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Ayaan Hirsi Ali holds the Max Schmidheiny Lecture at the 41st St. Gallen Symposium on 12 May 2011

On 12 May 2011, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali/Dutch author, politician and women’s rights activist, gives the Max Schmidheiny Lecture at the 41st St. Gallen Symposium, to be held at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. The title of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s lecture is "Open Society and Its Enemies".

Addressing the St. Gallen Symposium on the opening morning, Ayaan Hirsi Ali will put the general topic of this year’s Symposium, “Just Power”, in the latest context of the Arab spring and the high hopes for democracy and freedom that have come along. This oppressed region, for so long deprived of fundamental civil rights and liberties and marked by economic shortfalls, has witnessed one of the most astonishing revolutions the world has experienced since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Toppling rulers with long records of brutality, disdain for their own people and economic ignorance is undoubtedly welcome. Understandably, expectations for a turn towards democracy and civil liberties are high. However, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has highlighted repeatedly, it would be foolish to believe in any near-term remedies. Giving the power to the people does not make a proper democracy, neither is the toppling of despots a political programme for the future. But this is exactly the impression one can get from the West’s clumsy reaction to the upheaval, ranging from obscure hopes for change of system to an uncoordinated military intervention. However, the reality on the ground does not reflect these wishes. Starting from there, Ayaan Hirsi Ali will set forth that no short-term results are to be expected from the recent turmoil and that a proper revolution – as happened in Eastern Europe – must address not only the political and economic roots but most importantly the cultural and religious foundation as well. The road to an open and democratic society will most likely be littered with economic steps backwards, shaky political institutions and instability. Western-like societies are relatively stable thanks to their high level of freedom and mobility of goods, people and ideas. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has pointed out that unless the culture of individual submission in the Arab world is being challenged, no real change is to be expected. And she has repeatedly stressed that this sort of change cannot be imposed from outside, but has to grow within Arab societies. The turn towards an open society will have its enemies too, and they will exploit the freshly gained liberties to enforce their ideas. Ayaan Hirsi Ali will turn to these issues both in her Max Schmidheiny Lecture as well as in a workshop at the St. Gallen Symposium.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born in 1969) is Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington D.C. In this position she is currently researching on the relationship between the West and the Islam. Besides, Hirsi Ali is Founder of the AHA Foundation that aims to protect the rights of women in the western world against militant Islam and tribal custom. As a daughter of a political opponent of the Somali dictatorship, she grew up in exile. After having received her Master of Arts in political science from the University of Leiden, Netherlands, she worked as a researcher for the Wiardi Beckman Foundation in Amsterdam. Hirsi Ali then served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006, where she found her voice as an advocate for an enlightened Islam.
The Max Schmidheiny Lecture

The lecture has been made possible by the Max Schmidheiny Foundation, which in so doing is furthering its tradition of stimulating a dialogue on ordnungspolitik while at the same time building upon its longstanding ties with the St. Gallen Initiative. The goal of the Max Schmidheiny Lecture is to foster debate on fundamental issues concerning political freedom and economic development, and also encourage dialogue between academia and practice. In particular, it is dedicated to key questions concerning the role of individual freedom and responsibility for economic and social prosperity – the certainty of which has been all too easily taken for granted in the past two decades.
» Video of the Max Schmidheiny Lecture by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (on Youtube.com)
» More information on the Max Schmidheiny Lecture
» More information on the 41st St. Gallen Symposium (external link)
» More information on Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the American Enterprise Institute (external link)