sect.

**Guernica:** So you don’t see AEI as the neoconservative “brotherhood”?

**Ayaan Hirsi Ali:** No, I don’t see them as the neoconservative brotherhood. I just see them, some of our scholars, as having very very strong ideas, theories on how and in what direction American foreign policy should go. And in that they are right in the middle of the debate–leading–so I have nothing against that. I think if you want to refute it then you should just polish up your theories; don’t complain that they are neocons.

**Guernica:** David Frum is there–

**Ayaan Hirsi Ali:** Yes, he’s a delightful guy.

**Guernica:** He coined the phrase “Axis of Evil.”

**Ayaan Hirsi Ali:** I don’t know if he did–

**Guernica:** He sure did–ask him.

**Ayaan Hirsi Ali:** Ok, I will (laughs). If he did he should be proud of it.

**Guernica:** He should be proud of that?

**Ayaan Hirsi Ali:** Well, I think he should be. The mistake that the Bush administration should admit to is not so much that they made the wrong choices. They made the right analysis; they made the right choices. But what they did wrong was the execution of those choices. That was wrong.

Here’s the “rest”:http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/283/infidel_1/.

Readers like you make Guernica possible. Please show your support.

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterAdd to BufferShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrSubmit to StumbleUpon
Submit to redditShare on App.netShare via email

You might also like

Leave a comment




Anti-Spam Quiz:

Subscribe without commenting