A Woman of Courage
…if Europe is no longer big enough for Ali, we are all in trouble. It is sad that the home of the Enlightenment can no longer cope with her right to free speech.
In a very short time Ayaan Hirsi Ali rose from being a penniless refugee to becoming a prominent Dutch politician, a popular talk-show guest, designated by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the100 Most Influential Persons of the World, but then the tide turned against her.
Reading the fast-paced story of her life reveals a woman motivated by raw courage and an indomitable spirit. What makes that story of compelling interest is her decision to take a very public stand against the murderous fanatics who want to rule in the name of Allah.
Here is a synopsis of her roller-coaster ride from obscurity to fame and threats on her life that forced her to go into hiding, then to dishonour, resignation from Parliament, the possible loss of her Dutch citizenship, and her decision to emigrate to he United States.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in 1969 into a family then living in Somalia, as Ayaan Hirsi Magan. Her father, who had studied in the West, was a devout Muslim and a pro-democratic leader against the Marxist dictatorship of Mohammed Siyad Barre.
Though her father was opposed to the practice of female genital mutilation, while he was away from home, her grandmother performed that traumatic procedure on Ali when she was five years old. In 1975, the family fled to Saudi Arabia, from there to Ethiopia, and then spent ten years in Kenya.
Ali decided to defy her father’s choice in an arranged marriage. In her own words: “I came to Holland in the summer of 1992 because I wanted to be able to determine my own future. I didn’t want to be forced into a destiny that other people had chosen for me, so I opted for the protection of the rule of law. Here in Holland, I found freedom and opportunities, and I took those opportunities to speak out against religious terror.”
At first she found employment in manual labour while quickly learning the Dutch language, which she speaks fluently. In 1995 she enrolled at the University of Leiden where she studied political science, graduating in 2000. She found work as a translator and interpreter, first with the Labour Party, later with the Liberal Party (VVD).
After 9/11, Ali renounced her Muslim faith and began her career as a stinging critic of radical Islam, particularly its view of women. In 2002, she published The Son Factory (De Zoontjesfabriek). She attracted the attention of the public and the anger of radical Muslims who began to issue death threats because she had become an “apostate.” She was then placed under full-time police protection.
In January 2003, Ali was elected to the Dutch Parliament as a member of the VVD. She continued to speak out publicly against the Islamic culture, which resulted in charges against her, but the court dismissed those charges. On November 2, 2004, Mohammed Bouyeri murdered Theo Van Gogh, who had cooperated with Ali in producing the film Submission, a graphic exposure of Muslim abuse of women. The killer had pinned a warning on the dead body that she would be next.
This murder in broad daylight on an Amsterdam street, for the second time in two years confronted the tolerant and easy-going Dutch with a crime they found difficult to grasp. At first Ali went into hiding and spent some time in the U.S. But in January 2005, she returned to Parliament, though ever since she has been living under 24-hour body guard protection.
Despite the many death threats, Ali has continued to speak and write forcefully against radical Islam and against those who are cowed into silence or soft-pedaling the real threat to Western democracy and freedom. But her determination to speak the truth about radical Islam did not sit well with many among the Dutch political and media elite. They have begun to distance themselves and some have turned against her for what they believe amounts to needlessly antagonizing the Muslim community by her provocative style.
Two recent events have conspired to make herlife as a member of the Dutch Parliament impossible.
The first incident resulted from the fact that she was living under continuous body guard protection. She had been moved from one safe house to another until she found something more permanent. That ended when her neighbours objected to her presence because they felt that this put them in danger. They asked for and received a court order demanding that Ali vacate her apartment. She explained to an interviewer that she found her neighbours’callous attitude toward her shocking and the most important factor in her decision to leave Holland.
The second incident was a television program aired on May 11 in which she was accused of lying in her 1992 application for asylum in the Netherlands. She indeed had not told the truth about her name and country of origin in order not to leave a trail for her family to find her and to have a better chance of success in her asylum application.
