This article is about the Somali-born American (formerly Dutch) activist. For the Pakistani actress and model, see Ayyan (model).
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Dutch: aːˈjaːn ˈɦiːrsi ˈaːli ( listen); born 13 November 1969) -- birthname Ayaan Hirsi Magan Isse Guleid Ali Wai'ays Muhammad Ali Umar Osman Mahamud; -- is a Somali-born American (formerly Dutch) activist, writer, and politician. She is known for her views critical of female genital mutilation and Islam and supportive of women's rights and atheism. She collaborated on a short movie with Theo van Gogh, entitled Submission (2004). Critical of Islam, it provoked controversy, and death threats were made against each of the two. Van Gogh was assassinated later that year by a Dutch Muslim.
Hirsi Ali is the daughter of the Somali politician and opposition leader Hirsi Magan Isse. She and her family left Somalia in 1977 for Saudi Arabia, then Ethiopia, and later settled in Kenya. In 1992, Ali sought and obtained political asylum in the Netherlands. Following graduate work, she published articles on her political views and spoke in support of Muslim women, becoming an atheist. In 2003, Hirsi Ali was elected a member of the House of Representatives (the lower house of the Dutch parliament), representing the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). A political crisis related to the validity of her Dutch citizenship led to her resignation from parliament, and indirectly to the fall of the second Balkenende cabinet in 2006.
In 2005, Hirsi Ali was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She has also received several awards, including a free speech award from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the Swedish Liberal Party's Democracy Prize, and the Moral Courage Award for commitment to conflict resolution, ethics, and world citizenship. Hirsi Ali has published two autobiographies: in 2006 and 2010.
Hirsi Ali emigrated to the United States, where she was a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. She founded the women's rights organisation, the AHA Foundation. She became a naturalized US citizen in 2013 and that year was made a fellow at the Kennedy Government School at Harvard University, and a member of The Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center. She is married to British historian and public commentator Niall Ferguson.
Early life and education:
She was born as Ayaan Hirsi Magan in 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia. 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.
Hirsi Ali's father had studied abroad and was opposed to female genital mutilation. But, while he was imprisoned, Hirsi Ali's grandmother had the traditional procedure performed on five-year-old Hirsi Ali.
After her father escaped from prison, he and the family left Somalia, 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.
She sympathised with the views of the Islamist Muslim 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 writer Salman Rushdie in reaction to the portrayal of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in his novel The Satanic Verses. After completing secondary school, Hirsi Ali attended a secretarial course at Valley Secretarial College in Nairobi for one year. 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.
Early life in the Netherlands:
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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 visit a relative. 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 weeks of arriving in the Netherlands, although it was typical for applicants at the time to have to wait eight months for a decision.
At first she held various short-term jobs, ranging from cleaning to sorting post. She worked as a translator at a Rotterdam refugee centre which, according to a friend interviewed in 2006 by The Observer newspaper, marked her deeply.
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. 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. To better understand its development, she studied at Leiden University, obtaining a 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 centres, hostels for abused women, and at the Dutch immigration and naturalisation service (IND, Immigratie en Naturalisatiedienst). While working for the IND, she became critical of the way it handled asylum seekers. As a result of her education and experiences, Hirsi Ali speaks six languages: English, Somali, Arabic, Swahili, Amharic and Dutch.
After gaining her graduate degree, Hirsi Ali became a fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Foundation, a scientific institute linked to the centre-left Labour Party (PvdA). Leiden University Professor Ruud Koole was steward of the party.
She became disenchanted with Islam, and was shocked by the 11 September attacks in the United States in 2001, claimed by Muslims. 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 Quran 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." During this time of transition, she came to regard the Qur'an as relative--it was a historical record and "just another book".
Reading Atheïstisch manifest ("Atheist Manifesto") of Leiden philosopher Herman Philipse completed her decision to give up religion. She renounced Islam and became an atheist in 2002. 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.
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.
Dresselhuys introduced Hirsi Ali to Gerrit Zalm, the parliamentary leader of the centre-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. 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".
