Saturday, April 29, 2006

Evicting Moral Courage

"First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."--Martin Niemoeller

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s neighbors have successfully sued to force her removal from their apartment complex.

The EU court that heard the appeal based its decision on Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees respect for a person's private and family life. The Dutch government may appeal the ruling because of the challenges that such a precedent will pose to its efforts to provide protection to various people under threat. If the ruling stands, Hirsi Ali will have just a few months to relocate.

Somali-born Hirsi Ali is known as a critic of aspects of Islam and she went into hiding in November 2004 when filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered. They had finished work shortly before his murder on Submission, a short film about the ill-treatment of women under Islam.

Hirsi Ali and fellow MP Geert Wilders spent several months in hiding in secret locations due to death threats made against them because of their stance on Islam. "I think this is dreadful, horrible to have to move. I am happy living here and I feel safe," Hirsi Ali said in response to the judgement.

So it comes down to this: Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s history of moral courage in defending and demanding the rights of women, free speech and more is rewarded by the cowardice of her neighbors, validated and encouraged by an EU court. I can understand that not everyone—-indeed most of us—-are not and cannot be a Hirsi Ali. Greatness is reserved for the few, after all. But at a bare minimum, each and every one of us has some sort of ethical responsibility to support the Hirsi Ali’s of the world, and fear—-while understandable—-is no justification for falling down on that job.

When we do, evil and oppression win, if not sooner, then later. And yes: I do think it’s that simple. Some few things in the world are.

Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk has this to say, among other things:

A few things. Firstly, it should be noted that Hirsi Ali is now booted out of her own house by virtue of the European Treaty for Human Rights which does indeed supersede Dutch law. Many cases are adjudicated by referring to this treaty, but given the subject matter here I would say: Euroskeptics, go knock yourselves out.

Secondly, and this is the one that really bothers me, is that somehow Hirsi Ali’s neighbors self-interest runs so deep that they are prepared to use the court system to throw someone whose life is in danger out of her own house. It goes like this: we’re tolerant, we support free speech and a critical attitude, but if it comes too close to our front porch, sorry, we are no longer interested. On the contrary, self-interest is the deciding motivator. True, Hirsi Ali’s flatmates do have a reasonable point in arguing that the Dutch State has an obligation to ensure that their security measures benefit the entire complex. If the State has dropped the ball in that respect, they should be compelled by the courts to correct this, but to put the burden on Hirsi Ali is a very disturbing precedent. …

The rest of his post is equally powerful, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Hat tip.

The neighbors say that their suit was really against the state, whose actions “exposed them to danger,” according to the Expatica article. But they’ve clearly lost sight of the bigger picture, in terms of what the real dangers are and from whence they come.

It doesn’t come from Hirsi Ali’s presence among them. It comes from forces of extremism and oppression. It comes from those who disavow any other belief system other than their own and are prepared to back that narrowness with violence. It comes from philosophies that appear more tolerant of people like that than those who would disavow such attitudes. It comes from appeasement on the part of governments. It comes from a thousand little acts of submission by ordinary people.

It comes from us. From you. From me.

Not long ago, I made the mistake of bringing up the concept of moral courage in a comments section elsewhere. Almost immediately, that idea was dismissed, even pooh-poohed, and I assume it was because the word “moral” is immediately associated with religion and petty "moralism." But moral courage isn’t about that (although, at its best, religion can, and I think should, promote it). Moral courage is an ethical construct, a way of approaching the world and our core responsibilities in it that transcend any particular religion or time or place. It defines us as thinking human beings who can face not just our physical fears (which are predicated on failure) but our ethical ones (which are predicated on success).

In this paper (scroll down), John McCain is quoted as writing in Why Courage Matters: The Way To A Braver Life:

“Physical courage is often needed to overcome our fear of the consequences of failure, [while] moral
courage, more often than not, confronts the fear of the consequences of our success.”

Think about that one for a moment.

(There are many essays and some books on the topic of moral courage, by the way; but for the purposes of this post, I thought it better and more accessible to find 'net essays/papers.)

I've traveled far afield from where I started when I first sat down to write this post, which I'll admit is not my most coherent. But that's what happens sometimes when a piece of news hits you so hard in the gut with a sense of human failure and lack of moral imagination that it's hard to breathe properly. For that reason, I won't apologize for the rambling nature of this bit of writing. Its purpose is not to settle anything, but rather to help me understand that which I'm finding increasingly unfathomable. It's part of an ongoing start, not a conclusion--though I've certainly drawn some of those along the way.

Meanwhile, there is Hirsi Ali, who's definitively further along the path to enlightened moral courage than most of us, a subset of whom reject her very physical presence among them, out of fear and because of their narrow imaginations about the bigger picture. On May 4, she is slated to receive the AJC Moral Courage Award, which I was interested to discover is on the 'net largely in press release form. I'm not seeing where this was covered in major media outlets, but perhaps I'm missing something. Nor does it appear to have been picked up widely in the blogosphere, though I see that Booker Rising caught it.

This coming Tuesday, Hirsi Ali will launch her new book, "A Caged Virgin," in New York. (Remember that it was her first one, "The Son Factory," which first earned her death threats. She was forced into hiding following the murder of Theo Van Gogh, with whom she'd made the film "Submission.") The impending release of the book has garnered some attention, and I hope it will rally more people to her support, if not for the ideas she espouses, then at least her right to express them.

After that? Well, I guess she goes--home.

Wherever that's supposed to be.