Ayaan Hirsi Ali

From New Atheist to Christian convert


November 21, 2023
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In 2002, I discovered a 1927 lecture by Bertrand Russell entitled “Why I am Not a Christian”. It did not cross my mind, as I read it, that one day, nearly a century after he delivered it to the South London branch of the National Secular Society, I would be compelled to write an essay with precisely the opposite title.

The year before, I had publicly condemned the terrorist attacks of the 19 men who had hijacked passenger jets and crashed them into the twin towers in New York. They had done it in the name of my religion, Islam. I was a Muslim then, although not a practising one. If I truly condemned their actions, then where did that leave me? The underlying principle that justified the attacks was religious, after all: the idea of Jihad or Holy War against the infidels. Was it possible for me, as for many members of the Muslim community, simply to distance myself from the action and its horrific results?

At the time, there were many eminent leaders in the West — politicians, scholars, journalists, and other experts — who insisted that the terrorists were motivated by reasons other than the ones they and their leader Osama Bin Laden had articulated so clearly. So Islam had an alibi.

This excuse-making was not only condescending towards Muslims. It also gave many Westerners a chance to retreat into denial. Blaming the errors of US foreign policy was easier than contemplating the possibility that we were confronted with a religious war. We have seen a similar tendency in the past five weeks, as millions of people sympathetic to the plight of Gazans seek to rationalise the October 7 terrorist attacks as a justified response to the policies of the Israeli government.

When I read Russell’s lecture, I found my cognitive dissonance easing. It was a relief to adopt an attitude of scepticism towards religious doctrine, discard my faith in God and declare that no such entity existed. Best of all, I could reject the existence of hell and the danger of everlasting punishment.

 


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UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

I envy the writer – the peace of mind that must come with one-dimensional thinking, black and white with no grey zones, must be a comfortable life.