Film with van Gogh:
Working with writer and director Theo van Gogh, Hirsi Ali wrote the script and provided the voice-over for Submission (2004), a short film that criticised the treatment of women in Islamic society. 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 Moroccan Islamist and alleged member of the Muslim terrorist organization Hofstad Group, assassinated Van Gogh in an Amsterdam street on 2 November 2004. 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. The Dutch secret service immediately raised the level of security they provided to Hirsi Ali. At van Gogh's funeral, his mother urged Hirsi Ali to continue the work that she and Van Gogh had done together. Bouyeri was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
In 2004, the group The Hague Connection produced a rap song, "Hirsi Ali Dis", and distributed it 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.
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 recognized 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." 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."
In March 2006 she co-signed a letter entitled "MANIFESTO: Together facing the new totalitarianism". Among the eleven other signatories was British writer Salman Rushdie, against whom a fatwa had been pronounced which Hirsi Ali had supported as a teen. 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. 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.
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.
Dutch citizenship controversy:
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. 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. 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.
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. and in an interview in the VARA gids (2002). Some supporters accepted her statement that these facts were already public knowledge. 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.
She admitted to lying in her application for political asylum to enhance her chances to stay in the Netherlands. Hirsi Ali said that she omitted some information, for instance, that she and her family had lived for years outside the country. She said she returned to Somalia to try to rescue additional family members from refugee camps and then sought asylum. This issue raised doubts about other elements of her biography that lack documentary or circumstantial evidence.
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; she later said it was to escape retaliation by her clan. 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.
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. 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. Rita Verdonk moved to annul Hirsi Ali's citizenship, an action later overridden at the urging of Parliament.
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 a conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.
On 16 May Hirsi Ali resigned from Parliament after admitting that she had lied on her asylum application. She gave a press conference, saying that, although she felt it was wrong to be granted asylum under false pretences, 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, although some of her relatives had denied that on the Zembla programme. Her stated reason for resigning immediately was the news that the Minister would strip her of her Dutch citizenship.
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.
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". 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". 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 State Robert Zoellick said in May 2006, "we recognise that she is a very courageous and impressive woman and she is welcome in the US."
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. 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. 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).
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. 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 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.
Hirsi Ali has continued discussion of these issues in her two autobiographies, published in Dutch in 2006 and in English in 2010, respectively. In her first work, she said that in 1992 her father arranged to marry her to a distant cousin. She says that she objected to this both on general grounds (she has said she dreaded being forced to submit to a stranger, sexually and socially), and specifically to this man, whom she described as a "bigot" and an "idiot" in her book.
She told her family that she planned to join her husband, who was living in Canada, after obtaining a visa while in Germany. But in her autobiography, she said she spent her time in Germany trying to devise an escape from her unwanted marriage. She decided to visit a relative in the Netherlands, and to seek help after arrival and claim asylum.
In her second autobiography, Nomad (2010, in English), Hirsi Ali wrote that in early 2006, Rita Verdonk had personally approached her to ask for her public support in Verdonk's campaign to run for party leader of the VVD. Hirsi Ali wrote that she had personally supported Verdonk's opponent, Mark Rutte, as the better choice. She says that after telling Verdonk of her position, the minister became vindictive. Hirsi Ali wrote that, after the 2006 report of the Zembla TV program, Verdonk campaigned against Ali in retaliation for her earlier lack of support.
Her first autobiography, Infidel (2006), was published in English in 2007. In a review, American Enterprise Institute fellow Joshua Muravchik described the book as "simply a great work of literature," and compared her to novelist Joseph Conrad.
Life in USA:
In 2006 Hirsi Ali took a position at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.; as the Dutch government continued to provide security for her, this required an increase in their effort and costs.
Her high public profile and controversial positions 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. Pittsburgh imam Fouad El Bayly was reported as saying that the activist deserved the death sentence and should be tried and judged in an Islamic country.
