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Ayaan Hirsi Ali Essay Contest 2015

True progressives really should get around to constructing a Doric-columned Hall of Shame to memorialize, for all to revile, the imbecilities, curios of casual hypocrisy, and artifacts of outright intellectual and moral treason the benighted diehards of the regressive left choose to display as a matter of pride these days when the subject is Islam and former Muslims, especially former female Muslims.  The contrast between the lofty liberal ideals espoused by such leftists and their sordid output should concern us all, though, of whatever political persuasion.  They have largely succeeded in squelching forthright, reasoned discourse about Islam and Islamist terrorism, which jeopardizes national security and the lives of some of some of the most vulnerable, including women who have left the faith, or who, rightfully or wrongfully, are accused of disrespecting it.  For in de facto alliance with regressive leftist denouncers of “Islamophobia” — a semantic swindle of a noun equating criticism of Islam with bigotry against Muslims as people — stand assassins, as the late Elsa Cayat of Charlie Hebdo, the late Farkhunda Malikzada of Afghanistan, and countless victims of honor killings would attest, were they still alive.

That this is no laughing matter has not stopped regressive leftists from doing their utmost to look ridiculous, if in a sinister sort of way.  In attempting to discourage criticism of Islam — a faith they mostly do not profess — they de facto defend the right of one group of humans to oppress another group on the basis of their religion.  Their talent for tragicomic perfidy shines through most clearly in their prodigious efforts to take down one woman in particular — a woman whose life story, by any rational, humane standards, should win encomia from, and the admiration of, decent people everywhere — the courageous, Somali-born author, human rights activist, and public intellectual Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

In the space of four decades, Hirsi Ali suffered genital mutilation, donned the hijab and joined the Muslim Brotherhood, escaped a forced marriage and fled Africa for Holland, mastered Dutch and earned a graduate degree from a prestigious university, abandoned Islam after the 9/11 attacks awakened her intellectually, got herself elected to the Dutch parliament, publicly denounced the abuse suffered by immigrant Muslim women in Holland, wrote the screenplay for a short film about misogyny in Islam (for which its director, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by an Islamist in Amsterdam and for which his killer condemned her to death as well), found herself (following controversy over her asylum status) immigrating, in 2006, to the United States (where she was welcomed by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick as a “very courageous and impressive woman”), and established a foundation to protect women from honor killings and aid women’s development globally.  She is now a fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  Death threats have shadowed her since 2002, when she first started speaking out against Islam, and even today she requires round-the-clock armed guards.  Yet, undaunted, she continues to write, publish, and make her voice heard about the faith she once professed so fervently, but left for atheism and the values of the Enlightenment.

During a recent Skype conversation, she summed up those values for me as being legal equality between the sexes, the right of a woman to be master of her own body, and the right of gays to marry — “classical liberal positions” in her words.  She is, however, “very hawkish on national security” — especially where Islamism is concerned.  “I do not believe that the appeasement of evil is the answer to that.”

The circumstances surrounding how Hirsi Ali won asylum in Holland do not really merit discussion here, for they bear no relation to her stance on Islam, the matter that has outraged regressive leftists and endangered her life.  Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Hirsi Ali herself had already admitted, in 2002 (during a background check conducted by her political party as she was entering parliament, in an interview with the magazine HP/De Tijd, and elsewhere), to providing false information to Dutch immigration authorities when she arrived in the country a decade earlier.  The 2006 controversy over her asylum application (which brought down the government, and prompted her to quit parliament and depart for the United States) resulted from a purported exposé (actually, a tabloid-style hit job) aired on the Dutch television show, Zembla.  The information “exposed” was already in the public domain.  What changed were the politics of the moment.

Make no mistake about it, though: for rejecting a seventh-century ideology ordaining second-class status for women, death for apostates and gays, inferior temporal status and damnation in the hereafter for non-Muslims, and sanctioning the genital mutilation of which she herself is a victim, turncoat pseudo-liberals have striven to discredit Hirsi Ali as  an extremist hate-monger, and even slur her racially.  Their body of work — or at least representative samples of it — is my subject here today.

Those in line for honorable mention in any proposed Ayaan Hirsi Ali Hall of Shame include well-meaning journalists who really should know better, chief among them, the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.  Kristof often covers violence against women in developing countries, so you would expect him to deal fairly with Hirsi Ali.  To an extent, he does.  In reviewing her 2010 memoir Nomad, he calls her “clearly intellectually brilliant,” acknowledges that “her critique of Islam was leading to death threats,” and quotes her refusal (thought out but not enunciated) to her mother’s plea to return to Islam: “Allah is full of misogyny . . . I am feeble in faith because Allah has reduced you to a terrified old woman”).  He even admits that “the repression of women [in Islamic countries], the persecution complexes, the lack of democracy, the volatility, the anti-Semitism, the difficulties modernizing, the disproportionate role in terrorism — those are all real.” 

Nevertheless, he upbraids Hirsi Ali for denouncing “Islam with a ferocity that I find strident, potentially feeding religious bigotry,” and for condemning “a variegated faith that has more than one billion adherents.”  His reportorial globetrotting, he says, has shown him that “To those of us who have lived and traveled widely in Africa and Asia, descriptions of Islam often seem true but incomplete.”  There is more in his review to object to, but the last quote instantiates the problem with his reprimand.  Hirsi Ali criticizes the ideology of Islam and the injustices to which it leads (and of which she herself is a victim), matters about which she knows first-hand as a former Muslim born female and brought up in a Muslim country. Kristof can travel as a journalist all he likes in the Muslim world, but his gender will assure him of an “Islamic” experience entirely different from that of Hirsi Ali, whose body will ever bear the scars to prove it.

The grander problem with Kristof’s criticism of Hirsi Ali lies in his confusion of Islamic doctrine (as evidenced in the Quran and the Hadith) with its often only nominal observance in Muslim countries.  Obviously, not all Muslims implement the faith’s more retrograde tenets, which is what he implies by referring to Islam as “variegated.”  However, if, say, (moderate) Morocco is not (Wahhabi) Saudi Arabia, an 83-percent majority of Moroccans nevertheless favor Sharia and hold a host of other highly illiberal beliefs originating in the Islamic canon.  Lest we forget: Islam derives from the Quran, a sacrosanct text that, along with the Hadith, “radicals” may perpetually mine for commandments to commit acts of violence to defend and spread the faith.  How can Kristof, a liberal, reproach Hirsi Ali for “stridency” in objecting to the troublesome (illiberal) spirit and contents of this canon, and its manifestations in behavior, which especially victimize women?  From what sort of moral blindness does he suffer?

Kristof’s review of Nomad should be reprinted in full (perhaps laser-etched in obsidian) at the entrance to the Hirsi Ali Hall of Shame.  A footnote might accompany the text warning progressive journalists to privilege the truth and those, like Hirsi Ali, fighting for it.  Islam, after all, is no truer than the other two Abrahamic creeds.

The horrid roster of punishments laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy of the Old Testament and Jesus’ frequent rants about hellfire the New demonstrate that ghastly pronouncements are hardly unique to the scriptures of Islam.  But, after much bloodshed, oppression, and warfare, both Judaism and Christianity have undergone reforms and reformation and have largely been forced out of the halls of earthly power in favor of secular governance — an achievement of the Enlightenment we should cherish and guard with the utmost vigilance.  Such is not the case, for the most part, with Islam.

Some are working to reform it, though.  Hirsi Ali has tackled the project herself in her latest book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.  (More on this below.)  Unfortunately, Heretic’s publication leads to the comedian Jon Stewart’s (entirely dis-)honorable mention in the antechamber of the Hirsi Ali Hall of Shame.  Stewart, who gushed over Reza Aslan (a high-end peddler of Islam-related untruths), invited Hirsi Ali on his show only to turn Torquemada on her, subjecting her to an Inquisitional interrogation I have already described at length here.  Without repeating myself, I’ll note that in response to his opening question about why Islam needs to change, Hirsi Ali answers “Because unfortunately too many people are dying in the name of Islam.  Too many women live under oppression.  Too many Jews are being demonized for it.  Too many gays are being killed in the name of Islam.  Too many Christians are being killed in the name of Islam.” 

