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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2006
Born Ayaan Hirsi Magan
(1969-11-13) 13 November 1969
Mogadishu, Somalia
Nationality Dutch
Alma mater Leiden University (MSc)
De Horst Institute ( P)
Occupation Politician, writer
Known for Submission
anti- female genital mutilation
anti-sharia law
Influenced by John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek, Simone de Beauvoir, Karl Popper, Herman Philipse, John Locke
Political party 2001–2002: Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA) (Labour Party)
2002–present Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy)
Religion None (Atheism)
Spouse(s) Niall Ferguson

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Dutch pronunciation:  [ɑˈjaːn ˈɦirsi ˈaːli]; full name: Ayaan Hirsi Magan Isse Guleid Ali Wai’ays Muhammad Ali Umar Osman Mahamud; Somali: Ayaan Xirsi Cali; Arabic: أيان حرسي علي‎ / ALA-LC: Ayān Ḥirsī ‘Alī) (born 13 November 1969) is a Somali-Dutch feminist and atheist activist, writer and politician who is known for her views critical of Islam. She wrote the screenplay for Theo van Gogh's movie Submission, after which she and the director both received death threats, and the director was murdered. The daughter of the Somali politician and opposition leader Hirsi Magan Isse, she is a founder of the women's rights organisation the AHA Foundation.

When she was eight, Hirsi Ali's family left Somalia for Saudi Arabia, then Ethiopia, and eventually settled in Kenya. She sought and obtained political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, under circumstances that later became the centre of a political controversy. In 2003 she 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 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 in 2006.

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, 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. In 2006 she published a memoir. The English translation in 2007 is titled Infidel. As of 2013 Hirsi Ali is a fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a member of the The Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Centre, and lives in the United States. She is married to British historian and public commentator Niall Ferguson.

Life and work


Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born into a Majerteen family 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 Somalia's 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.

They settled in Nairobi, where Hirsi Ali attended the English-language Muslim Girls' Secondary School. By the time she reached her teens, Saudi-funded religious education was becoming more influential among Muslims in other countries, and a charismatic religious teacher who had been 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 had been impressed by the Qur'an before she could even read, and had lived "by the Book, for the Book" throughout her childhood.

She sympathised with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and wore a hijab together with her school uniform, which was unusual at the time but gradually became more common. She agreed with the fatwa against British writer Salman Rushdie that was declared in reaction to the publication of his controversial novel The Satanic Verses. After completing secondary school, she attended a secretarial course at Valley Secretarial College in Nairobi for one year. At this time, Hirsi Ali read English adventure stories such as the Nancy Drew series, containing modern heroine archetypes which overstepped the limits traditionally imposed by religion and society.

Early life in the Netherlands

Hirsi Ali arrived in the Netherlands in 1992. There is some lack of clarity about the events leading up to her arrival, and she has admitted to telling lies in her application for asylum to enhance her chances of staying in the Netherlands. These lies, as describe by Ali herself in her work and during public appearances, were apparently matters of omission, wherein she failed to disclose to Holland authorities that she had left the land of her birth and lived abroad, in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, before returning to her native Somalia and participating in the rescue of family members displaced by that nation's civil war. Her untruths have raised doubts about other elements of her biography that lack documentary or circumstantial evidence. Hirsi Ali states 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 states that she dreaded being forced to submit to a stranger, someone with "the Holy Book on his side" who could force himself on her sexually), and on specific objections to this particular cousin, saying that he was a "bigot" and an "idiot".

It is not disputed that in 1992 she travelled from Kenya to visit her family in Düsseldorf and Bonn, Germany. It was planned that she would join her husband in Canada after obtaining a visa while in Germany. Members of her family have disputed the story of her forced marriage. According to Hirsi Ali, she spent her time in Germany frantically trying to devise a way to escape her unwanted marriage. Ultimately she decided that she would claim to want to visit a relative in the Netherlands, but once she had arrived, seek help from that relative and claim asylum.

Once in the Netherlands she requested political asylum, and obtained 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. She is known in the West by her assumed name, Hirsi Ali, instead of her original name, Hirsi Magan. Hirsi Ali received a residence permit within three weeks of her arrival in the Netherlands.