On 25 September 2007, Hirsi Ali received her United States Permanent Resident Card (green card). In October 2007 she returned to the Netherlands, continuing her work for AEI from a secret address in the Netherlands. The Dutch minister of Justice Hirsch 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.
In early 2014 Brandeis University in Massachusetts announced that Ali would be given an honorary degree at the graduation commencement ceremony. In early April, after review of her statements due to opposition 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, the university rescinded its offer. University president Frederick M. Lawrence said that "certain of her past statements" were inconsistent with the university's "core values" because they were "Islamophobic." Others expressed opinions both for and against this decision. 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. 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..." 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.
A Brandeis spokesperson said that Ali had not been invited to speak at commencement but simply to be among honorary awardees. She claimed to have been invited to speak and expressed shock at Brandeis' action. Hirsi Ali said CAIR's letter misrepresented her and her work, but that it has long been available on the Internet. She said that the "spirit of free expression" has been betrayed and stifled.
A range of opinions has been expressed. Abullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain and adjunct faculty of Islamic Studies at Duke University, praised Brandeis and warned against "making renegades into heroes."Jerry Coyne of University of Chicago wrote on his blog in support of Hirsi Ali, and David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University, criticized the Brandeis decision as an attack on academic values of freedom of inquiry and intellectual independence.
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." Lawrence J. Haas, the former communications director and press secretary for Vice President Al 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."
Social and political views:
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 drugs, abortion and homosexuality. She says that she admires Frits Bolkestein, a former Euro-commissioner and ideological leader of the party.
She has said that her personal views have been derived from her change from Islam to atheism. Hirsi Ali is very critical of Islam, especially of the writings of its prophet Muhammad and the cultural position of women within many Islamic societies.
Hirsi Ali has criticized the treatment of women in Islamic societies and the punishments demanded by conservative Islamic scholars for homosexuality and adultery. She identified as Muslim until 28 May 2002, when she announced that she was an atheist as a result of a multi-year journey.
Hirsi Ali has increasingly attacked Islam since leaving the Netherlands, in what The Economist characterized as broad-brushed condemnation of the entire religion and its followers. It noted that "Characterising an entire religion in this way is considered entirely beyond the pale in educated American society."
In a 2007 interview in the London Evening Standard, Hirsi Ali characterized 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." In this interview, she said, "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 must be defeated and that "we are at war with Islam." 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." She reiterated her position that the problem it isn't just a few "rotten apples" in the Islamic community but "I'm saying it's the entire basket." The majority of Muslims aren't "moderates" and they must radically alter the religion.
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", as he married, at the age of 53, Aisha, who was six years old and nine at the time the marriage was consummated. 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".
When the Trouw reporter asked her about Muhammed in this 2003 interview, she said,
"Measured by our western standards, Muhammad is a pervert. He is against freedom of expression. If you don't do as he says, you will be punished. It makes me think of all those megalomaniacs in the Middle East: Bin Laden, Khomeini, Saddam. Do you think it strange that there is a Saddam Hussein? Muhammad is his example. Muhammad is an example for all Muslim men. Do you think it strange that so many Muslim men are violent?"
In a November 2003 interview with the Danish magazine Sappho, Hirsi Ali said she thought there were parallels between the personality of Yasser Arafat and that of Muhammad.
Hirsi Ali opposes female genital mutilation (FGM), but also the practice of circumcision of boys as practiced by Jews and Muslims, as well as the routine infant circumcision practised in the United States. She notes that in many cases boys lose more tissue than girls do, and considers both practices to be mutilation because they are performed without the consent of the person undergoing the ritual.
When in Dutch parliament, she proposed obligatory annual medical checks for all uncircumcised girls living in the Netherlands who came from countries where female genital mutilation is practised. She proposed that if a physician found that a Dutch girl had been circumcised, a report to the police would be required, with protection of the child prevailing over privacy. A critic of her proposal noted that most Muslim immigrants to the Netherlands are from Turkey and Morocco, where the people do not practice FGM at all.
Freedom of speech:
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."