She could have offered him no more persuasive, succinct justification for writing Heretic.  Stewart’s subsequent line of questioning — the above-mentioned Torquemadan grilling — involved his deliberate confounding of her plan to make Islam more moderate with both the (fundamentalist) Protestant Reformation and the violent, back-to-basics Islam of Al Qaeda and ISIS, and culminated in his utterance of a breathtaking, Islam-exculpatory banality: “The root of the people is people, not the text” [of the Quran].

Hirsi Ali told me she was “disappointed” and “saddened” by Stewart’s regressive interrogation, if not surprised.  She could hardly have been more charitable.

Now onwards to the Hall of Shame proper.  Onetime Guardian Middle East editor Brian Whitaker deserves representation therein, if only for his nasty, offhanded dissing, in his 2006 articleFalse Prophets, of Hirsi Ali (and Irshad Manji, another woman reformer of Islam) as “native informants,” or, as “Issandr el-Amrani of the Arabist blog” calls “them, ‘courageous reformist Arab personalities (CRAP).’”  With such puerile verbiage he forfeits any pretense of objectivity, and his piece goes downhill from there.

After the racist insult and schoolboy taunt, Whitaker informs us that to avoid “serious damage to [his] blood pressure” he has heretofore not written of Hirsi Ali (and Manji).  He will risk a minor bout of hypertension, though, by telling us that “Editors and TV producers love ’em [Hirsi Ali and Manji].  Their strident views make for entertaining television and, of course, the things they say are generally what the US public wants to hear,” despite being so “simplistic and confrontational and so insensitive towards the culture they are trying to change that it does more harm than good.”  The result: “their credibility is virtually zero” among Muslims.  (He justifies the latter claim with no quote, no link, no source.)  But in any case, they are just in it for the money: “Being a CRAP is quite lucrative — Manji reportedly charges $7,500 (£4,000) an hour for giving a talk.”  He thereby impugns the motives and character of both Hirsi Ali and Manji (while referring only to one of them) and announces (“reportedly”) his failure to do minimal due journalistic diligence.  Remuneration, though, has nothing to do with the soundness of their arguments, which he never addresses.

Any Hirsi Ali Hall of Shame would have to include Nathan Lean.  The author of a book on “Islamophobia,” Lean directs research at the “Pluralism, Diversity and Islamophobia” project at the Saudi-financed Prince Alaweed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University — a telling job description that appears nowhere in the biographical note beneath his 2014 Huffington Post blog entry about Hirsi Ali.  Lean used her invitation (and disinvitation) to Brandeis University to receive an honorary degree at its 2014 commencement ceremony as an excuse to accuse her of “crossing the line” into “extremism,” though of exactly what sort he does not say.

About the Brandeis scandal.  A communiqué from the university announced the decision to cancel plans to award Hirsi Ali a degree.  It called her a “compelling public figure,” but added that “certain of her past statements . . . are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”  Brandeis discovered this unpardonable inconsistency only post factum, via a change.orgpetition (created by a certain Sarah Fahmy) attacking her for “pure hate speech” against Islam, and “extreme Islamophobic beliefs” which are “hurtful to the Muslim students and the Brandeis community who stands for social justice.”  (Hurtful.  Brandeis might have asked Hirsi Ali, an FMG survivor, what is truly hurtful).

Which “core values” was Brandeis shielding from Hirsi Ali’s malignant presence?  The communiqué doesn’t say, but respect for free speech, to say nothing of courage, must not, obviously, be among them. 

Lean seconds as the “right decision” Brandeis’ betrayal of its mandate to foster critical thought by linking to a 2007 Reasoninterview in which Hirsi Ali takes Western governments to task for their waffling reaction to the totalitarian message at the core of Islam, a faith proclaiming jurisdiction over all humanity and recognizing no boundaries between the political and the religious.  Lean describes her as being “for defeating Islam (not extremists, but the entire faith) by military means if necessary,” which comes “dangerously close to advocating genocide.”  Furthermore, he accuses her of obliquely vindicating Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik and coming “dangerously close to justifying” his slaughter of seventy-seven people.  He believes it is “unclear how Hirsi Ali can be an advocate for Muslim women while simultaneously calling for the outright defeat of their faith.”  He denies she is a “genuine” critic of Islam, calling her, rather, “neither a ‘critic of Islam’ nor a true advocate of women’s rights.”  The potential effect of her speech, he contends, is to “fuel violence towards veiled Muslim woman” in the United States and Europe.

Lean’s case against Hirsi Ali is a stew of misrepresentation and nonsense.  Hirsi Ali has publicly backed military operations against Islamists and thus advocates policies with, like it or not, bipartisan support.  In her Reason interview she calls for defeating Islam “in all forms,” including militarily, but within the context, domestically, of a struggle (obviously non-military) against the imposition of the faith in the public sphere.  “It’s about power, and Islam is a political movement . . . . the Christian powers have accepted the separation of the worldly and the divine.  We don’t interfere with their religion, and they don’t interfere with the state.  That hasn’t happened in Islam.”  This is a truism, not a summons to genocide.  No honest critic could interpret anything she says here as “genocidal.”  Nor has she in any way supported Breivik’s atrocity: listen to her speech for yourselves, and you will hear her recounting his stated motives, not endorsing them, all the while arguing for free speech about Islam as an antidote to “the siren song of jihad, of martyrdom, of Sharia law, of hatred and self-exclusion” for which far too many people, both in Muslim immigrant communities in Europe and elsewhere, are falling.  She is waging her own battle, though, in the realm of ideas — hence her dogged insistence on the primacy of free speech about Islam.

Free speech about religion enjoys constitutional protection, as does the freedom to profess the religion of one’s choosing or to profess no religion at all.  Hirsi Ali, born into Islam, has every right to address female members of her former religious community, and advocate for them by urging the abandonment of the faith that, inter alia, generally values men more than women in matters of inheritance, instructs husbands in wife-beating, sanctions the barbaric practice of FMG, and ordains the punishment of rape victims.  There is no evidence that such free speech foments “violence against veiled women.”  To support his last point, Lean cites a 2013 article (that shows no such link) in The Guardian about a study restricted to the United Kingdom.  But check out the stats for the U.S.: as ever, by far the majority of religion-motivated hate crimes were anti-Jewish — four times more than hate crimes against Muslims.  The Southern Poverty Law Center attributes this to ISIS terrorist attacks, not to critiques of Islam by Hirsi Ali or anyone else.

Remember: Islam is not a race, but a self-identifying ideological community whose members may quit the fold at any time, especially when exposed to critical speech about their beliefs.  Women who manage this often subject themselves to exclusion and even physical danger. 

A comic-relief side room might befit our Hirsi Ali Hall of Shame.  In it, we could enshrine Australian-born CJ Werleman for his clumsy, bilious, yet altogether silly attempted takedown of Hirsi Ali, which he published in April 2015 in Middle East Eye.  Popularly associated with a falsified video purporting to show Israeli soldiers torturing a Palestinian prisoner (in reality, all were Guatemalans) and with demonstrated instances of plagiarism in pieces he wrote for Salon and AlterNet, Werleman, an atheist, takes on “New Atheists” Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher, as well as Hirsi Ali, by assailing them with a barrage of innuendo, question-begging, and fatuous rhetorical flourishes entitled “Is New Atheism an anti-Muslim, white supremacy movement?” No surprise: for Werleman, “It’s become a pro-white supremacy movement.  New Atheism is anti-Muslim, anti-Arab bigotry dressed up with a thin veneer of fancy sounding words.”

