The Cocktail Party Contrarian: Everything in Moderation, Including Being a Moderate
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s lack of moderation earned her a fatwa, but it also earned her the unending admiration of large numbers of people.
Years ago, after Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s now seminal book “Infidel” was first published, I attended a party for the Somali-born former Dutch politician. During the Q&A, someone complimented Ms. Ali for being a “moderate” Muslim. She politely pointed out that she no longer considered herself a Muslim, and then firmly voiced her more pressing objection: “I am not a moderate.”
The force of that unexpected declaration seemed to blow the audience of mostly well-heeled ladies backward in their seats.
No one was expecting that, as most everyone wants to be seen as a moderate in polite company. One is supposed to eat cake in moderation, enjoy red wine in moderation, and, when it comes to politics, support moderate candidates.
Moderates are seen as sensible, thoughtful, nuanced people who never offend. So many people claim to be one when discussing the partisans out there who are tearing the country apart.
So, who was this woman, defying social norms on the Upper East Side? Hadn’t her lack of moderation already earned her a fatwa and a life spent looking over her shoulder? It had, but it also earned her the unending admiration of large numbers of people who in the deepest parts of themselves could only wish they had the courage of her convictions.
I remember Ms. Ali comparing the playing field of her battle with radical Islam to a seesaw, with one side fully weighted by Islamists and their apologists. The only way to shift the balance was to apply even more weight to the other side, she explained. There could be nothing moderate about it if she intended to win the war of ideas — and she intended exactly that.
Being a moderate has its place, but so does being a fierce, unequivocal, unyielding defender of a worthy cause that needs defending. Advocates for unworthy causes such as socialism and unfettered equity seem to know this, but rarely encounter forces of will on the other sides of the seesaws equal to their own.
Perhaps that kind of passion has to be unleashed by circumstance. Not too many of the bejeweled women in the room with Ms. Ali that day had the kinds of lives that inspire one to take on a great fight. It is easy to be a moderate when life is pleasant.
We didn’t know it at the time, but several years later a pandemic and the ensuing assault on our civil liberties would combine with the rise of CRT to jolt us out of our comfort zones and lead to the great unleashing of our latent Ayaanic-impulses.
Parents at school board meetings no longer moderated their feelings of disgust regarding the new racism being drilled into their kids. Truckers in Canada didn’t moderate their views about mandates and government overreach. Polite patience and seeking the center wasn’t going to get the job done.
In the handful of times I have met Ayaan Hirsi Ali since that first event, I have noted to myself that if you sat next to her at dinner and didn’t know she is a brilliant, courageous warrior, you might get the impression that she is a soft-spoken, kind woman with a gentle nature. She probably is all of these things, and my guess would be that she has moderate views on many subjects.
She also has clear red lines and is willing to mobilize in defense of them. She reminds us that being a moderate is noble only in context and should be practiced in moderation, too.