A couple of years ago, in fascinating debate in New York, the title of which was "Islam Is a Religion of Peace," the great Ayaan Hirsi Ali was on my side; and against us were two distinguished reformist Muslims of great charm, intelligence and seriousness. The debate was engaging and the audience engaged. And there was a single moment of congruence.
At the prompting of the chair, Ayaan Hirsi Ali mentioned something about the terrible threats to her life which have existed ever since she started to speak out against the fundamentalists in Islam. The audience were clearly reminded what a brave and extraordinary woman she was; you could feel them warming ever more to her. The other side must have sensed the same and in a fatal moment -- for their argument, that is -- one of them pointed out that they had al-Qaeda and other death threats on their heads too. Even though, strangely, the audience applauded, the other side, in revealing this truth, had fallen into a trap that no one had even intended to set. If everybody on each side of the debate -- those arguing Islam is indeed a religion of peace as well as those arguing that it is not -- had these death-threats hanging over them, then why were we even debating the matter? As I recall, once this was pointed out, a sort of collective groan of realization went up in the hall and the debate was over.
It is one of the strangest things in the debates around Islam that even the most vociferous progressive or moderate Muslims, who spend all their days talking about how everyone misunderstands Islam, now also find themselves coming to the attention of people not moderate.