Space prohibits me from addressing more than a few of Werleman’s most flagrant nonsensicalities regarding Hirsi Ali. He allows that New Atheists can be “good people,” even, strangely, as they “not only espouse white supremacy but . . . also speak in a language that is every bit as crude and racist as fascist, neo-Nazi, movements.”  (One wonders where he encounters these “good” white-supremacist fascists and neo-Nazis.)  “Moreover, New Atheists enthusiastically, and often unintentionally, promote western imperialism, and any individual who supports an erroneous narrative (‘clash of civilisations’ is the theme of New Atheism) that, by design, attempts to justify western intervention in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia is, ergo ipso facto, a white supremacist.”

Werleman provides no links or quotes for this “ergo ipso facto” gobbledygook.  In the next graph, he laments that Hirsi Ali “was the keynote speaker at the largest annual gathering of atheists – the American Atheists convention [in 2015], despite the fact both her fictitious biography and anti-Muslim bigotry are well documented.“  Documented by whom?  By Werleman himself, it turns out, who links to another of his own Middle East Eye screeds.  (Don’t let his drivel dissuade you from watching Hirsi Ali’s speech, though, about refusing to be silenced.)

All New Atheists in the United States know of Hirsi Ali, says Werleman.  To launch his attack on her, he cites a Facebook post from a certain Sam Charles Hamad, a “journalist” who possesses “great expertise on the Middle East and US foreign policy,” yet who, nonetheless, appears to have published (at least on line) only one piece (of unremarkable, tu quoque content) for The Daily Beast.  It would save the reader nothing to summarize the errors in Hamad’s jeremiad against Hirsi Ali, so here they are, classified according to genre and numbered for clarity: (1) racial denigration, (2) unsubstantiated assertion, (3) falsity, (4) begging the question, and (5) utter nonsense —

You’ll find that the vast majority of Ali’s fans are white males who hate Muslims [2] and, in her, have found a perfect little brown-skinned conduit for their bigotry [1, 2]. I’m not a racist or prejudiced, they can say as they spout racism and bigotry [2, 4]. I’m a big fan of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The fact that she’s a complete fraud [2, 4, 5] making a shitload of cash [2, 4] at the expense of these slobbering white bigots [1] would be rather funny if she also didn’t appeal to genuine fascists and demonise Muslims in such a fascistic and potentially dangerous manner [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

Werleman strives to outdo even this doggerel balderdash by finishing with three lines, the sentences of which may simply be semantically inverted to make them truthful: “New Atheists are the secular equivalent of the Christian Right.  They too must be overcome.  A civil, pluralistic, secular society depends on it.”

Semantic inversion: “Atheists, who have existed since the time of the ancient Greeks and beyond, espouse no ideology comparable to any Abrahamic creed, but simply reject, for lack of evidence, belief in a deity or deities.  They have a constitutional right to speak freely.  Suppressing that right would destroy the basis for a civil, secular society and religious freedom for all, believers and nonbelievers alike.”

With comic relief behind us, we now turn to Hirsi Ali’s most ambitious and controversial (among — note the confluence — regressive leftists and Islamists alike) work, Heretic, a synopsis of which we need in order to scrutinize the Hirsi Ali Hall of Shame’s final exhibit.  The title gets at the straits she finds herself in as a former Muslim addressing believers, for whom she is an religious outlaw, both for leaving Islam and for how she proposes modernizing it.  (For convenience’s sake I will quote from her Wall Street Journaleditorial covering the same subject.)

In Heretic, Hirsi Ali outlines a five-point solution that involves amending or doing away with the aspects of the faith that are its most troublesome yet also its most emblematic: Muhammad’s semi-divinity and the Quran’s putative status as “the literal word of God”; the valuing of life after death more than life itself (that is, the fixation on Paradise inspiring terrorist acts of martyrdom); Sharia (which has to be replaced with “evolving laws made by human beings”); the right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law (“There is no room in the modern world for religious police, vigilantes and politically empowered clerics”); and “the imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.” 

Such revolutionary changes amount to a tall order, practically speaking, and would constitute blasphemy from a theological viewpoint.  Hirsi Ali understands this: “I know that this argument will make many Muslims uncomfortable.  Some are bound to be offended by my proposed amendments.  Others will contend that I am not qualified to discuss these complex issues of theology and law.  I am also afraid — genuinely afraid — that it will make a few Muslims even more eager to silence me.”  (Emphasis mine.)  A “few,” she says, not all.   The “clear majority” of Muslims, though “loyal to the core creed,” are “not inclined to practice violence.”  Her main point, as she told ABC, is that, “it is now time to look at and reform the religion of Islam so that we get to a place where we have peace.  That is the message of this book.”

We now turn, finally, to what purports to be a serious effort to engage Hirsi Ali’s Heretic – an essay Carla Powerwrote for TIME presumptuously entitled “What Ayaan Hirsi Ali Doesn’t Get About Islam” – that nevertheless offends reason and our perceptions of equity, and therefore deserves a place in the Hall of Shame.  A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her memoir If Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quranwho has earned praise from Oprah, Powersets out to disqualify Hirsi Ali from tackling Islam, and betrays, in the process, an unseemly pro-faith bias one would not expect to find in a mainstream publication.  The unintended result is to lead us to the crux of the debate progressives should be having about the faith, but are doing their best to avoid.

Power objects straightaway to Hirsi Ali’s proposal to strip the Quran and God’s messenger of their hallowed status as “unthinkable,” since “Muslims revere the Quran as the word of God, as revealed to their beloved Prophet Muhammed [sic] in 7th century Arabia.” Worse, this is an evisceration of Islam’s fundamental principles, akin to taking a giant eraser to the bits about justice and liberty in the preamble to the American Constitution.”  (The juxtaposition of a religion and the world’s first secular fundamental law is jarring.)  For Power, moreover, Hirsi Ali’s plan is “not so much a proposal as an imperial decree, a tone-deaf declaration rather than an opening of a conversation.”

And that’s it: 205 words into a 786-word essay, Power shuts down the “conversation” and dispenses with Hirsi Ali (who is surely the only reason anyone would read her piece), and launches into happy talk about reformers already hard at work changing Islam.  There is nothing more therein worth critiquing here, but this sample will serve to give you an idea of the faith-deranged twaddle that ensues:

Earlier this year, the conservative scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi reversed his acceptance of child marriage – a practice generally allowed in medieval Islamic jurisprudence – after two of his female students told him of the ways they’d seen the practice ruin girls’ lives.

Well, hallelujahs and hosannas for Nadwi, a resident of the twenty-first century who has finally emerged from the Middle Ages! 

Except, who is Nadwi?  And who cares?  The vast majority of Muslims favor sharia, not whatever version Nadwi or similar reformers come up with.

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.  Apparently for Power, coming out against child marriage is progress, at least where Muslims are concerned.  For what other religious group would we set standards so abysmally low?  This is an insult to Muslims, who deserve to be addressed as equals, not condescended to.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Hirsi Ali “gets” a fact about Islam that Power either denies or disbelieves: just like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a man-made belief system concocted to explain the cosmos and our role in it and provide a means of controlling and exploiting human beings (especially women).  Power may herself be a Muslim, but, at least in an ideal world, she should not expect any nonbeliever to grant her license to prattle on about divinity and holy texts without encountering rationalist resistance.  We do not, however, live in an ideal world, as the regressive leftist attacks on Hirsi Ali, the almost universal reluctance to shy away from criticizing religion, and TIME’s decision to print Power’s jejune essay demonstrate. 

We may now exit the Hirsi Ali Hall of Shame and take a breath of fresh air.  So-called progressives who denigrate Hirsi Ali for criticizing a faith they themselves do not profess traduce reason and every ideal of the Enlightenment, to say nothing of common sense.  Theirs is not a principled opposition, but, rather, either a stance based on confusion or a cowardly retreat from uncomfortable truths about absolutist Islamic doctrines engendering violence and oppression, a retreat made under cover provided by assassins — the very assassins who imperil Hirsi Ali. Most likely, it is both.  When in doubt, always better to be on the side of those with guns.