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."
That year Hirsi Ali said that she wanted the Belgian authorities to ban the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang party, claiming that "it hardly differs from the Hofstad Group. Though the VB members have not committed any violent crimes yet, they are just postponing them and waiting until they have an absolute majority. On many issues they have exactly the same opinions as the Muslim extremists: on the position of women, on the suppression of gays, on abortion. This way of thinking will lead straight to genocide."
Vlaams Belang leaders and press statements denied that the party rejects the rights of women or promotes genocidal policies. Party officials instead highlighted Vlaams Belang's support for Shoah and Armenian Genocide commemorations. Vlaams Belang leader Frank Vanhecke wrote an open letter to Hirsi Ali, saying that she is "closer to the Vlaams Belang with her viewpoints than to the Flemish Liberals." He rejected her likening his party to the terrorist Hofstad Group, saying that his party "has never and nowhere called for violence." When Hirsi Ali resigned her seat in parliament, the Vlaams Belang spokesman said the party has "respect for the way she has conducted and promoted the debate in the Netherlands with respect to Islam, female oppression and failed integration."
Opposition to denominational or faith schools:
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. Hirsi Ali has opposed state funding of any religious schools, including Islamic ones.
In a 2007 interview with the London newspaper, the Evening Standard, she said, "Close the Islamic faith schools today. ... Britain is sleepwalking into a society that could be ruled by Sharia law within decades unless Islamic schools are shut down and young Muslims are instead made to integrate and accept Western liberal values. ... We have to show the next generation of Muslims, the children, that they have a choice, and to do that - to have any hope whatsoever - we have to close down the Islamic faith schools." She said, 'I haven't seen anybody coming out of a Catholic or Jewish school advocating violence against women or homosexuals, or wanting to murder innocent people in the name of their religion.'
The Netherlands has always been one of the most prominent countries that support aiding developing 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."
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 Affairs Jaap 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.
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. This was given after she resigned from Parliament and shortly after she had moved to the United States of America.
Hirsi Ali said she supported a general pardon and the granting of Dutch citizenship for a group of 26,000 refugees, who had each spent more than five years in the Netherlands without gaining hearings or decisions about their applications for asylum. The VVD forbade her to speak her mind on this issue.
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. 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.
Hirsi Ali discussed her view on immigration in Europe, in an OpEd article published in the Los Angeles Times in 2006. 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".,
However, she opposed the idea of preventing immigrants from traditional Muslim societies from immigrating, claiming that allowing them to immigrate made America a "highly moral country."
Israel and the Palestinians:
"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."
Hirsi Ali is married to the British historian Niall Ferguson. Their son Thomas was born in December 2011.
Hirsi Ali has attracted praise and criticism from Anglophone commentators. 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." 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." In a lengthy review in The Nation, Laila Lalami criticizes her for essays in The Caged Virgin (2006) and for claims of expertise as a "native informant", arguing that she reveals a lack of depth of knowledge about Islam as practiced in various nations.
The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and lslam:
In his 2006 review of this collection of seventeen essays and articles on Islam by Hirsi Ali, journalist Christopher Hitchens noted her three themes: "first, her own gradual emancipation from tribalism and superstition; second, her work as a parliamentarian to call attention to the crimes being committed every day by Islamist thugs in mainland Europe; and third, the dismal silence, or worse, from many feminists and multiculturalists about this state of affairs."
He described the activist as a "charismatic figure in Dutch politics" and criticised the Dutch government for how it protected her from Islamic threats after her collaboration with Theo van Gogh on the short film Submission and the assassination of the director.
Laila Lalami has suggested that activists such as Hirsi Ali achieve public recognition but their thought has not been subjected to very vigorous review. She wrote, "Are their conclusions borne out by empirical evidence, or do they fail to meet basic levels of scholarship?" She notes that Hirsi Ali says the major problem is the "insufficient freedom for the individual in Islam. This, Hirsi Ali argues, is because one of the fundamental tenets of the religion is the submission of the individual to God." Lalami notes that the hierarchy described by Hirsi Ali in her book is common to monotheistic religions, and that there is wide variation in cultures among the 57 nations that are majority Muslim in population. She believes that Hirsi Ali attempts too simplistic an argument, recognizing none of these nuances.