After being granted asylum she held various short-term jobs, ranging from cleaning to sorting post. She then worked as a translator at a Rotterdam refugee centre which, according to a friend interviewed by The Observer newspaper, marked her deeply. She says that she had been an avid reader from childhood, and access to new books and ways of thought stretched her imagination and frightened her at the same time. She says that Sigmund Freud's work placed her in contact with an alternative moral system, one that was not based on religion. During this time she took courses in Dutch and a one-year propaedeutic course in social work at the De Horst Institute for Social Work in Driebergen. She states that she was impressed with how well Dutch society seemed to function and, in an effort to better understand how this system had developed, studied at Leiden University where she obtained a MSc degree in political science in 2000.

Between 1995 and 2001 she also worked as an independent Somali-Dutch interpreter and translator, frequently coming into contact with Somali women in asylum centres, hostels for battered women, and the Dutch immigration and naturalisation service (IND, Immigratie en Naturalisatiedienst). While working for the IND, she saw inside the workings of the Dutch immigration system and 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.

Political career

After her education at Leiden University, Hirsi Ali became a fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Foundation, a scientific institute linked to the centre-left Labour Party (PvdA), of which Leiden University Professor Ruud Koole was steward.

During her studies, she was becoming increasingly disenchanted with Islam. Her identification as a Muslim suffered a strong blow after 11 September attacks in the United States in 2001. After listening to videotapes of Osama bin Laden citing "words of justification" in the Qur'an 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 Qur'an 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 from Cisca Dresselhuys, the editor of the feminist magazine Opzij how to raise funds from the government for protection. Her party having recently lost the general election, Hirsi Ali would soon be unable to receive government-funded 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, European Commissioner for Competition. At their urging, Hirsi Ali agreed to switch 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.

In 2003, aged 33, she became prominent in the parliamentary election campaign. Her message: the Dutch welfare state had overlooked abuse of Muslim women and girls, contributing to their isolation and oppression.

During her tenure in Parliament, Hirsi Ali made a number of controversial statements about Islam. In an interview in the Dutch newspaper Trouw she said that by Western standards, Muhammad would be considered a pedophile. A discrimination complaint was filed against her on 24 April 2003. 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".

Going into hiding

Theo van Gogh

Hirsi Ali wrote the script and provided the voice-over for Submission, a film produced by Theo van Gogh, which criticised the treatment of women in Islamic society. Juxtaposed with passages from the Qur'an were scenes of actresses portraying Muslim women suffering abuse. The film also features an actress dressed in a semi-transparent burqa who has texts from the Qur'an written on her skin. The texts are among those often interpreted as justifying the subjugation of women. The film's release sparked much furor, and Mohammed Bouyeri, a member of the Hofstad Group, murdered Van Gogh in an Amsterdam street on 2 November 2004. A letter pinned to Van Gogh's body with a knife was primarily a death threat to Hirsi Ali. After this murder 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 mother not only echoed this sentiment, she urged Hirsi Ali to continue the work that she and Van Gogh had done together.

Earlier that year 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 the execution of her tasks as a politician. In 2005 they were sentenced to community service and a suspended prison sentence.

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 18 January 2005, she returned to parliament. On 18 February 2005, 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 organise 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."

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, the fatwa against whom 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.

On 27 April a Dutch judge ruled that Hirsi Ali had to abandon her highly secure house at a secret address in the Netherlands: her neighbors had complained that living next to her was an unacceptable security risk to them, although the police had testified in court that it was one of the safest places in the country due to the large number of personnel they had assigned there. In early 2007 she stated that the Dutch state had spent about €3.5 million providing armed guards for her, and the threats made her live "in fear and looking over my shoulder", but she was willing to endure this for the sake of speaking her mind.

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

Citizenship controversy

In May 2006 the television programme Zembla reported that Hirsi Ali had given false information about her real name, her age and the country she arrived from when originally applying for asylum. She had claimed to be fleeing the war in Somalia. However, she had been legally resident in Kenya for many years. The documentary also featured interviews with her family in which her claims of an arranged marriage were denied. The program also alleged that, contrary to her claims of having fled a war zone in Somalia, the MP had lived in comfortable upper middle-class circumstances safely in Kenya for at least 12 years before she sought refugee status in the Netherlands in 1992. Her family home – which is large and comfortable by Kenyan standards – was shown in the programme.

