Investment conferences usually try hard to break up the monotony of hyper-caffeinated stock jocks yapping about efficient frontiers and how to generate alpha. That’s why they hire former presidents, retired generals and college sports coaches.
Some of these folks can spin a good yarn and others fall flat, but few if any could match the courage (that’s right, not even the generals) and character of the Somalia-born freedom activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom Altegris with great wisdom recruited to speak at its investment conference in Carlsbad, Calif.
In fairness, generals typically have heard shots fired in anger, but they also have whole armies as their security detail.
Hirsi Ali, whose husband Niall Ferguson also spoke at the Altegris conference, is an intellectual, and the ideas she espouses require an enormous amount of courage to express given part of the audience that is listening.
The idea that Muslim girls and women deserve rights and protections those Western societies afford all citizens is threatening to Muslim fundamentalists, who have exhibited a tendency to counter such ideas through terror.
When Salmon Rushdie published a book that failed to win over this audience, he was forced into long-term hiding. The Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten also discovered that satirical cartoons involving Islam’s prophet Mohammed are no joke to those who answer ideas with death threats, not once but, as with Rushdie, over many years.
Many non-financial celebrities attempt to win over their investment conference audience with their own investment-related ideas. Not Hirsi Ali. She spoke about the area she knows best—freedom and threats to freedom—and my sense is that financial advisors appreciated the sincerity and urgency of the message.
Speaking to an audience of mainly wealth managers numbering over 400, she made the quite salient point that it was an earlier generation of Americans that created this country’s great wealth. Their children then expanded that wealth. Both those generations understood how hard it is to create and sustain wealth. But the current generation mainly consumes, and lacks a full awareness of what created America’s political freedom and economic prosperity.
Hirsi Ali grew up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya, then moved as a refugee to the Netherlands, where she became a member of parliament. A controversial movie on which she collaborated with Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh cost him his life at the hands of an enraged Dutch-Moroccan Muslim. It is ironic that the political and social tensions of the Old World would follow her to the New World, where she and her Harvard-professor husband now live, in Boston.
Of the terror attack last month, Hirsi Ali made the point that the Tsarnaev brothers lived in America and were educated in the city with the finest schools in the world. Yet they had no compunction about trying to murder and maim citizens of their host country.
America is setting itself up for a “takeover”—hostile or friendly, she said in a private chat after her conference address Tuesday afternoon.
The incipient takeover she witnessed in Europe was largely friendly. Churches and community centers were empty, she said, so the government just gave them to radical Islamists.
Similarly, Americans alone will be to blame for any loss in freedom here. A climate of political correctness that does not resist incursions from opponents of freedom is “self-inflicted,” she says.
I asked Hirsi Ali what ordinary Americans—financial advisors, for example—might do to contribute to the cause of freedom and prosperity.
“Invest in creating leadership and civil society,” she answered.
In Europe, she said, when a problem emerges, people go to the government. “When nothing is done, [the problem] simmers and then explodes.”
But when Americans “think something is an issue, they organize resources; and they try and do something about it,” she says, citing efforts against cancer, obesity, and heart disease as mainly bottom-up, community-based movements.
So what should advisors do?
“Use your time to educate yourself about the issues and choose your favorite cause. Then help financially and intellectually.”
She made no mention of this in either her public or private chat, but her own AHA Foundation confronts honor killings, forced marriages, female genital mutilation and the intrusion of Sharia law into U.S. family law proceedings.
Post-script: Just seconds (!) after writing this blog I received a phone call from my teenage son. “Daddy, did you hear about the bomb, he said?” In milliseconds, my mind generated questions: What could my son know about that I hadn’t yet heard? Was there a new terror attack? Was it in our city?
My wife filled in the details: A “suspicious package” was found on a bus that was passing right by his school. Police blocked off the streets surrounding his school while a specially trained squad defused the bomb. My wife and children waited 45 minutes before police allowed cars to enter the area.
It is not yet known who planted the bomb. You’ll never hear about this or many similar situations on the news.
But it is a reminder nonetheless that this issue is real. There are people who hate America who are resident here—they’re not just foreigners dropping out of the sky from anymore. They are using American freedom to create a climate of fear, which mass murder is wont to achieve, and as occurred in Boston.
There are also a whole lot of psychotic Americans, not aligned with any political ideology per se, who are attracted to violence in schools, as we saw in Newtown and many other cities across America. I have no idea what motivated the attempted bus bombing.
I do know however that the earlier carefree lifestyle Americans once enjoyed, at least so far as security is concerned, is over. We all need to pay up our eternal vigilance dues if we are to enjoy continued liberty. Basic security is the most fundamental freedom since no other liberty can be enjoyed without it.