“For me,” wrote Hirsi Ali, “there seemed no way to reconcile my faith with the freedoms I came to the West to embrace.  I left the faith, despite the threat of the death penalty prescribed by Shariah for apostates.  Future generations of Muslims deserve better, safer options.  Muslims should be able to welcome modernity, not be forced to wall themselves off, or live in a state of cognitive dissonance, or lash out in violent rejection.”

Hers are progressive aspirations, ones all who believe in freedom of religion (and non-religion) should support.  To those who mouth liberal shibboleths but assail Hirsi Ali belongs the shame.

Perhaps no hall is big enough to encompass it.


Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His seventh book, Topless Jihadis — Inside Femen, the World’s Most Provocative Activist Group, is out now as an Atlantic ebook. Follow @JeffreyTayler1 on Twitter.

Filed under: Features, Free Speech, Religion

For Pakistani actress and model, see Ayyan (model).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (; Dutch: [aːˈjaːn ˈɦiːrsi ˈaːli] ( listen); born Ayaan Hirsi Magan,[a] 13 November 1969)[1] is a Somali-born Dutch-American activist, feminist, author, scholar and former politician.[2][3] She received international attention as a critic of Islam and advocate for the rights and self-determination of Muslim women, actively opposing forced marriage, honor violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation.[4][5] She has founded an organisation for the defense of women's rights, the AHA Foundation.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, 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, D.C., and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.[6]

In 2003, Hirsi Ali was elected a member of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the States General of the Netherlands, representing the centre-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). A political crisis related to the validity of her Dutch citizenship—namely the accusation that she had lied on her application for political asylum[7]—led to her resignation from parliament, and indirectly to the fall of the second Balkenende cabinet in 2006.

Hirsi Ali, a former devout Muslim who abandoned her faith and became an atheist,[8] has been a vocal critic of Islam. In 2004, she collaborated on a short movie with Theo van Gogh, entitled Submission, a film depicting oppression of women under fundamentalist Islamic law, critical of the Islamic canon itself. The film sparked controversy and death threats. Van Gogh was murdered later that year by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Moroccan-Dutch Islamic terrorist. Hirsi Ali maintains that "Islam is part religion, and part a political-military doctrine, the part that is a political doctrine contains a world view, a system of laws and a moral code that is totally incompatible with our constitution, our laws, and our way of life."[9] Having previously argued that Islam was beyond reform,[10] in her latest book Heretic (2015) she calls for a reformation of Islam by defeating the Islamists and supporting reformist Muslims.[11]

In 2005, Hirsi Ali was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.[12] She has also received several awards, including a free speech award from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten,[13] the Swedish Liberal Party's Democracy Prize,[14] and the Moral Courage Award for commitment to conflict resolution, ethics, and world citizenship.[15] Critics accuse Ali of having built her political career on denigrating Islam and Muslims, and questioned her scholarly credentials "to speak authoritatively about Islam and the Arab world". Her works are accused of using neo-Orientalist portrayals and of being an enactment of the colonial "civilizing mission" discourse.[16][17][18]

Hirsi Ali emigrated to the United States and became a U.S. citizen in 2013. Hirsi Ali has published two autobiographies: in 2006[19] and 2010. She is married to Scottish historian and public commentator Niall Ferguson.

Early life and education[edit]

Ayaan was born in 1969[20] in Mogadishu, Somalia.[21] Her father, Hirsi Magan Isse, was a prominent member of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front and a leading figure in the Somalian Revolution. Shortly after she was born, her father was imprisoned due to his opposition to the Siad Barre government.[22][23] Hirsi Ali's father had studied abroad and was opposed to female genital mutilation, but while he was imprisoned, Hirsi Ali's grandmother had a man perform the procedure on her, when Hirsi Ali was five years old. According to Hirsi Ali, she was fortunate that her grandmother could not find a woman to do the procedure, as the mutilation was "much milder" when performed by men.[22]

After her father escaped from prison, he and the family left Somalia in 1977, going to Saudi Arabia and then to Ethiopia, before settling in Nairobi, Kenya by 1980. There he established a comfortable upper-class life for them. Hirsi Ali attended the English-language Muslim Girls' Secondary School. By the time she reached her teens, Saudi Arabia was funding religious education in numerous countries and its religious views were becoming influential among many Muslims. A charismatic religious teacher, trained under this aegis, joined Hirsi Ali's school. She inspired the teenaged Ayaan, as well as some fellow students, to adopt the more rigorous Saudi Arabian interpretations of Islam, as opposed to the more relaxed versions then current in Somalia and Kenya. Hirsi Ali said later that she had long been impressed by the Qur'an and had lived "by the Book, for the Book" throughout her childhood.[24]

She sympathised with the views of the IslamistMuslim Brotherhood, and wore a hijab with her school uniform. This was unusual at the time but has become more common among some young Muslim women. At the time, she agreed with the fatwa proclaimed against British Indian writer Salman Rushdie in reaction to the portrayal of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in his novel The Satanic Verses.[25] After completing secondary school, Hirsi Ali attended a secretarial course at Valley Secretarial College in Nairobi for one year.[26] As she was growing up, she also read English-language adventure stories, such as the Nancy Drew series, with modern heroine archetypes who pushed the limits of society.[27] Also, remembering her grandmother refusing soldiers entry into her house, Hirsi Ali associated with Somalia "the picture of strong women: the one who smuggles in the food, and the one who stands there with a knife against the army and says, 'You cannot come into the house.' And I became like that. And my parents and my grandmother don't appreciate that now - because of what I've said about the Qur'an. I have become them, just in a different way."[22]

Early life in the Netherlands[edit]

Hirsi Ali arrived in the Netherlands in 1992. That year she had travelled from Kenya to visit her family in Düsseldorf and Bonn, Germany and gone to the Netherlands to escape an alleged arranged marriage. Once there, she requested political asylum and obtained a residence permit. She used her paternal grandfather's early surname on her application and has since been known in the West as Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She received a residence permit within three or four weeks of arriving in the Netherlands.[28][29]

At first she held various short-term jobs, ranging from cleaning to sorting post.[26] She worked as a translator at a Rotterdam refugee center which, according to a friend interviewed in 2006 by The Observer newspaper, marked her deeply.[30]

As an avid reader, in the Netherlands she found new books and ways of thought that both stretched her imagination and frightened her. Sigmund Freud's work introduced her to an alternative moral system that was not based on religion.[31] During this time she took courses in Dutch and a one-year introductory course in social work at the De Horst Institute for Social Work in Driebergen. She has said that she was impressed with how well Dutch society seemed to function.[31] To better understand its development, she studied at Leiden University, obtaining an MSc degree in political science in 2000.