Hirsi Ali admitted that she had lied about her full name, her date of birth and the manner in which she had come to the Netherlands, but said that she had fabricated this story while fleeing a forced marriage. Several sources, including her first book The Son Factory, which had been published in 2002, stated her real name and date of birth, and she had also publicly stated these in a September 2002 interview published in the political magazine HP/De Tijd. and in an interview in the VARA gids (2002). Accordingly, these details were considered by many to be public knowledge. Furthermore, Hirsi Ali has asserted that she made full disclosure of the matter to VVD officials when she was invited to run for parliament in 2002.

Media speculation arose that she could lose her Dutch citizenship because of this identity fraud, rendering her ineligible for parliament. At first, Minister Rita Verdonk said she would not look into the matter, but after Member of Parliament Hilbrand Nawijn officially asked her for her position, she declared that she would investigate Hirsi Ali's naturalisation process. This investigation took three days; the findings were 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, a move that was later overridden on 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 in September, and was expected to write a book entitled Shortcut to Enlightenment and 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. On that day, she gave a press conference, in which she restated 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. In the press conference, she also restated that she had spoken the truth about the reason for seeking asylum, which had been the threat of a forced marriage, despite a claim to the contrary on the Zembla programme by some of her relatives. Her stated reason for resigning immediately was not the continuous threats, making her job as a parliamentarian "difficult" but "not impossible", but 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 any room to consider such circumstances, she decided to accept the motion. During the debate, she astonished MPs by claiming that Hirsi Ali still had Dutch citizenship during the period of reexamination. Apparently the "decision" she had made public had been merely a report of 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 heavily criticised for not acting more prudently in a case that had so many political implications.

Besides a Dutch passport, Hirsi Ali retained a Dutch residency permit on the grounds that she was 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, in 1992.

In a reaction to the announced move, 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, was more positive about Hirsi Ali, saying that it is "painful for Dutch society and politics that she is leaving the House of Representatives". Another VVD MP, Bibi de Vries, claimed that if something were to happen to Hirsi Ali, some people in her party would have "blood on their hands."

Ali reveals in her second biography, Nomad that in early 2006, Verdonk had approached Ali personally and asked for her public support in Verdonk's campaign to run for party leader. Ali claims she actually personally supported Verdonk's opponent, Mark Rutte, as the better choice for the position. She admits that Verdonk's request made her uncomfortable, and when she was honest with Verdonk about her political feelings, Verdonk then became vindictive and took up a campaign against Ali once the " Zembla" program had been aired.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick stated in May 2006 that "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 conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), confirmed that this controversy would not affect the appointment. He stated that he was still looking forward to "welcoming her to AEI, and to America."

Rita Verdonk

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 that she had misinformed Minister Verdonk. Hirsi Ali was allowed to retain her name because the Dutch government believes that Somalis are allowed to carry the name of their grandfather according to Somali family law, and her grandfather had used the last name Ali until his thirties and only then switched to Magan. The fact that this grandfather was born in 1845 complicated the investigation (her grandfather was a powerful warlord, and Hirsi Ali's father Hirsi Magan Isse was the youngest of his children, born when he was close to 70). Also, the issue of the false date of birth was not that important, according to the Minister.

Later the same day Hirsi Ali, through her lawyer and in television interviews, made a statement declaring that she had signed the letter that was drafted by the Justice Department under duress. She felt she was pressured into signing the statement in exchange for the passport, but that she had agreed to do it, swallowing her pride, in order not to complicate her pending visa application for the U.S. As of 2006 she still carried her Dutch passport. A close friend of Hirsi Ali, Leon de Winter, presented in his weblog a detailed account of the events which took place on 27 June leading to Hirsi Ali signing the statement confirming, in his view, the involuntary nature of her action.

In a special parliamentary session on 28 June questions were raised concerning the alleged coercion of the Hirsi Ali statement by minister Verdonk, the dismissal by the minister of the false date of birth as a relevant issue, and whether Somali law prevails over Dutch law. The ensuing political upheaval on 29 June ultimately led to the fall of the Second Balkenende cabinet.

American Enterprise Institute

Following the citizenship controversy Hirsi Ali took up a position at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C., requiring her security to be upgraded once again.

