What Radical Islam and the Woke Have In Common

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You’d think that Islamist extremists and leftist radicals would have nothing in common. But noted human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali has good reason to believe this is no longer the case. She explains in this eye-opening video.

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There were many American heroes on 9/11, but the greatest were the passengers and crew of Flight 93. Not only did they avert what al Qaeda planned—a direct hit on the White House—but they also embodied Patrick Henry’s credo “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Do those words still have a meaning in America today? 

For two decades, I have spoken out against those strands of Islam that gave rise to al Qaeda.

In this fight for freedom, I have faced many death threats. Yet I have always consoled myself that, in the U.S., freedom of conscience and expression were paramount values. It was partly for this reason that I moved here and became a citizen in 2013.

It never occurred to me that free speech would come under threat in my newly adopted country.

In 2014 I was invited to receive an honorary degree at Brandeis University and then ungraciously disinvited. Even when I first encountered what has come to be known as “cancel culture,” I didn’t fret too much. I was inclined to dismiss the alliance of campus leftists and Islamists as a lunatic fringe.

They are not the fringe anymore.

Many on the Left—academia, the media, and now even the corporate world—have inculcated in a generation of students an ideology that has much more in common with the intolerant doctrines of a religious cult than with the secular political thought I studied at Holland’s Leiden University.

In the debates after 9/11, many people sought materialist explanations for the attacks: the jihadis lacked educational and employment opportunities; they were angry at American foreign policy in the Middle East, and so on. 

I argued that none of these could explain the motivations of the plotters and hijackers, all of whom, in any case, came from middle-class and upper-class homes. Their goal was religious and political: to denounce Arab governments as corrupt and their Western allies as infidels, and ultimately to overthrow the existing order in the Middle East and establish a caliphate.

American policy makers preferred the materialist explanations, as they implied actions to solve the problem: invasion, regime change, democratization. It was unpopular to suggest that the terrorists might have unshakable convictions having nothing to do with material considerations.

Two decades later, we see a similar dynamic, only this time it is within America’s borders. 

Naive observers explain the Black Lives Matter protests and riots of 2020 in terms of blacks’ material disadvantages. These are real, as are the (far worse) socio-economic problems of the Arab world. But they hide the leaders’ real motivations.

Their ideology goes by many names: social justice, critical race theory, and intersectionality are just a few. 

For simplicity, I call it all Wokeism.

I am not about to equate Wokeism and Islamism. Islamism is a militant strain of an ancient faith. Its believers have a coherent sense of what Allah wants them to achieve on earth to earn rewards in the afterlife. 

Wokeism is just another version of Marxism; it scorns religion and the idea of an afterlife.

Wokeism divides society into myriad identities, whereas Islamists’ division is simpler: believers and unbelievers.

There are many other differences. But consider the resemblances. 

The adherents of each pursue ideological purity, certain of their own rectitude. 

Neither Islamists nor the Woke will engage in debate; both prefer indoctrination of the submissive and damnation of those who resist.

The two ideologies have distinctive rituals: Islamists shout “Allahu Akbar” and “Death to America”; the Woke shout “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.”

Islamists pray to Mecca; the Woke take the knee. 

Both like burning the American flag.

Both take offense at every opportunity and demand not just apologies but concessions. 

Islamism inveighs against “blasphemy”; Wokeism wants to outlaw “hate speech.” 

Islamists use the word “Islamophobia” to silence critics; the Woke do the same with “racism.”

Both ideologies aim to tear down the existing system and replace it with utopias that always turn out to be hellish anarchies: Islamic State in Raqqa, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle. 

Both are collectivist: Group identity trumps the individual. 

Both tolerate—and often glorify—violence carried out by zealots.

The grievances of Islamists and the Woke aren’t merely economic and they won’t be satisfied with jobs or entitlements, or any other blandishments politicians are willing to offer.  

Their motivations are ideological, and they will be satisfied only with power. And then they’ll demand more power. 

I cling to the hope that most Americans are still willing to fight and, if necessary, to die to preserve our freedoms, our rights, our customs, our history. 

That was the spirit of Flight 93. 

We need to summon that spirit again. 

I’m Ayaan Hirsi Ali, research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford for Prager University.