Frequently Asked Questions about the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust
By SAM HARRIS
Added: Tue, 20 Nov 2007 00:00:00 UTC
Frequently Asked Questions about the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust
Answered by Sam Harris
1. As a bestselling author, can't Ayaan Hirsi Ali afford to pay for her own protection?
For security reasons, I cannot give specific information about the arrangements that have been made for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but I can say that the average security costs for people with similar security profiles can be in excess of two million dollars per year. Needless to say, very few writers sell enough books to cover such an extraordinary expense (and Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not among them).
This might seem like an outrageous sum to spend so that one woman can safely stand at a university lectern and speak about the power of reason and the rights of little girls—and it is an outrageous sum and an outrageous circumstance. It is, of course, galling that a mere advocate of human rights and basic rationality should require special protection in the United States. But this is simply a fact of life in a world where freedom of speech and conscience falls ever more under the shadow of Muslim fanaticism. In my opinion, there is no one making a more heroic effort to change this fact than Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
2. In your original appeal, you wrote that "if every reader of this email simply pledged ten dollars a month to protect Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the costs of her security would be covered for as long as the threat to her life remains." How can you say this if you don't know how far the email has spread? And if you only need $10 from each person why does the security page have options to give as much as $1000 per month?
The idea of offering a monthly subscription was to allow everyone to make a meaningful contribution to Ms. Hirsi Ali's protection. Given what I know about the general costs of security, and the fact that the original email went out to over 15,000 people, it was correct to say that Ms. Hirsi Ali's needs would be largely met if everyone gave $10 a month indefinitely. However, the truth is that only about half of the people receiving the email will open it; fewer will read it; and fewer still will donate.
I would be extremely happy if we could meet Ms. Hirsi Ali's security needs in a grassroots way, with small donations, but this is not realistic. Protecting her will require some much larger gifts of money. Such gifts are still needed and actively being sought.
3. Aren't there more important causes to support than the protection of Ayaan Hirsi Ali?
There are countless worthy targets for our generosity. Whether it is helping to alleviate hunger in the developing world or building a new pediatric hospital in the United States, one must choose between absolute need and absolute need, and such choices often defy rational justification.
Allow me to briefly make the case, however, that in this wilderness of competing needs and limited resources, the ongoing protection of Ayaan Hirsi Ali deserves our special commitment. In fact, few projects represent such a perfect marriage of moral and intellectual necessity. While the threat of Muslim extremism still seems distant to many of us living in the developed world, I think it is the one problem that has the potential to suddenly eclipse all others.
When one considers the cascading effects of what 19 jihadists did with box-cutters on September 11th, 2001--now measured in the trillions of dollars--it is difficult to imagine how the world might look after a single incident of nuclear terrorism. I think it is safe to say, however, that if we do suffer even one such attack, global warming will seem the least of our concerns. For this reason, I think that the superstition and bigotry that currently plagues Muslim communities, East and West, is the most pressing issue of our time. I know of no person better placed to awaken the world to the scope of this growing emergency than Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
4. Might this just be a waste of money? Do bodyguards actually make a difference?
Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of professional security should remember that Ms. Hirsi Ali's colleague, Theo van Gogh, having declined diplomatic protection of his own, was immediately murdered on an Amsterdam street. It is true that no security can be perfect, especially when one's enemies are willing to commit suicide. But the fact that U.S. diplomats successfully travel to places like Kabul and Baghdad demonstrates that the combination of intelligence, secrecy, and armed protection can make a difference. It is safe to say that Ms. Hirsi Ali is only alive today because the Dutch gave her diplomatic protection the moment she started receiving death threats in 2002.
5. Isn't it true that the Dutch would still protect Ayaan Hirsi Ali if she remained in Holland?
The Dutch government has said as much. But the offer does not seem to be in good faith. The threat to Ms. Hirsi Ali is actually greatest in Holland, and it is much more expensive to protect her there. In fact, the security precautions necessary to keep her safe in Holland are quite stifling. She is much better placed in the U.S. to do her work. (For more on this subject, please see the opinion piece I wrote with Salman Rushdie).
6. Why single out Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Don't other Muslim dissidents need our support?
There surely are other Muslim dissidents who are threatened and deserve our support. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the most visible, however. In the event we raise enough money for her security, we will help others as well. Several of us are in the process of forming non-profit foundations for this larger purpose.
7. What will you do with the money, if you don't raise enough of it?
The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust will pay for Ms. Hirsi Ali's security until the money runs out. Hopefully we will raise enough to cover her needs indefinitely. If we do not raise enough money, and no government steps forward to offer her diplomatic protection, Ms. Hirsi Ali could be forced to stop doing her work and enter the witness protection program. Hopefully it will never come to that.
8. What will you do if you raise more money than is needed?
Given the costs of Ms. Hirsi Ali's security, excess funds are not expected. However, if we raise enough money to cover Ms. Hirsi Ali's security, I will send an announcement by email to every person who has donated to the Security Trust through this website. This will give people a choice about whether to continue to give to a surplus fund. I will, of course, make a similar announcement if Ms. Hirsi Ali is ever given diplomatic protection by the U.S. government (or any other).
The surplus fund will be used to support other dissidents and public intellectuals in the Muslim world - through conferences, media events, publications, or by making similar efforts to pay for their protection.
9. Ayaan Hirsi Ali works for the American Enterprise Institute—a "neoconservative" think-tank. Why should liberals support her?
Ms. Hirsi Ali's cause transcends politics and should motivate liberals and conservatives equally. The American Enterprise Institute, to its great credit and to the enduring shame of my fellow liberals, was the only think-tank to offer Ms. Hirsi Ali a job when her security concerns finally forced her to leave Holland. Even if you find the views of certain AEI fellows as objectionable as I do, please recognize that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an independent scholar. The AEI deserves credit for having the courage and wisdom to support her. While the AEI is shouldering the burden of Ms. Hirsi Ali's security for the time being, it cannot absorb these costs indefinitely.
10. How widely is this appeal being circulated? Is this only a secular effort, or have you reached out to Christians and moderate Muslims as well?
I've reached out to everyone I think could be helpful, including people like Pastor Rick Warren. I am very happy to say that Pastor Warren responded immediately (as fast as the fastest atheist) and pledged to help. I've also sent this appeal to my few contacts among practicing Muslims. Needless to say, I think it would be only fitting if moderate Muslims helped protect Ayaan Hirsi Ali from the immoderate ones.
11. Is there a risk that a high profile appeal such as this might be seen as a victory by the extremists who threaten Muslim apostates?
From my point of view, we don't have the luxury of worrying about this. I think our society should be devoting immense resources to the problem of encouraging and protecting dissidents in the Muslim world. Until governments realize this, private citizens will have to do what they can. The real victory for the extremists would be if someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali could no longer make public appearances and do her work.
12. Will you personally be giving to the Security Trust every month?
Questions about the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please have the subject line read: "Question about the Security Trust"
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