Her autobiography, Infidel, was published in September 2006. In a review posted on the summer reading list for the Middle East Strategy at the Harvard University website, American Enterprise Institute fellow Joshua Muravchik described the book as "simply a great work of literature," and compared her to novelist Joseph Conrad. In 2007 she told David Cohen she was working on another book, Shortcut to Enlightenment, a philosophical fantasy about a visit by Muhammad to the New York Public Library in which he is confronted by various Enlightenment philosophers such John Stuart Mill and thinkers such as Frederick Hayek and Karl Popper (Hirsi Ali's "favourite liberal thinkers"), compares them to the state of Islam today, and then comes to a number of important conclusions.

On 25 September 2007, she received her United States Permanent Resident Card (green card). Since October 2007 she has continued her work for AEI from a secret address in the Netherlands. Her move back to the Netherlands was a result of the ruling of the Dutch minister of Justice Hirsch Ballin that, as of 1 October 2007, the Dutch government would no longer pay for her security while she was abroad. In 2007 she declined with thanks an offer to live in Denmark, and said that she intended to return to the United States.


According to journalist Jason Burke, Hirsi Ali had to move out of her house in The Hague in early 2006 after a court found that she was "endangering her neighbours" given the constant death threats and increasing criticism of her "trenchant statements."

On 17 April 2007, a lecture held by Hirsi Ali at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown required tight security, due to a protest by the local Muslim community. One of the protesters, Pittsburgh imam Fouad El Bayly, said that Hirsi Ali deserved the death sentence and she should be tried and judged in a Muslim country.

Hirsi Ali attended the 2007 Sydney Writers' Festival, giving an interview on 2 June and the closing address the following day, an extract of which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of 4 June. Hirsi Ali described her intellectual and religious journey as one in which she had "lost respect not for Muslims but for what they fear." Saying she was accused of hating Muslims and vilifying the Qur'an and Muhammad, she clarified that she did not hate Muslims, but rather the submission of free will.

In September it was announced that she would take part in The New Yorker Festival in an event with Martin Amis. The event had originally paired Norman Mailer and Amis, but Mailer could not attend. However, ultimately Hirsi Ali also could not attend, so she was replaced by Ian Buruma.

Social and political views

Hirsi Ali is a member of the VVD, a Dutch political party that combines conservative views on the economy, foreign policy, crime and immigration with a liberal stance on drugs, abortion and homosexuality. She states that she is a great admirer of one of the party's ideological leaders, Frits Bolkestein, a former Euro-commissioner. Ali received substantial criticism as a result of her defection from the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) to the VVD. By way of response she asserted that she would show greater loyalty to the VVD.

She states that her personal views are for the most part inspired by her change from Islam to atheism. Hirsi Ali is very critical of Islam, especially of its prophet Muhammad and the position of women.


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 programme 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 Qur'an and the Dutch constitution.

In an 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."

In Reason Magazine, Ayaan Hirsi Ali stated that not just 'radical Islam' but 'Islam' must be defeated. She stated: "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."


Hirsi Ali criticises the central Islamic prophet on the grounds of both his morality and personality. 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 52, Aisha, who was six years old and nine at the time the marriage was consummated. These and other statements led to a lawsuit by a number of Muslims in 2005. The civil court in The Hague acquitted Hirsi Ali of any charges, but mentioned that she "could have made a better choice of words".

She also has stated her opinions about his personality. When Trouw asked her about him, she answered, "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 2003 interview with the Danish magazine Sappho, she explains parallels she sees between the personality of Yasser Arafat and that of Muhammad.

Genital cutting

Hirsi Ali opposes not just the genital cutting of girls, but also the practice of circumcision of boys as practiced by Jews and Muslims, as well as the routine infant circumcision practiced in the United States. In her autobiography, Infidel, she writes: "Excision doesn't remove your desire or ability to enjoy sexual pleasure. The excision of women is cruel on many levels. It is physically cruel and painful; it sets girls up for a lifetime of suffering. And it is not even effective in its intent to remove their desire."

A quotation from her on the subject: "girls dying in child birth because they are too young [...] The rise of radical Islam is an important part of this. I feel I have the moral obligation to discuss the source. I think if I think you are enriching the debate if you question it, you are not the enemy of Islam. We can look elsewhere using reason to discover answer to these problems, and we do not have to abolish religion. But we must do it by finding a balance."

When in Dutch parliament she proposed obligatory annual medical checks for all uncircumcised girls originating from a country where female mutilation is practiced. If a girl turned out to have been circumcised, the physician would report this to the police, with protection of the child prevailing over privacy.

On debate

On 31 August 2006, while addressing the Dutch press on the occasion of her departure for the United States to work for the think tank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Hirsi Ali said: "...with like-minded people one cannot discuss. With like-minded people one can only participate in a church service, and, as is widely known, I do not like church services."

Freedom of speech

In a 2006 lecture in Berlin, she defended the right to offend, following the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. She condemned the journalists of those papers and TV channels that did not show their readers the cartoons as being "mediocre of mind" and of trying to hide behind those "noble-sounding terms such as 'responsibility' and 'sensitivity'". She also praised publishers all over Europe for showing the cartoons and not being afraid of what she called the "hard-line Islamist movement", and stated "I do not seek to offend religious sentiment, but I will not submit to tyranny. Demanding that people should refrain from drawing him is not a request for respect but a demand for submission."

Political opponents

Hirsi Ali 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 still withholds passive voting rights from female members. She stated that "any political party discriminating against women or homosexuals should be deprived of funding."

Hirsi Ali has also stated that she wants the Belgian authorities to ban the (non-Muslim) Flemish 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 reacted to her allegations by denying the party rejects in any way the rights of women or in any way promotes genocidal policies, instead pointing out Vlaams Belang's support for Shoah and Armenian genocide commemorations. Vlaams Belang party leader Frank Vanhecke responded to Hirsi Ali's allegations by writing an open letter to her, stating that she is "closer to the Vlaams Belang with her viewpoints than to the Flemish Liberals." He also rejected the likeness with the Hofstad Group, saying that his party "has never and nowhere called for violence." The Vlaams Belang reacted to Hirsi Ali's retirement from Dutch politics by stating that 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. Ayaan Hirsi Ali said in November 2003 that no religious school should receive government financing, which brought her into conflict with Hans Wiegel, a prominent former VVD leader.

She went further in an interview with the London newspaper the Evening Standard in 2007, saying "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." However, 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.’

Development aid

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 development aid policy did not work to increase prosperity, peace and stability in the 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."


Public statements

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 the following question 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 always publicly supported the policy of VVD minister Rita Verdonk regarding limited immigration, privately she was not supportive, as she explained in an interview for Opzij, given shortly after she had moved to the USA. In parliament, she 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 herself had lied when she fled to the Netherlands, just as Pasic had. Verdonk responded that if she had been minister at that time, she would have had Hirsi Ali deported. Subsequently, when the matter came to a head in public with Verdonk it led to the challenges over Hirsi Ali's Dutch citizenship and ultimately to her leaving the parliament and the country (see above).

In the Opzij interview, Hirsi Ali said she supported a general pardon and the granting of Dutch citizenship for a group of 26,000 refugees, who had spent more than five years in the Netherlands without hearing about the status of their asylum. The VVD forbade her to speak her mind on this issue.

Since leaving the Dutch parliament, Hirsi Ali has made further statements in support of restrictive immigration policies. She made her statements on this subject on 1 November 2006 in the television program Aspekte on the German TV station ZDF. She said that she feared that Muslim immigrants, once in the majority, would introduce Sharia legislation.


Hirsi Ali has expounded on her view on immigration in Europe, in an article, published in the Los Angeles Times in 2006. Noting first that immigrants are over-represented "in all the wrong statistics", she sees as consequences of the European Union's current immigration policy the trade in women and illegal arms, and the exploitation of poor migrants by "cruel employers", to which she adds that "Muslim migrants are receptive to the seduction of the Islamist movement".

She draws attention to the numbers of illegal immigrants already in the Union. In her view current immigration policy will lead to ethnic and religious division, nation states will lose their monopoly of force, Islamic law (sharia) will, in fact, 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 which risk causing large migrant flows.
  • Introduction of assimilation programs which acknowledge that "the basic tenets of Islam are a major obstacle to integration".

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."

Personal life

Hirsi Ali is married to the British historian Niall Ferguson. Hirsi Ali gave birth to a son, Thomas, in December 2011.


Hirsi Ali has attracted praise and criticism from Anglophone commentators. Commentator and journalist Christopher Hitchens called Hirsi Ali a "charismatic figure in Dutch politics" and criticised the Dutch government for its negligent attitude towards her protection from "fascist killers". 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." 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." He also criticises the ignorance of the Hollywood community about Ali's plight and the assassination of Theo Van Gogh.

The reception of Hirsi Ali's work in Scandinavia has been significant. She spoke at the meeting of the right wing Danish People's Party on 17 September 2010.

Islamic columnist Hesham A. Hassaballa has criticised Hirsi Ali for "making sweeping generalisations about Islam and Muslims" as "the Arab Human Development report speaks only of the Arab – and not Islamic – world". Hassaballa's criticism was in response to a comment Ali made on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" with Neil Conan, where she said "For empirical evidence on whether women and/or the Islamic world is in a crisis, I would like to refer Tony [a caller to the show] to the Arab Human Development report ... in which the writers of that report say the Arab/Islamic world is retarded when it comes to ... three factors: The freedom of the individual, knowledge, and the subjugation of women." Hassaballa has also criticized Hirsi Ali's statements by saying: "But what left me truly flabbergasted by that NPR interview was Ali's statement about the West: I know that Western societies have had a terrible past from the burning of women as witches all the way to what happened in the Second World War ... that's one part of the West. But there's the other part which is really developing institutions that safeguard the life and freedoms of the individual, and it would be a huge pity to confuse the two and to, you know, lump them together and describe the West only as a source of evil." Yet, she does exactly the same thing when it comes to Islam and the Muslim world."

In its critique of Ali's autobiography, The Economist called her a " chameleon of a woman", referring to her "talent for reinvention".


  •  Denmark: awarded the Freedom Prize of Denmark's Liberal Party (20 November 2004). the country's largest party and opponent leader, "for her work to further freedom of speech and the rights of women". Due to threats from Islamic fundamentalists she was not at the time able to receive it personally; however a year later, 18 November 2005, she traveled to Denmark to thank Prime Minister and party leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen for the prize, and made an unannounced attendance at Liberal Party's 2006 convention to thank party members. In 2010 she spoke at the Danish People's Party convention, a national conservative party which has been accused of racism and being islamophobic. She was praised by the party leader, Pia Kjærsgaard for her stance against shariah law
  •  European Union: Voted European of the Year for 2006 by the European editors of Reader's Digest magazine. At a ceremony in The Hague on 23 January, Hirsi Ali accepted this award from EU Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes.
  •  Belgium: awarded the Prize of Liberty by Nova Civitas, a classical liberal think tank in the Low Countries (January 2004).
  •  Germany: given the civilian prize Glas der Vernunft 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.
  •  Netherlands: given the Harriet Freezerring Emancipation Prize by Cisca Dresselhuys, editor of the feminist magazine Opzij (25 February 2005).
  •  Norway: 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" (June 2005).
  •  Sweden: awarded the annual Democracy Prize of the Swedish Liberal People's Party "for her courageous work for democracy, human rights and women's rights." She received the prize at a ceremony at the Swedish Riksdag from the party leader Lars Leijonborg (29 August 2005).
  •  United States: listed by American Time Magazine amongst the 100 Most Influential Persons of the World. She was put in the category "Leaders & Revolutionaries" (18 April 2005).
  •  United States: awarded the Tolerance Prize of Madrid (7 March 2005).
  •  United States: accepted the Moral Courage Award from the American Jewish Committee (4 May 2006).
  •  United States: given the Goldwater Award for 2007 from the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, at a dinner attended by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Rep. John Shadegg (R-Arizona), and Steve Forbes (7 December 2007).
  •  United States: presented with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for nonfiction for her book for Infidel. Due to security concerns because of the death threats, the award was not announced in advance, but was a surprise presentation at the award ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio, presided over by Rita Dove (11 September 2008). 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."


  • 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 90 457 0112x/ISBN 978 90 457, 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. Published by Free Press. Released 18 May 2010. ISBN 1-4391-5731-6 ISBN 9781439157312

AHA Foundation

Hirsi Ali is the founder and president of the AHA Foundation, a non-profit humanitarian organisation created 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, honour violence and killings, and suppression of information about the crimes themselves through the misuse and misinterpretation of rights to freedom of religion and free speech in the U.S. and the West. Such crimes are increasing in America and may affect the rights of all Americans. For example, a nine-month old female was genitally mutilated in Georgia in 2010. The AHA Foundation exists as a resource for women in America in this vulnerable population.

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