fbpx

Portray of the month: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 23 oktober 2008

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali born 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia is a Dutch feminist, writer, and politician. 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 Somalia’s Siad Barre government. She is the estranged daughter of the Somali scholar, politician, and revolutionary opposition leader Hirsi Magan Isse. She is a prominent critic of Islam, and her screenplay for Theo Van Gogh‘s movie Submission led to death threats. Since van Gogh’s murder by a Muslim in 2004, she has lived in seclusion under the protection of Dutch authorities.

When she was eight, her family left Somalia for Saudi Arabia, then Ethiopia, and eventually settled in Kenya. Later while traveling to Germany and then to the Netherlands, she requested political asylum and received a residence permit. It is not known on what grounds she received political asylum, though she has admitted that she had lied by devising a false story about having to flee Mogadishu and spending time in refugee camps on the border between Somalia and Kenya. In reality, she did spend time in those camps, but in order to help relatives who were trapped there; she was already safely settled in Kenya at the time open warfare erupted in the Somali capital. She gave a false name and date of birth to the Dutch immigration authorities, something she says was necessary in order to escape retaliation by her clan. In 2003 she was elected a member of the Tweede Kamer (the Lower House of the Dutch parliament), representing the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). A political crisis surrounding the potential stripping of her Dutch citizenship led to her resignation from the parliament, and led indirectly to the fall of the second Balkenende cabinet.

She is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank linked to neoconservatism, working from an unknown location in the Netherlands. In 2005, she was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She has also received several awards for her work, including Norway’s Human Rights Service’s Bellwether of the Year Award, the Danish Freedom Prize, the Swedish Democracy Prize, and the Moral Courage Award for commitment to conflict resolution, ethics, and world citizenship.

Political career

After earning a master’s degree in political science from Leiden University, Hirsi Ali became a fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Foundation, a scientific institute linked to the center-left Labour Party (PvdA). During her studies, she was becoming increasingly disenchanted with Islam. Her identification as a Muslim suffered a strong blow after 9/11. After listening to videotapes of Osama bin Laden citing “words of justification” in the Qu’ran for the attacks, she writes, “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.” She decided that, despite her upbringing, she had to regard the Quran as relative—it was a historical record and “just another book”. The final blow to her faith was her reading of The Atheist Manifesto (Atheistisch Manifest) of Leiden philosopher Herman Philipse. She renounced Islam and became an atheist in 2002. During this period, she began to formulate her critique of Islam and Islamic culture, published many news articles, and became a frequent speaker on television news programs and public debate forums. She wrote up her ideas in a book entitled De Zoontjesfabriek (The Son Factory). It was at this time that she first began to receive death threats.

In November 2002, after some disagreements with the PvdA about her security measures, she sought advice how to raise funds for protection from the government. Her party having recently lost the election, Hirsi Ali would soon be unable to receive government-funded protection. Hirsi Ali switched to the VVD and stood for election to Parliament. Between November 2002 and January 2003, she lived abroad and was put on the payroll as an assistant of the VVD.

Going into hiding

Hirsi Ali wrote the script and provided the voice-over for Submission, a film produced by Theo van Gogh, which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society. Juxtaposed with passages from the Qur’an were scenes of scantily clad actresses portraying Muslim women who are suffering abuse. The film also features an actress that is provocatively dressed in a semi-transparent burqa and has texts from the Qur’an written on her skin. These texts are often interpreted as justifying the subjugation of women. The film’s release sparked much furore; the controversy became violent when Mohammed Bouyeri, a member of the Hofstad Group, murdered Van Gogh in an Amsterdam street on November 2, 2004. A letter pinned to Van Gogh’s body with a knife was primarily a death threat to Hirsi Ali. After this incident, the Dutch secret service raised the level of security that they provided to her. In an interview to journalist David Cohen, Hirsi Ali has said that although she deeply regrets the murder of van Gogh, she is proud of the film and does not regret having made it. “To feel otherwise would be to deny everything I stand for.” At his televised funeral, Van Gogh’s own mother not only echoed this sentiment, she urged Hirsi Ali to continue the work that she and Van Gogh had done together.

After the murder of van Gogh, Hirsi Ali went into hiding. Government security services moved her around to many locations in the Netherlands, and eventually moved her to the United States for several months. On January 2005, she returned to parliament. On February she revealed the location of herself and her colleague Geert Wilders, who had also been in hiding. She demanded a normal, secured house, which she was granted one week later.

In January 2006, Hirsi Ali used her acceptance speech for the Reader’s Digest “European of the Year” award to urge action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to say that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be taken at his word in wanting to organize a conference to investigate objective evidence of the Holocaust. “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 “so-called Western values” of freedom and justice are universal; that Europe has done far better than most areas of the world at providing justice, because it has guaranteed the freedom of thought and debate that are required for critical self-examination; and that communities cannot reform themselves unless “scrupulous investigation of every former and current doctrine is possible.”

Hirsi Ali subsequently took up a position at the American Enterprise Institute, published her autobiography, Infidel, and is currently working on another book, Shortcut to Enlightenment, a philosophical fantasy about a visit by Muhammad to the New York Public Library, in which he examines the ideas of various Enlightenment philosophers, compares them to the state of Islam today, and then comes to a number of important conclusions.

 

Islam

Hirsi Ali is very critical of the position of women in Islamic societies and the punishments demanded by Islamic scholars for homosexuality and adultery. She considered herself a Muslim until 28 May 2002, when she became an atheist. In an interview with the Swiss magazine Das Magazin in September 2006, she said she lost her faith while sitting in an Italian restaurant in May 2002, drinking a glass of wine: “…I asked myself: Why should I burn in hell just because I’m drinking this? But what prompted me even more was the fact that the killers of 9/11 all believed in the same God I believed in.” Despite that, in the television program Rondom Tien of 12 September 2002 she called it “my religion”. She has described Islam as a “backward religion”, incompatible with democracy. In one segment on the Dutch current affairs program Nova, she challenged pupils of an Islamic primary school to choose between the Qu’ran and the Dutch constitution.

In a “no-holds-barred polemic” interview in the London Evening Standard, Hirsi Ali characterizes 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 also made it clear that in her opinion it is not “a fringe group of radical Muslims who’ve hijacked Islam and that the majority of Muslims are moderate. […] Violence is inherent in Islam—it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.”

At the Sydney Writers’ Festival in June 2007, she balanced her arguments, saying “I am a Muslim” because she understood why Muslims were silent when the Qur’an was “invoked to behead captured aid workers, journalists and other Western wanderers,” as silence is “better than an argument with the author of the Holy Book who has given the command to behead infidels.” Hirsi Ali stated that she was also “not a Muslim” as she had lost the fear of the Qur’an and of Hell and lost respect for “its author” and messenger; and that she felt a “common humanity” with those she once “shunned”, such as Jews, Christians, atheists, gays, and sinners “of all stripes and colours.”  

Works

  • 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, translated as 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 publisher Augustus, Amsterdam and Antwerp, 447 pages, ISBN-10 90 457 0112x/ISBN-13 978 90 457, and in English in February 2007. It was edited by Richard Miniter. Like The Caged Virgin, this work has had respectful but unenthusiastic reviews in the Times Literary Supplement.
  • forthcoming: Short Cuts to Enlightenment, a philosophical fantasy in which Muhammad wakes up in the New York Public Library and is “challenged by John Stuart Mill, Frederick Hayek and Karl Popper, [Hirsi Ali’s] favourite liberal thinkers”.

By Hirsi Ali

Taken from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayaan_Hirsi_Ali


Related Content

Share
WordPress theme developer - whois: Andy White London