Between 1995 and 2001, Hirsi Ali also worked as an independent Somali-Dutch interpreter and translator, frequently working with Somali women in asylum centers, hostels for abused women, and at the Dutch immigration and naturalization service (IND, Immigratie en Naturalisatiedienst). While working for the IND, she became critical of the way it handled asylum seekers.[26] As a result of her education and experiences, Hirsi Ali speaks six languages: English, Somali, Arabic, Swahili, Amharic, and Dutch.[22]

Political career[edit]

After gaining her degree, Hirsi Ali became a fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Stichting (WBS), a think tank of the center-left Labour Party (PvdA). Leiden University Professor Ruud Koole was steward of the party. Hirsi Ali’s writing at the WBS was inspired by the work of the neoconservative Orientalist Bernard Lewis.[32]

She became disenchanted with Islam, and was shocked by the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, for which al-Qaeda eventually claimed responsibility. After listening to videotapes of Osama bin Laden citing "words of justification" in the Qur'an for the attacks, she wrote, "I picked up the Qur'an and the hadith and started looking through them, to check. I hated to do it, because I knew that I would find Bin Laden's quotations in there."[33] During this time of transition, she came to regard the Qur'an as relative – it was a historical record and "just another book."[34]

Reading Atheïstisch manifest ("Atheist Manifesto") of Leiden University philosopher Herman Philipse helped to convince her to give up religion. She renounced Islam and acknowledged her disbelief in God in 2002.[35] She began to formulate her critique of Islam and Islamic culture, published many articles on these topics, and became a frequent speaker on television news programs and in public debate forums. She discussed her ideas at length in a book entitled De Zoontjesfabriek (The Son Factory) (2002). In this period, she first began to receive death threats.[35]

In November 2002, after disagreements with the PvdA about what security measures they would offer her as a member, she sought advice from Cisca Dresselhuys, the editor of the feminist magazine Opzij, on how to gain government funding for what was essentially political protection.[citation needed]

Dresselhuys introduced Hirsi Ali to Gerrit Zalm, the parliamentary leader of the center-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and party member Neelie-Smit Kroes, then European Commissioner for Competition. At their urging, Hirsi Ali agreed to switch to their party of the VVD and stood for election to Parliament. Between November 2002 and January 2003, she lived abroad while on the payroll as an assistant of the VVD.

In 2003, aged 33, Hirsi Ali became a prominent candidate in the parliamentary election campaign. She said that the Dutch welfare state had overlooked abuse of Muslim women and girls in the Netherlands and their social needs, contributing to their isolation and oppression.[36] She won her seat.

During her tenure in Parliament, Hirsi Ali continued her criticisms of Islam and many of her statements provoked controversy. In an interview in the Dutch newspaper Trouw, she said that by Western standards, Muhammad as represented in the Qu'ran would be considered a pedophile. A religious discrimination complaint was filed against her on 24 April 2003 by Muslims who objected to her statements. The Prosecutor's office decided not to initiate a case, because her critique did "not put forth any conclusions in respect to Muslims and their worth as a group is not denied".[37]

Film with van Gogh[edit]

Working with writer and director Theo van Gogh, Hirsi Ali wrote the script and provided the voice-over for Submission (2004),[38] a short film that criticised the treatment of women in Islamic society.[39] Juxtaposed with passages from the Qur'an were scenes of actresses portraying Muslim women suffering abuse. An apparently nude actress dressed in a semi-transparent burqa was shown with texts from the Qur'an written on her skin. These texts are among those often interpreted as justifying the subjugation of Muslim women. The film's release sparked outrage among many Dutch Muslims.

Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch MoroccanIslamist and member of the Muslim terrorist organisation Hofstad Group, assassinated van Gogh in an Amsterdam street on 2 November 2004.[40] Bouyeri shot van Gogh with a handgun eight times, first from a distance and then at short range as the director lay wounded on the ground. He was already dead when Bouyeri cut his throat with a large knife and tried to decapitate him. Bouyeri left a letter pinned to Van Gogh's body with a small knife; it was primarily a death threat to Hirsi Ali.[41][42] The Dutch secret service immediately raised the level of security they provided to Hirsi Ali.[43] At van Gogh's funeral, his mother urged Hirsi Ali to continue the work that she and van Gogh had done together.[44] Bouyeri was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.[45]

In 2004 a rap song about Hirsi Ali was produced and distributed on the Internet. The lyrics included violent threats against her life. The rappers were prosecuted under Article 121 of the Dutch criminal code because they hindered Hirsi Ali's execution of her work as a politician. In 2005 they were sentenced to community service and a suspended prison sentence.[46]

Hirsi Ali went into hiding, aided by government security services, who moved her among several locations in the Netherlands. They moved her to the United States for several months. On 18 January 2005, she returned to parliament. On 18 February 2005, she revealed where she and her colleague Geert Wilders were living. She demanded a normal, secured house, which she was granted one week later.

In January 2006 Hirsi Ali was recognised as "European of the Year" by Reader's Digest, an American magazine. In her speech, she urged action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. She also said that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be taken at his word in wanting to organise a conference to investigate objective evidence of the Holocaust, noting that the subject is not taught in the Middle East. She said, "Before I came to Europe, I'd never heard of the Holocaust. That is the case with millions of people in the Middle East. Such a conference should be able to convince many people away from their denial of the genocide against the Jews."[47] She also said that what some have described as "Western values" of freedom and justice were universal. But she thought that Europe has done far better than most areas of the world in providing justice, as it has guaranteed the freedom of thought and debate required for critical self-examination. She said communities cannot reform unless "scrupulous investigation of every former and current doctrine is possible."[48] Hirsi Ali was nominated as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize the same month by Norwegian parliamentarian Christian Tybring-Gjedde.[49]

In March 2006 she co-signed a letter entitled "MANIFESTO: Together facing the new totalitarianism".[50] Among the eleven other signatories was Salman Rushdie; as a teenager, Hirsi Ali had supported the fatwa against him. The letter was published in response to protests in the Islamic world surrounding the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in Denmark, and it supported freedom of press and freedom of expression.

On 27 April 2006 a Dutch judge ruled that Hirsi Ali had to abandon her current secure house at a secret address in the Netherlands. Her neighbors had complained that she created an unacceptable security risk, but the police had testified that this neighborhood was one of the safest places in the country, as they had many personnel assigned to it for the politician's protection.[51] In an interview in early 2007, Hirsi Ali noted that the Dutch state had spent about €3.5 million on her protection; threats against her produced fear, but she believed it important to speak her mind. While regretting van Gogh's death, she said she was proud of their work together.[52]

A private trust, the Foundation for Freedom of Expression, was established in 2007 in the Netherlands to help fund protection of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and other Muslim dissidents.[53]

Dutch citizenship controversy[edit]

In May 2006 the TV programme Zembla reported that Hirsi Ali had given false information about her name, her age, and her country of residence when originally applying for asylum.[54] In her asylum application, she had claimed to be fleeing a forced marriage, but the Zembla coverage featured interviews with her family, who denied that claim.[55] The program alleged that, contrary to Hirsi Ali's claims of having fled a Somali war zone, the MP had been living comfortably in upper middle-class conditions safely in Kenya with her family for at least 12 years before she sought refugee status in the Netherlands in 1992.

In her version of events, she had fled civil war in Somalia, was forced into an arranged marriage with a man whom she had never met, and was not present at her own wedding. Upon escaping she was forced into hiding in the Netherlands, for her ex-husband and father's brothers would have been by Somali custom, required to perform an honor killing. The accounts of various witnesses varied greatly from hers. According to them, she left Somalia prior to any mass violence, and led a comfortable, upper-middle class life in neighboring Kenya, where she attended a Muslim Girls' school and received a full western-style education with focus on the Humanities and Science, her brother attended a Christian school, she lied to the Dutch immigration service about coming from Somalia in order not to be sent back to Kenya, and they allege she met her husband a few days before her wedding. After several meetings with him, they allege she agreed to the marriage, even though her mother said Ayaan should finish her education so she could afford to leave him if the marriage should have been unsuccessful. They also allege that Hirsi Ali was present at the wedding, something her brother later denied, and according to several witnesses appeared to be enjoying herself. Hirsi Ali denies all of this. On her way to Canada, she says she travelled to Holland by train during a stopover in Germany, and applied for political asylum. During her stay in Holland she regularly received letters from her father.[56] The documentary also quoted several native Somalians as saying there is no tradition of honor killing in Somalia, something that is disputed.[57]

