Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Exercise In Futility At The Waldorf-Astoria - Part 2

After the Cato speakers were finished, it was time to head across the lobby lounge to the dining area where Ayaan Hirsi Ali would address the attendees. As I was making my way across, I felt a tap on my right shoulder. I looked back and a rather attractive blonde lady who looked to be in her late 40's or early 50's said to me that she appreciated that I spoke up on behalf of reproductive rights for women.

I settled down at a table that was to the far left of the speaker's podium. After lunch and dessert had been served, it was time for Ms. Ali to address the audience. She spoke for about fifteen or twenty minutes and then took some questions from the audience. I noticed her bodyguards, two tall and stocky African-American men. One stood by the doorway, while the second paced the wall at the end of the room to her right. Ms. Ali speaks with a soft voice and has a pleasant accent, and she comes across as having a very sharp intellect. See here a clip of her recent appearance on Bill Maher's Real Time.

I don't recall much of her main remarks (click here for another blogger who attended the event and provides a good summary of Ms. Ali's remarks), but I remember several things she said during the question and answer segment. In response to a question from one audience member about whether she had any concerns about fundamentalist Christianity in the United States, she answered that she had not been imposed upon, and added that since in America she has the freedom to choose who she associates with, she does not associate with religious people. Ms. Ali also condemned those who would try to teach Biblical creationism in our schools and promote the indoctrination of our children with religious superstition. As she spoke, I managed to snap several pictures of her.

At the end of the Q&A, Ms. Ali was given a big round of applause and made her way out the door of the dining room with her bodyguards and a Cato Institute staff member. With my camera and my copy of "Infidel" in hand, I had already started heading for the door. But as fast as I was trying to go while trying to navigate my way through the crowd, a young lady behind me pleaded with me to go faster. Ms. Ali, her bodyguards and the Cato staffer had stopped at the steps outside the dining hall entrance and were talking amongst themselves. The Cato staffer was asking if Ms. Ali could stay to sign some books and the bodyguards indicated that she had to leave soon but assented to allow Ms. Ali to stay for a moment. They descended down the steps to the lobby area. As I approached Ms. Ali, the young lady who had been eagerly pressing me on in the dining area went up to Ms. Ali and introduced herself as a Turkish woman. She had some issue with Ms. Ali's remarks about Islam, but her tone was not hostile but rather friendly and pleading. The Turkish woman gesticulated with her hands as she conversed with Ms. Ali, prompting one of the bodyguards to tell her to keep her hands down.

Ms. Ali signed the Turkish woman's copy of "Infidel" as she spoke with her. During a brief lull in their conversation, I handed Ms. Ali my copy of her book, and as she signed it, I told her that my wife really enjoyed the book. She cracked a quick smile but did not make eye contact with me. The Turkish woman continued to converse with her and a crowd began to gather around us as more people sought to get their copies of the book autographed. I stepped back a bit and took a few more pictures of Ms. Ali, as the lighting was much better than in the dining room, plus I was closer to her as well. Seeing Ms. Ali up close, I thought she looked younger than her 37 years. If I were not already a married man, I think she is someone I definitely would liked to have taken out on a date.

At one point, there was a gap in the crowd just a little bit to her right side and behind her. I asked a guy standing near me if he could take a picture of me standing next to her, but he declined, citing his concern about the bodyguards. He chuckled a bit when I asked him, and I said, "Yeah, I know, it's pathetic." Realizing I would not achieve my goal of being photographed with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I held up my camera and pointed it towards me, positioning myself so that she was behind my left shoulder, and pressed the button. Unfortunately, I still have not invested in a digital camera, so I will have to wait until I use up the roll of film in my camera and get it developed to see how the picture came out. I don't have high expectations.

As time went on, one of the bodyguards urged Ms. Ali to wrap things up. She started signing the books faster, and unlike her earlier signings, including mine, she stopped writing in the date. Finally, it was time to go and she was on her way. I should have the film developed by some time next week and if any of the pictures came out alright I will post them here. All in all, I felt it was a worthwhile experience. I did not achieve everything I set out to accomplish, and to borrow from former president Jimmy Carter, it was "an incomplete success."

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