In response to the author's claim that growing up under Islam hinders individuals, she writes:
"What sociological evidence is there for this claim that Islam makes people inherently incapable of independent thought and of studying science? The answer is: None. One is merely given Hirsi Ali's assurances that she knows what is going on behind closed doors, based on her own experiences of growing up in Somalia and of working as an interpreter for Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands."
Lalami finds that Hirsi Ali makes broad statements, which weaken her arguments:
"This lumping together of various Islams--the geographical region, the Abrahamic religion, the historical civilization and the many individual cultures--is symptomatic of the entire book, and makes it particularly difficult to engage with Hirsi Ali in a useful way."
She finds that Hirsi Ali's repeated claims of expertise as a "native informant" are not borne out by her discussions, in which she reveals a lack of knowledge about how Islam is practiced among various cultures; for example, in different approaches to abortion.
Natasha Walter of The Guardian had similar criticisms, noting that Hirsi Ali strongly criticizes Islam as resulting in poor treatment and oppression of women, and says that
"many women are seeking equality within, not outside Islam, and it is not as though women's oppression does not exist outside Islam. Hirsi Ali not only paints the whole of the Islamic world with one black brush, she also paints the whole of the western world with rosy tints in order to set it as perfect day to the bleak night of the Muslim world."Hirsi Ali compares the thought of John Stuart Mill and Muhammed; Walter notes that she might better have compared the writings of St. Paul and Muhammed, and Fatima Mernissi and Mill. She could then have compared voices of tradition and progress "on either side of the so-called clash of civilisations."
Infidel: My Life (2007 in English):
The Economist in its review of her autobiography called her a "chameleon of a woman", referring to her "talent for reinvention". The book was a bestseller.
The Guardian summarizes Infidel: "Hirsi Ali's is a story of exile from her clan through war, famine, arranged marriage, religious apostasy and the shocking murder on the streets of Amsterdam of her collaborator, Theo van Gogh. Told with lyricism, wit, huge sorrow and a great heart, this is one of the most amazing adventure narratives of the age of mass migration."
William Grimes wrote in The New York Times: "The circuitous, violence-filled path that led Ms. Hirsi Ali from Somalia to the Netherlands is the subject of "Infidel," her brave, inspiring and beautifully written memoir. Narrated in clear, vigorous prose, it traces the author's geographical journey from Mogadishu to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and her desperate flight to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage."
Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations:
Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times wrote that Hirsi Ali described Islam as creating dysfunctional families (including her own) and noted she thinks these constitute "a real threat to the very fabric of Western life." He suggests that some readers might think she is "presumptuous" to write another autobiography so soon after her last, published in 2006. He describes her as "by nature a provocateur" and notes that she still needs bodyguards. He has found that Hirsi Ali "denounces Islam with a ferocity that I find strident, potentially feeding religious bigotry..." He said the book left him feeling "uncomfortable and exasperated in places."
He believes she oversimplifies and exaggerates issues with Islam, as he notes the huge number of adherents and the great variety among Islamic societies. Based on his own experience, he acknowledges some of the problems in Islamic cultures, but feels that Hirsi Ali weakens her book by not recognizing the religion's strengths, its reason for growth: "the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews; charity for the poor; the aesthetic beauty of Koranic Arabic; the sense of democratic unity" at worship. He praised her support for education, and for teaching Muslim immigrants about finance and credit, but felt that her comments about violence in Islamic culture were exaggerated. He concluded, "This memoir, while engaging and insightful in many places, exemplifies precisely the kind of rhetoric that is overheated and overstated."
