Heretics, Horsemen and Horsewoman

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Anyone interested in Christopher Hitchens will likely appreciate activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s most recent book,  Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.  Ayaan was born in Somalia, but escaped her repressive upbringing, and a bumpy road (she was working with Danish cartoonist Theo Van Gogh when he was killed), and  became an activist.  In Heretic she asserts that Islam must be reformed, and that change can come only from within the religion.  She then lays out recommendations for how such reform can be achieved.  Not surprisingly, this has irritated some.  Brandies University, in a sad move for a learning institution, revoked it’s offer to give her an honorary degree (New York Times: Brandeis Cancels Plan to Give Honorary Degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Critic of Islam).  The University caved in to pressure from those calling her anti-Islam.  Hitchens warned on many occasions, that the day would come where one would not even be able to criticize Islam without being called an Islamophobe.  We are there.

Ayaan and Christopher had a connection.  He contributed the forward to her 2008 book Infidel and also wrote about her in an piece for Slate Magazine in 2007 (She’s No Fundamentalist: What people get wrong about Ayaan Hirsi Ali).

Ayaan was scheduled to participate in the original meeting of the so called Four Horseman (the provocative informal two-hour discussion with Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris) but had to cancel at the last minute. She did, however, participate in a follow up event with the same group (minus Christopher of course) at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention, in Australia.  Dawkins welcomed her as a Horsewoman.

In the clip below, Ayaan responds to a question by Mr. Hitchens at the 2007 at the American Enterprise Institute.

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Christopher and Ayaan at a book signing. (Photo from ChristopherHitchenswatch).

If you want to learn more about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, visit the site of her foundation, the AHA Foundation, which aims to put an end to honor violence, forced marriages and female genital mutilation.

Meet Lucien (not a fractious juvenile)

In “Love, Poverty, and War” Christopher recounted the day he spent protesting what he saw as the restrictive laws that had just been put in place by NY mayor Mike Bloomberg.  He had lunch at one of his favorite New York haunts, Lucien’s in the East Village.  I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Lucien over the last year.  He was a great friend to Christopher and he told me the relationship was not about politics, debate or issues Christopher wrote about – it was just a joyful human to human connection between two people who liked each other very much. If you meet Lucien, you will understand why this was so  – he and his son Zac treat you like you are a guest having dinner in their home.  They provide old world charm, style, and excellent food.  Below is an excerpt from “Love, Poverty, and War” (from the copy Lucien keeps in the restaurant).



Lucien showed my friend and me the wine Hitch preferred (which he often drank before getting to to the Johnnie Walker Black), and also the dish he named after his friend – roasted squab with wild mushroom risotto and a slice of fresh foie gras.

Lucien (l) with artist Ilona Royce Smithkin, and Tom Casesa, the author of this blog (r).


Hitchens on the menu!
Tom, with filmmaker Hector Carosso holding “Hitch 22” and Lucien’s copy of “Love, Poverty, and War”. Notice the photo of Christopher on the wall above us (slightly obscured by the reflection of the lights).
Lucien (r) enjoying the company of a friend and patron.