Published: Jan. 21, 2020

Ayaan Hirsi Ali says people who view themselves as victims are holding themselves and society back, and she will make that case in an appearance at the University of Colorado Boulder this month.

Ali will deliver a lecture titled “The Market for Victimhood” on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. in the University Memorial Center’s Glenn Miller Ballroom on campus. Reservations are recommended and can be obtained by clicking on this Eventbrite link.

Ali, a former Muslim and now a human-rights advocate who has been named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” is the author of Infidel and Heretic: Why Islam Needs Reformation Now. 

Her appearance at CU Boulder is sponsored by The Abbey and Douglas Brown Family Foundation and the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization. Recently, she answered questions from the center. The questions and answers follow:

Question: The title of your lecture at CU Boulder is “The Market for Victimhood.” What is the market for victimhood? 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: In America today, there is a high demand for victims, for members of oppressed groups. There is no end to the supply of outlets that encourage and honor this victimhood mentality, because emphasizing structural victimization signals, for a growing number of people, one’s virtue. Some have called this trend, and I view this as a critical term, “the oppression Olympics.” 

What is called “intersectionality” has helped create a tremendous market for grievances, victimhood and layers of alleged oppression. One visible result is widely reported claims of oppressive attacks (hate crimes) that subsequently turn out to be hoaxes. Far more damaging, but less visible, however, is the widespread psychological damage done to individuals who feel they are victims, hammered by invisible forces, who become paralyzed or wallow in their perceived misfortune. 

In my view, this trend towards victimhood takes agency away from individuals, and encourages them to view themselves as trampled under structural oppressive layers over which they have little to no control. “Everything is stacked against them!”—as it were.  

As someone who grew up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya, the question should not be, “How much adversity have you encountered in your life?” but rather, “How much resilience do you have, and how can you increase this resilience, to then turn around and help empower individuals who at present need some type of help?” 

Western civilization specializes in developing solutions to problems. Viewing oneself as a victim—this does not put someone on the path to greatness. There is also a growing danger in young people in Western countries believing that Western civilization has but little to offer the rest of the world. 

Question: If people attending your lecture take away only one message, what would it be?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Many universities today focus quite meticulously on the mistakes of Western civilization and American history, rather than on its real achievements, such as the abolition of slavery; moving towards ending the subjugation of women; expanding genuine religious tolerance; instituting a separation between church and state; and fostering innovation.  

Privately, a not-insignificant number of people in my native Somalia would envy the achievements of Western civilization, not only its material accomplishments but the ability to speak freely, to think critically, to build a professional life as a woman, to trust in a predictable, stable rule of law, to change one’s religion without being punished. Collective pride may prevent them from admitting this publicly, but it is true nonetheless. 

Western civilization has the ability to inspire others by its real freedoms—think for instance of the freedom activists in Hong Kong who seek our principled support and our public statements of support in defense of their self-determination. I think this appreciation for what makes Western civilization special, and the goodness inherent in America risks being lost in extreme relativism and extreme self-criticism. 

Question: What’s next for Ayaan Hirsi Ali? 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I will continue to do whatever I can to defend women’s rights and critical thinking, especially on university campuses. We in America have tremendous resources that can be used to help dissident and reformist Muslims, both in the West and overseas. Many people living in non-Western countries are brave; I do not view them as pitiful or powerless. But they lack in many cases real freedom of expression, a platform, and material resources. That is where we can provide assistance. 

For more information about the event, follow this link.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali