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April 17, 2007

Controversial speaker discusses Islam at UPJ

The United States is correct in defending its values in the war against terror, a New York Times best-selling author and one of Europe’s foremost critics of Islam contended Tuesday at Pitt-Johnstown.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali told a crowd of more than 200 at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center that the Islamic faith is incompatible with the principles on which open, liberal societies are based.

She said individual Muslims have a variety of outlooks: Some can be fanatical and ignorant; others are capable of distinguishing between the common space of a secular government and the private home.

Yet, she contended, the number of Muslims who believe their faith should be imposed on others is growing.

She said the U.S. is correct in dealing with the religion’s fanatics, something she contended Europeans failed to do when extremists appeared there.

Hirsi Ali drew plenty of applause during her speech.

“I found it very enlightening,” said Mary Anne Bell, of South Fork.

Barbara Sloat, a teacher at Richland High School, said Hirsi Ali was sending a message for America to continue to stand up for and protect its values.

After her speech, Hirsi Ali said members of the Islamic Center of Johnstown who opposed her appearance have the right to voice their opinions.

Mahmood A. Qazi, founder and past president of the center, said Monday he was concerned Hirsi Ali’s appearance would strain relations between local Muslims and non-Muslims.

“I don’t want this woman to create dissension among us,” he said of why the center had pressed the the college to cancel Hirsi Ali’s appearance.

Security checks were heavy – and Hirsi Ali’s caution is understandable.

Filmmaker Theo van Gogh was threatened after the 2004 airing of the movie “Submission,” which he made with Hirsi Ali, a right-wing, Somali-born Dutch politician.

Van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death on an Amsterdam street in 2004. According to reports by The Associated Press, his killer left behind a note that threatened Hirsi Ali’s life.

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