Hirsi Ali admitted that she had lied about her full name, date of birth, and the manner in which she had come to the Netherlands, but persisted in saying she was trying to flee a forced marriage. She noted that her first book, The Son Factory (2002), provided her real name and date of birth. She had also stated these in a September 2002 interview published in the political magazine HP/De Tijd.[58][59][60] and in an interview in the VARA gids (2002).[61] Hirsi Ali asserted in her 2006 autobiography (2007 in English) that she made full disclosure of the matter to VVD officials when invited to run for parliament in 2002.[62] It is not known on what grounds she received political asylum. On the issue of her name, she applied under her grandfather's surname in her asylum application, to which she was entitled; she later said it was to escape retaliation by her clan.[63] In the later parliamentary investigation of Hirsi Ali's immigration, the Dutch law governing names was reviewed. An applicant may legally use a surname derived from any generation as far back as the grandparent. Therefore, Hirsi Ali's application, though against clan custom of names, was legal under Dutch law. The question of her age was of minor concern.[64] Media speculation arose in 2006 that she could lose her Dutch citizenship because of these issues, rendering her ineligible for parliament. At first, Minister Rita Verdonk said she would not look into the matter.[65] She later decided to investigate Hirsi Ali's naturalisation process. The investigation found that Hirsi Ali had not legitimately received Dutch citizenship, because she had lied about her name and date of birth. However, later inquiries established that she was entitled to use the name Ali because it was her grandfather's name. Rita Verdonk moved to annul Hirsi Ali's citizenship, an action later overridden at the urging of Parliament.[66]

On 15 May 2006, after the broadcast of the Zembla documentary, news stories appeared saying that Hirsi Ali was likely to move to the United States that September. She was reported to be planning to write a book entitled Shortcut to Enlightenment and to work for the American Enterprise Institute.[67] On 16 May Hirsi Ali resigned from Parliament after admitting that she had lied on her asylum application. In a press conference she said that the facts had been publicly known since 2002, when they had been reported in the media and in one of her publications. She also restated her claim of seeking asylum to prevent a forced marriage, stating: "How often do people who are seeking refuge provide different names? The penalty of stripping me of my Dutch citizenship is disproportional." Her stated reason for resigning immediately was the increasing media attention. Owing to the fact that a Dutch court had ruled in April 2006 that she had to leave her house by August 2006, she decided to relocate to the United States in September 2006.[68]

After a long and emotional debate in the Dutch Parliament, all major parties supported a motion requesting the Minister to explore the possibility of special circumstances in Hirsi Ali's case. Although Verdonk remained convinced that the applicable law did not leave her room to consider such circumstances, she decided to accept the motion. During the debate, she said that Hirsi Ali still had Dutch citizenship during the period of reexamination. Apparently the "decision" she had announced had represented the current position of the Dutch government. Hirsi Ali at that point had six weeks to react to the report before any final decision about her citizenship was taken. Verdonk was strongly criticised for her actions in such a sensitive case.[69] In addition to her Dutch passport, Hirsi Ali retained a Dutch residency permit based on being a political refugee. According to the Minister, this permit could not be taken away from her since it had been granted more than 12 years before.

Reacting to news of Hirsi Ali's planned relocation to the US, former VVD leader Hans Wiegel stated that her departure "would not be a loss to the VVD and not be a loss to the House of Representatives".[70] He said that Hirsi Ali was a brave woman, but that her opinions were polarizing. Former parliamentary leader of the VVD, Jozias van Aartsen, said that it is "painful for Dutch society and politics that she is leaving the House of Representatives".[71] Another VVD MP, Bibi de Vries, said that if something were to happen to Hirsi Ali, some people in her party would have "blood on their hands." United States Deputy Secretary of StateRobert Zoellick said in May 2006, "we recognise that she is a very courageous and impressive woman and she is welcome in the US."[72]

On 23 May 2006, Ayaan Hirsi made available to The New York Times some letters she believed would provide insight into her 1992 asylum application.[73][74] In one letter her sister Haweya warned her that the entire extended family was searching for her (after she had fled to the Netherlands), and in another letter her father denounced her. Christopher DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said that the asylum controversy would not affect the appointment. He stated that he was still looking forward to "welcoming her to AEI, and to America."

On 27 June 2006, the Dutch government announced that Hirsi Ali would keep her Dutch citizenship.[75] On the same day a letter was disclosed in which Hirsi Ali expressed regret for misinforming Minister Verdonk. Hirsi Ali was allowed to retain her name. Dutch immigration rules allowed asylum seekers to use grandparents' names. Her grandfather had used the last name Ali until his thirties and then switched to Magan, which was her father's and family's surname. This grandfather's birth year of 1845 had complicated the investigation. (Hirsi Ali's father Hirsi Magan Isse was the youngest of his many children and born when her grandfather was close to 90).[76] Later the same day Hirsi Ali, through her lawyer and in television interviews, stated that she had signed the resignation letter, drafted by the Justice Department, under duress.[77] She felt it was forced in order for her to keep her passport, but she had not wanted to complicate her pending visa application for the U.S. As of 2006[update] she still carried her Dutch passport.

In a special parliamentary session on 28 June 2006, questions were raised about these issues. The ensuing political upheaval on 29 June ultimately led to the fall of the Second Balkenende cabinet.[78]

Life in the U.S.[edit]

In 2006 Hirsi Ali took a position at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.;[79] as the Dutch government continued to provide security for her, this required an increase in their effort and costs.[80]

Her high public profile and outspokenness have continued to attract controversy. On 17 April 2007, the local Muslim community in Johnstown, Pennsylvania protested Hirsi Ali's planned lecture at the local campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburghimam Fouad El Bayly was reported as saying that the activist deserved the death sentence but should be tried and judged in an Islamic country.[81]

On 25 September 2007, Hirsi Ali received her United States Permanent Resident Card (green card).[82] In October 2007 she returned to the Netherlands, continuing her work for AEI from a secret address in the Netherlands. The Dutch minister of JusticeHirsch Ballin had informed her of his ruling that, as of 1 October 2007, the Dutch government would no longer pay for her security abroad. That year she declined an offer to live in Denmark, saying she intended to return to the United States.[83]


Brandeis University[edit]

In early 2014 Brandeis University in Massachusetts announced that Ali would be given an honorary degree at the graduation commencement ceremony. In early April, the university rescinded its offer following a review of her statements that was carried out in response to protests by the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) and lobbying by Joseph E. B. Lumbard, Head of the Islamic Studies Department, other faculty members and several student groups that accused Hirsi Ali of "hate speech". University president Frederick M. Lawrence said that "certain of her past statements" were inconsistent with the university's "core values" because they were "Islamophobic."[84] Others expressed opinions both for and against this decision.[85] The university said she was welcome to come to the campus for a dialogue in the future.

The university's withdrawal of its invitation generated controversy and condemnation among some.[86][87][88] But, The Economist noted at the time that Hirsi Ali's "Wholesale condemnations of existing religions just aren't done in American politics." It said that "The explicit consensus in America is ecumenical and strongly pro-religious..."[89] The university was distinguishing between an open intellectual exchange, which could occur if Hirsi Ali came to campus for a dialogue, and appearing to celebrate her with an honorary degree.[89]

A Brandeis spokesperson said that Ali had not been invited to speak at commencement but simply to be among honorary awardees.[90] She claimed to have been invited to speak and expressed shock at Brandeis' action.[91] Hirsi Ali said CAIR's letter misrepresented her and her work, but that it has long been available on the Internet.[92][93] She said that the "spirit of free expression" has been betrayed and stifled.[94]

David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University, criticised the Brandeis decision as an attack on academic values of freedom of inquiry and intellectual independence.[95]

Among the commenters, Jeffrey Herf, a Brandeis alumnus and historian, published an open letter criticizing Lawrence's decision, saying it had "done deep and long-lasting damage to a university."[96] Lawrence J. Haas, the former communications director and press secretary for Vice PresidentAl Gore, published an open letter saying that Lawrence "succumbed to political correctness and interest group pressure in deciding that Islam is beyond the pale of legitimate inquiry... that such a decision is particularly appalling for a university president, for a campus is precisely the place to encourage free discussion even on controversial matters."[97]

Designation by Southern Poverty Law Center[edit]

