The Weekly Standard is not exactly the place we'd normally expect to find a lesson on the historical and ideological unity of the movements to end institutionalized racism and sexism, but times are weird and last week's issue of the conservative journal looked at the lives of both abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the anti-Islam feminist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. From the biracial background to the teetotaling to the claims that he got "elitist" in his old age, the life of Douglass could probably more easily be said to parallel Barack Obama's, but then it wouldn't be the Weekly Standard, it would be some 8th grade term paper. The point is, both crusaders get some pretty rad sentences in. Click the cover for inspiring quotes! [Weekly Standard]
That November, she attended a public debate on the subject "The West or Islam: Who Needs a Voltaire?" The first three speakers called for a new Voltaire in the West, a rational reformer to counter Western arrogance and neocolonialism and consumerist decadence. Only the last speaker, a refugee from Iran who taught law at Amsterdam University, spoke up for the "critical renewal" of Islam.
During the question and answer period, comment was heavily supportive of the first view. Finally Hirsi Ali raised her hand. Here is what she said as she recalled it in her 2007 memoir, Infidel: Look at how many Voltaires the West has. Don't deny us the right to have our Voltaire, too. Look at our women, and look at our countries. Look at how we are all fleeing and asking for refuge here, and how people are now flying planes into buildings in their madness. Allow us a Voltaire, because we are truly living in the Dark Ages.
And speaking of said Dark Ages: In a gesture that Hirsi Ali will appreciate-she considers the date of her escape to freedom her "real birthday"-Frederick Douglass marked the tenth anniversary of his escape in a special way. He published in the North Star an open letter to his former owner, Thomas Auld, one of the slaveholders whose religious profession he deemed a travesty. It is a most unusual and highly charged communication, and this is how it ends:
I will now bring this letter to a close; you shall hear from me again unless you let me hear from you. I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery-as a means of concentrating public attention on the system, and deepening the horror of trafficking in the souls and bodies of men. I shall make use of you as a means of exposing the character of the American church and clergy-and as a means of bringing this guilty nation, with yourself, to repentance. In doing this, I entertain no malice toward you personally. There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant. Indeed, I should esteem it a privilege to set you an example as to how mankind ought to treat each other.
I am your fellow-man, but not your slave.