The Guardian observes that Nomad "(describes) a clan system shattering on the shores of modernity". The books expands Hirsi Ali's previous early life descriptions focusing on "the remarkable figure of her grandmother, who gave birth to daughters alone in the desert and cut her own umbilical cord, raged at herself for producing too many girls, rebelled against her husband, arranged for the circumcision of her granddaughters and instilled in them an unforgiving, woman-hating religion." "Hirsi Ali observes that her own nomadic journey has been taken across borders that have been mental as much as geographical. In Nomad she calls her ancestral voices into direct confrontation with her demands for reform of Islamic theology. The result is electrifying."
2004, she was awarded the Freedom Prize of Denmark's Liberal Party, the country's largest party, "for her work to further freedom of speech and the rights of women".,
In the year following the assassination of her collaborator, Theo van Gogh, Hirsi Ali received five awards related to her activism.
2005, she was awarded the Harriet Freezerring Emancipation Prize by Cisca Dresselhuys, editor of the feminist magazine Opzij.,
2005, she was awarded the annual European Bellwether Prize by the Norwegian think tank Human Rights Service. According to HRS, Hirsi Ali is "beyond a doubt, the leading European politician in the field of integration. (She is) a master at the art of mediating the most difficult issues with insurmountable courage, wisdom, reflectiveness, and clarity".,
2005, she was awarded the annual Democracy Prize of the Swedish Liberal People's Party "for her courageous work for democracy, human rights and women's rights.",
2005, she was ranked by American Time Magazine amongst the 100 Most Influential Persons of the World, in the category of "Leaders & Revolutionaries".,
2005, she was awarded the Tolerance Prize of Madrid.,
She was voted European of the Year for 2006 by the European editors of Reader's Digest magazine.,
2006, she was given the civilian prize Glas der Vernunft in Kassel, Germany. The organisation rewarded her with this prize for her courage in criticising Islam (1 October 2006). Other laureates have included Leah Rabin, the wife of former Israeli prime-minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, former Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany.,
2006, she received the Moral Courage Award from the American Jewish Committee.,
2007, she was given the annual Goldwater Award for 2007 from the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.,
2008, she was given the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for nonfiction for her autobiography Infidel (2007 in English). The Anisfield-Wolf awards recognize "recent books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and appreciation of the rich diversity of human culture.",
2008, she was awarded the Richard Dawkins Prize (2008) by the Atheist Alliance International.,
2010, she was awarded the Emperor Has No Clothes award by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.,
De Zoontjesfabriek over vrouwen, Islam en integratie, translated as The Son Factory: About Women, Islam and Integration. A collection of essays and lectures from before 2002. It also contains an extended interview originally published in Opzij, a feminist magazine. The book focuses on the position of Muslims in the Netherlands.,
De Maagdenkooi (2004), translated in 2006 as The Caged Virgin: A Muslim Woman's Cry for Reason a.k.a. The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam. A collection of essays and lectures from 2003-2004, combined with her personal experiences as a translator working for the NMS. The book focuses on the position of women in Islam.,
Mijn Vrijheid, translated as Infidel. An autobiography published in Dutch in September 2006 by Augustus, Amsterdam and Antwerp, 447 pages, ISBN 90 457 0112x/ISBN 9789045701127; and in English in February 2007. It was edited by Richard Miniter.,
Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. Her second autobiography, published by Free Press in 2010. ISBN 1-4391-5731-6 ISBN 9781439157312,
Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now by Harper Publications (March 2015). Hirsi Ali makes a case that a religious reformation is the only way to end the terrorism, sectarian warfare, and repression of women and minorities that each year claim thousands of lives throughout the Muslim world. ISBN-10: 0062333933 ISBN-13: 978-0062333933,
Hirsi Ali is the founder and president of the AHA Foundation, a non-profit humanitarian organisation to protect women and girls in the U.S. against political Islam and harmful tribal customs that violate U.S. law and international conventions. Through the AHA Foundation, Hirsi Ali campaigns against the denial of education for girls, genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor violence and killings, and suppression of information about the crimes through the misuse and misinterpretation of rights to freedom of religion and free speech in the U.S. and the West.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license