In October 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center accused Ayaan, and the liberal Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, of being "anti-Muslim extremists", which caused protests in several prominent newspapers.[98][99][100] The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice has written a public letter to the SPLC to retract the listings.[101]

Australia tour[edit]

In April 2017 she cancelled a planned tour of Australia. This followed the Facebook release of a video by six Australian Muslim women who accused her of a being "star of the global Islamophobia industry" and of profiting from "an industry that exists to dehumanise Muslim women" but did not call for her to cancel her trip. Ali responded that the women in question were "carrying water" for the causes of radical Islamists and stated that "Islamophobia" is a manufactured word. She explained that the cancellation was due to security concerns and organisational problems.[102][103][104][105][106]

Social and political views[edit]

Hirsi Ali joined the VVD political party in 2002; it combines "classically liberal" views on the economy, foreign policy, crime and immigration with a liberal social stance on abortion and homosexuality. She says that she admires Frits Bolkestein, a former Euro-commissioner and ideological leader of the party.[107]


Hirsi Ali has criticised the treatment of women in Islamic societies and the punishments demanded by conservative Islamic scholars for homosexuality and adultery. She publicly identified as Muslim until 28 May 2002, when she acknowledged in her diary that she knew she was not.[108]

In a 2007 interview in the London Evening Standard,[25] Hirsi Ali characterised Islam as "the new fascism":

Just like Nazism started with Hitler's vision, the Islamic vision is a caliphate – a society ruled by Sharia law – in which women who have sex before marriage are stoned to death, homosexuals are beaten, and apostates like me are killed. Sharia law is as inimical to liberal democracy as Nazism.... Violence is inherent in Islam – it's a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.

In a 2007 article in Reason magazine, Hirsi Ali said that Islam, the religion, must be defeated and that "we are at war with Islam. And there's no middle ground in wars."[109] She said, "Islam, period. Once it's defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It's very difficult to even talk about peace now. They're not interested in peace...There comes a moment when you crush your enemy."[109] She reiterated her position that the problem isn't just a few "rotten apples" in the Islamic community but "I'm saying it's the entire basket." She stated that the majority of Muslims aren't "moderates" and they must radically alter their religion.[110]Max Rodenbeck, writing in The New York Review of Books, notes that Ali's view of Islam has shifted and "mellowed," as she no longer completely rejects Islam. She now narrowly criticizes what she calls "Medina Muslims", meaning the fundamentalists who envision a regime based on sharia,[111] and who ignore the more inclusive passages of Muhammad's Meccan period, a small minority of Muslims,[112] who are, nevertheless, quite influential among young Muslims, according to Hirsi Ali: "These men, I find them to be far more influential in inspiring and mobilising young men to see the religion of Islam the way they see it, than the way either Imam Faisal says he sees it, or Maajid Nawaz says he sees it."[113] Ayaan Hirsi Ali stated that, in her opinion, "The Christian extremists here, in the United States, who take the Bible and use it to kill people and hurt people, they are the fringe, but unfortunately, what we are seeing in Muslim countries is that the people who feel they should be governed under the Sharia Law, are not a fringe. (..) Islam can become a religion of peace, if politics is divorced from religion",[113] and she stated that: "The individual that wants to kill me because I am an apostate of Islam, is inspired to do that from the scripture of Islam, the example of the prophet Mohammed, the clergy that preached to him, and the reward that he will get in the hereafter."[113]

She described Islamic societies as lagging "in enlightened thinking, tolerance and knowledge of other cultures" and that their history cannot cite a single person who "made a discovery in science or technology, or changed the world through artistic achievement".[16] She insists that many contemporary Muslims have not yet transitioned to modernity,[17] and that many Muslim immigrants are culturally unsuited to life in the West and are therefore a burden.[18] Ali calls upon atheist and Christian Euro-Americans to unite against the Muslim extremism in the West. She urges the former to educate Muslims and the latter, especially Western Churches, to convert "as many Muslims as possible to Christianity, introducing them to a God who rejects Holy War and who has sent his son to die for all sinners out of love for mankind".[17] Hirsi Ali stated that: "Islam needs a reformation. Muslim leaders who are serious about achieving true and enduring peace, need to revise the Koran and the Hadith, so there is a consistency between what the peaceloving Muslims want and what their religion says."[114]

Hirsi Ali speaking in April 2015, on an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio program said,

It's wrong for Western leaders like [former Prime Minister of Australia] Tony Abbott to say the actions of the Islamic State aren't about religion. I want to say to him 'please don't say such things in public because it's just not true.' You're letting down all the individuals who are reformers within Islam who are asking the right questions that will ultimately bring about change.[115]

Speaking shortly after the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, Hirsi Ali commented on the nature of radicalization within communities of Islamic believers saying, "If we talk about the process of what we now call radicalization, that you see a process where individuals are putting on a religious identity. It's all about being a Muslim, you shed the rest of it or you downplay the rest of it and you try to make everyone else as pious as yourself. And this would be, looking back at San Bernardino, the telltale signs. These changes that the family, the friends, the close circle of relatives should have observed."[5]


See also: Criticism of Muhammad

Hirsi Ali criticises the central Islamic prophet on morality and personality traits (criticisms based on biographical details or depictions by Islamic texts and early followers of Muhammad). In January 2003 she told the Dutch paper Trouw, "Muhammad is, seen by our Western standards, a pervert and a tyrant", as he married, at the age of 53, Aisha, who was six years old and nine at the time the marriage was consummated. She later said: "Perhaps I should have said 'a pedophile'".[116] Muslims filed a religious discrimination suit against her that year. The civil court in The Hague acquitted Hirsi Ali of any charges, but said that she "could have made a better choice of words".[117]

Genital mutilation[edit]

Hirsi Ali is a prominent opponent of female genital mutilation (FGM), which she has criticized in many of her writings. When in Dutch parliament, she proposed obligatory annual medical checks for all uncircumcised girls living in the Netherlands who came from countries where FGM is practised. She proposed that if a physician found that a Dutch girl had been mutilated, a report to the police would be required – with protection of the child prevailing over privacy.[118] In 2004 she also criticized male circumcision, particularly as practiced by Jews and Muslims, which she regarded as being another variant of mutilation practiced without the consent of the individual.[119]

Freedom of speech[edit]

In a 2006 lecture in Berlin, she defended the right to offend, following the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in Denmark. She condemned the journalists of those papers and TV channels that did not show their readers the cartoons as being "mediocre of mind." She also praised publishers all over Europe for showing the cartoons and not being afraid of what she called the "hard-line Islamist movement."[120]

Political opponents[edit]

In 2006 Hirsi Ali as MP supported the move by the Dutch courts to abrogate the party subsidy to a conservative Protestant Christian political party, the Political Reformed Party (SGP), which did not grant full membership rights to women and withholds passive voting rights from female members. She stated that "any political party discriminating against women or homosexuals should be deprived of funding."[121]

Opposition to denominational or faith schools[edit]

In the Netherlands about half of all education has historically been provided by sponsored religious schools, most of them Catholic or Protestant. As Muslims began to ask for support for schools, the state provided it and by 2005, there were 41 Islamic schools in the nation. This was based on the idea in the 1960s that Muslims could become one of the "pillars" of Dutch society, as were Protestants, Catholics and secular residents.[122] Hirsi Ali has opposed state funding of any religious schools, including Islamic ones.