However, she had on several occasions publicly admitted her dishonesty, even as she ran for a seat in Parliament in 2002, at which time these indiscretions were not considered to be a problem. But the situation had changed in the meantime because in some influential Dutch circles she was seen as a troublemaker and loudmouth who provoked the ire of radical Muslims. The one-time darling of the public had become a liability.
Very quickly things continued to unravel for Ali. The minister of immigration, Rita Verdonk, investigated the charges mentioned in the television program and declared that Ali had no right to her Dutch citizenship. Although the minister ran into a storm of protest in Parliament the next day and she has since qualified her statement, the situation for Ali had become untenable. On May 16, she announced her resignation in a public statement in which she defended herself and again warned against an attitude of appeasement over against militant Islam.
And so a promising career in Dutch politics has come crashing to the ground.
What must have been most painful for Ali were the nasty comments of her political colleagues, some who were members of her own party (VVD). Former VVD minister Hans Wiegel said that Ali is a brave woman but her opinions are polarizing. In other words, she is upsetting the multicultural applecart in Holland. He also predicted that Ali’s leaving “would not be a loss to the VVD and to the Tweede Kamer…. We will not be hearing much from Ayaan any more, and we will not miss her.”
Politician Hilbrand Nawijn boasted about his success in depriving Ali of her Dutch citizenship. Nasr Joemman, representing the Contact Organization for Muslims and Government, announced: “I celebrate that she is leaving the Netherlands. I hope that by her departure we can move forward with building a harmonious society.”
Ali announced in her resignation statement of May 16 that she is leaving Holland, but that the issues she has raised, such as the future of Islam in the West and the subjugation of women in Islamic culture, will not disappear.
She stated that she will continue to ask uncomfortable questions that will elicit resistance because she feels obligated to help others to live in freedom as others have helped her. Without a trace of whining self-pity, she explained that she has gone through a sometimes painful process of personal growth in telling the truth about and to herself. But she is unbowed in her determination to continue to speak out in defence of a free and open society:
Only clear thinking and strong action can lead to real change, and free many people within our society from the mental cage of submission. The idea that I can contribute to their freedom, whether in the Netherlands or in another country, gives me deep satisfaction…. I regret that I will be leaving the Netherlands, the country which has given me so many opportunities and enriched my life, but I am glad that I will be able to continue my work. I will go on.
Ali is quick to point out that though she is sad about leaving Holland, she does not confuse the Dutch people with the Dutch media. She told an interviewer: “The press creates the impression that the whole country is against you. But this is not the case…. I love the country. Without Holland, I would not have become what I am”
A New Home
It has been said that Holland’s loss is America’s gain. But it is also true, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, which she will join in September, is not the place where she is most needed. On the contrary: ”In Holland, every day, extremist imams preach intolerance and cruelty, and, when they are criticized, invoke the help of foreign embassies to bring pressure on the Dutch authorities. They face no risk of expulsion.”
In a welcoming letter from the AEI president, Christopher DeMuth assured her that she will be able to make important contributions to the work of the Institute as it explores the political and social implications of Muslim teachings and their relationship to a free and “open society.” He wrote:
We appreciate that your views have been controversial and are likely to remain so; we believe that controversies such as these, when conducted in a spirit of civility and reasoned inquiry, are essential to intellectual progress, and are to be welcomed rather than feared….
Let me add that I have been deeply angered by the unfair and partisan attacks that have been leveled against you and have admired your courage and forthrightness in the face of this hounding.
The enemies of freedom and civility in the Netherlands can “rejoice,” for they have managed to get rid of a brave and honourable woman - a women who somehow overcame the sort of obstacles that spoiled Westerners cannot, and dare not, even imagine. And we should be glad because she has found a new home where she will be able to put her impressive abilities to work in a much more hospitable environment.
But this is no occasion for rejoicing by Americans. For the loss is not only Holland’s but all of Europe’s, and therefore America’s too. The destiny of both continent’s are intertwined in such a way that extinguishing the light of freedom in Europe will also cast a darkening cloud across America.