Uncommon Knowledge
The Speech That Defined a Presidency

The Speech That Defined a Presidency

August 22, 2017

Recorded on July 23, 2017 Thirty years after Ronald Reagan’s famous denouncement of the Berlin Wall, Peter Robinson reflects on writing the Brandenburg Gate speech and why it was so important to include the now memorable words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Pat Sajak, host of Wheel of Fortune, turns the tables on Uncommon Knowledge’s host, Peter Robinson, sitting him down in the interview chair to discuss that famous speech and his journey to becoming Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter. Peter Robinson's journey to becoming Ronald Reagan's speechwriter began in Oxford as he was trying his hand at becoming a novelist. After a year of writing a book Peter wasn't thrilled with, William H. Buckley advised him to try to become a speechwriter in Washington, DC. Peter left Oxford and. after a series of interviews, was given the task of speechwriting for then vice president George H. W. Bush and eventually became a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. Five years after Peter Robinson became President Reagan's speechwriter it was Peter's turn to write one of the president's important speeches of the year to be delivered in Berlin during the height of the Cold War. To get the speech right, Peter spent a day and half in West Berlin researching the points of view of diplomats and politicians, all of whom all made it seem as though the Berlin Wall was something people hardly noticed any more. This view turned out to not be shared by the citizens of West Berlin, as Peter discovered later that evening when he sat down to dinner with citizens of West Berlin, where the dinner host said if Mr. Gorbachev is serious about perestroika he'd get rid of this wall. Peter’s dinner hosts went on to talk about how much they missed their families whom they hadn’t seen in decades because, though they lived just a mile away, the wall stood between them. That statement and the sentiments of the people of West Berlin struck Peter; after a series of drafts he came up with the now well-known line, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" That line, however, almost didn’t make it into the final draft of the speech as various advisers counseled against it and tried to persuade Peter and President Reagan to remove it. In the end, though, President Reagan insisted, and the line was kept in and remains to this day one of his most famous statements. (Playing time: 50:39)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the West, Dawa, and Islam

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the West, Dawa, and Islam

August 8, 2017

Recorded on July 12, 2017 Ayaan Hirsi Ali joins Peter Robinson to discuss her new book, The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Contain It, and her views on the challenges facing Western civilization in regards to political Islam. She argues that Islam needs to be separated into two different parts, one part of religion and the other part, political philosophy. She concedes that many aspects of the religious part of Islam are peaceful but argues that the political side is much more concerning due to its focus on Dawa, which means “to plead or to call non-Muslims to Islam.” This call to convert people to Islam is what she argues was a driving force behind the spread of Islam throughout history. Hirsi Ali argues that American political philosophy and classical liberalism are young philosophies in comparison to the fourteen centuries of Islamic political doctrine and that its age and layered-ness are often underestimated by Western minds who are more familiar with younger political philosophies. She discusses the critiques of the philosopher Karl Popper of communism and fascism and how they relate directly to the ideologies of Islam. She argues that the language of appeasement often used toward radical Islamic terrorism is too gentle and that discussions of how to deal with Islam need to be considerably franker. Earlier this year Ayaan Hirsi Ali was called before Congress to testify on her book The Challenge of Dawa. She discusses her testimony and that although she was invited by a Democrat senator to speak “about the ideology of radical Islam,” the Democrats present didn’t ask her a single question because they were likely uncomfortable with what she had to say about Islam. She argues that just as Western civilizations have defeated dangerous ideologies in the past, she is optimistic that Western civilization will succeed against political Islam for, as she says, “[Jihadis] can’t destroy us without permission.” She says if we take the fight to the “battlefield of ideas” we can defeat radical Islamic ideologies with Western beliefs. About the Guest Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1969. As a young child she was subjected to female genital mutilation; as she grew up she embraced Islam and strove to live as a devout Muslim. But she began to question aspects of her faith. One day, while listening to a sermon on the many ways women should be obedient to their husbands, she couldn't resist asking, "Must our husbands obey us too?" In 1992 Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands to escape a forced marriage. There she was given asylum and in time citizenship. She quickly learned Dutch and was able to study at the University of Leiden, earning her MA in political science. Working as a translator for Somali immigrants, she saw firsthand the inconsistencies between liberal Western society and tribal Muslim cultures. From 2003 to 2006 Hirsi Ali served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament. While in parliament, she focused on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society and on defending the rights of Muslim women. In 2004 Hirsi Ali gained international attention following the murder of Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh had directed her short film Submission, a film about the oppression of women under Islam. The assassin, a radical Muslim, left a death threat for her pinned to Van Gogh's chest. In 2006 Hirsi Ali had to resign from parliament when the then Dutch minister for immigration decided to revoke her citizenship, arguing that Ayaan had mislead the authorities at the time of her asylum application. The Dutch courts, however, confirmed that Hirsi Ali was indeed a legitimate Dutch citizen, leading to the fall of the government. Disillusioned with the Netherlands, she subsequently moved to the United States. In 2007 Hirsi Ali founded the AHA Foundation to protect and defend the rights of women in the United States from harmful traditional practices. Today the foundation is the leading organization working to end violence that shames, hurts, or kills thousands of women and girls in the United States each year and puts millions more at risk. Hirsi Ali is a fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Hirsi Ali is currently researching the relationship between the West and Islam. She must live with round-the-clock security, as her willingness to speak out and her abandonment of the Muslim faith have made her a target for violence by Islamic extremists. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" of 2005, one of the Glamour Heroes of 2005, and Reader's Digest's European of the Year for 2005. She is the best-selling author of Infidel (2007) and Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (2015). (Playing time: 42:24)

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