Development aid[edit]

The Netherlands has always been one of the most prominent countries that support aidingdeveloping countries. As the spokesperson of the VVD in the parliament on this matter, Hirsi Ali said that the current aid policy had not achieved an increase in prosperity, peace and stability in developing countries: "The VVD believes that Dutch international aid has failed until now, as measured by [the Dutch aid effects on] poverty reduction, famine reduction, life expectancy and the promotion of peace."[123]


Public statements[edit]

In 2003 Hirsi Ali worked together with fellow VVD MP Geert Wilders for several months. They questioned the government about immigration policy. In reaction to the UN Development Programme Arab Human Development Report, Hirsi Ali asked questions of Minister of Foreign AffairsJaap de Hoop Scheffer and the Minister without Portfolio for Development Cooperation Agnes van Ardenne. Together with parliamentarian Geert Wilders she asked the government to pay attention to the consequences for Dutch policy concerning the limitation of immigration from the Arab world to Europe, and in particular the Netherlands.[citation needed]

Although she publicly supported the policy of VVD minister Rita Verdonk to limit immigration, privately she was not supportive, as she explained in a June 2006 interview for Opzij.[124] This was given after she resigned from Parliament and shortly after she had moved to the United States.

In parliament, Hirsi Ali had supported the way Verdonk handled the Pasic case, although privately she felt that Pasic should have been allowed to stay.[125] On the night before the debate, she phoned Verdonk to tell her that she had lied when she applied for asylum in the Netherlands, just as Pasic had. She said that Verdonk responded that if she had been minister at that time, she would have had Hirsi Ali deported.[125]


Hirsi Ali discussed her view on immigration in Europe,[126] in an OpEd article published in the Los Angeles Times in 2006.[127] Noting that immigrants are over-represented "in all the wrong statistics", she wrote that the European Union's immigration policy contributed to the illegal trade in women and arms, and the exploitation of poor migrants by "cruel employers."

She drew attention to the numerous illegal immigrants already in the Union. She believed that current immigration policy would lead to ethnic and religious division, nation states will lose their monopoly of force, Islamic law (sharia) will be introduced at the level of neighborhoods and cities, and exploitation of women and children will become "commonplace". To avoid this situation, she proposes three general principles for a new policy:

  • Admission of immigrants on the basis of their contribution to the economy. The current system "is designed to attract the highest number of people with truly heartbreaking stories".
  • Diplomatic, economic and military interventions in countries that cause large migrant flows.
  • Introduction of assimilation programs that acknowledge that "the basic tenets of Islam are a major obstacle to integration".

Regarding unemployment, social marginalization and poverty among certain immigrant communities, Hirsi Ali places the burden of responsibility squarely on Islam and migrant culture.[18]

In 2010, she opposed the idea of preventing immigrants from traditional Muslim societies from immigrating, claiming that allowing them to immigrate made the U.S. a "highly moral country."[128]

Native Americans[edit]

"When I speak of assimilation", Ali clarifies, "I mean assimilation into civilization. Aboriginals, Afghanis, Somalis, Arabs, Native Americans—all these non-Western groups have to make that transition to modernity".[17]

Israel and the Palestinians[edit]

Hirsi Ali has expressed support for Israel.[129]

I visited Israel a few years ago, primarily to understand how it dealt so well with so many immigrants from different origins," Hirsi Ali says. "My main impression was that Israel is a liberal democracy. In the places I visited, including Jerusalem as well as Tel Aviv and its beaches, I saw that men and women are equal. One never knows what happens behind the scenes, but that is how it appears to the visitor. The many women in the army are also very visible.

I understood that a crucial element of success is the unifying factor among immigrants to Israel. Whether one arrives from Ethiopia or Russia, or one's grandparents immigrated from Europe, what binds them is being Jewish. Such a bond is lacking in the Netherlands. Our immigrants' background is diverse and also differs greatly from that of the Netherlands, including religion.

As for Israel's problems, Hirsi Ali says, "From my superficial impression, the country also has a problem with fundamentalists. The ultra-Orthodox will cause a demographic problem because these fanatics have more children than the secular and the regular Orthodox."

On Palestinians:

I have visited the Palestinian quarters in Jerusalem as well. Their side is dilapidated, for which they blame the Israelis. In private, however, I met a young Palestinian who spoke excellent English. There were no cameras and no notebooks. He said the situation was partly their own fault, with much of the money sent from abroad to build Palestine being stolen by corrupt leaders.

When I start to speak in the Netherlands about the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the role of Arafat in the tragedy of Palestine, I do not get a large audience. Often one is talking to a wall. Many people reply that Israel first has to withdraw from the territories, and then all will be well with Palestine.

On the way Israel is perceived in the Netherlands: "The crisis of Dutch socialism can be sized up in its attitudes toward both Islam and Israel. It holds Israel to exceptionally high moral standards. The Israelis, however, will always do well, because they themselves set high standards for their actions. The standards for judging the Palestinians, however, are very low. Most outsiders remain silent on all the problems in their territories. That helps the Palestinians become even more corrupt than they already are. Those who live in the territories are not allowed to say anything about this because they risk being murdered by their own people."[130]

Personal life[edit]

Hirsi Ali married British historian Niall Ferguson in September 2011.[131] They have a son who was born in December 2011.[132]


Hirsi Ali has attracted praise and criticism from English-speaking commentators. Literary critic and journalist Christopher Hitchens regarded her as "the most important public intellectual probably ever to come out of Africa."[133]Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times called Hirsi Ali a freedom fighter for feminism who has "put her life on the line to defend women against radical Islam."[134] American novelist and screenwriter Roger L. Simon has praised Ali's defense of women's rights, calling her "one of the great positive figures of our time, a modern Joan of Arc who surpasses the original Joan in a moral sense and is at least her equal in pure guts."[135]

Tunku Varadarajan wrote in 2017 that, with "multiple fatwas on her head, Hirsi Ali has a greater chance of meeting a violent end than anyone I’ve met, Salman Rushdie included."[136] According to Andrew Anthony of The Guardian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is "loathed not just by Islamic fundamentalists but by many western liberals, who find her rejection of Islam almost as objectionable as her embrace of western liberalism."[137]


Saba Mahmood writes that Hirsi Ali "had no public profile until she decided to capitalize on the anti-Muslim sentiment that swept Europe following the events of 9/11".[16]

Adam Yaghi has questioned her appeal in American society where her "serial autobiographies are treated as honest and reliable testimonies in spite of the troubling inaccuracies, exaggerated descriptions, blunt neo-Orientalist portrayals, and sweeping generalizations".[17] Stephen Sheehi writes that in spite of her lack of scholarly credentials and academic qualifications "to speak authoritatively about Islam and the Arab world", Hirsi Ali has been accepted in the West as a scholar, feminist activist, and reformer primarily on the grounds of her "insider claims about Islam".[17]

Critics have labelled Ali as an "inauthentic ethnic voice",[32] at the service of imperialist feminism.[17] According to Kiran Grewal, Ali is "a classic enactment of the colonial 'civilizing mission' discourse".[17] Grewal describes Hirsi Ali's works as using "the language of 'lived experience' to justify an intolerant and exclusionary message". She notes that Hirsi Ali has generally been ignored or derided by feminists due to her "extremely provocative and often offensive statements regarding Islam and Muslim immigrants in the West". Grewal concludes that "it is not surprising many academics committed to an anti-racist agenda have baulked at engaging with Hirsi Ali".[18]

Yaghi comments that "Ali attributes everything bad to a monolithic Islam, one that transcends geographic and national boundaries...willfully ignoring her own distinctions between different interpretations of Islam, versions she personally encountered before leaving to the West".[17] Pearl Abraham makes a similar observation: "[I]n her writings, lectures, and interviews", Ali "reaches for the simple solution and quick answer. Always and everywhere, she insists on depicting Islam and Muslims as the enemy, her tribal culture as backward".[138][17] Hirsi Ali is also criticized for persistently singling out Islam and Muslims, but never manifestations of religious revivalism present with other religions.[17]

Despite positioning herself on a mission to fight for her fellow Muslim women, Yaghi states "yet, in her works, she belittles Muslim women and paints them as either perpetrators of oppression or naïve submissive clowns, voiceless and hopeless. These women, Ali insists, will be saved only when they divorce themselves from their native religion and culture and embrace a Western consciousness as she did".[17]

According to Rula Jebreal

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