Individuals of all economic strata are shedding their jobs, hometowns, and lifestyle to embrace a wider experience and a more meaningful existence.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-Dutch feminist and atheist activist, writer and politician who is known for her critical assessment of Islam and its practices of circumcision and female genital cutting. Her screenplay for Theo van Gogh's movie Submission led to death threats against her which resulted in the director van Gogh's murder. 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 center of a political controversy. In 2003 she was elected a member of the House of Representatives in the lower house of the Dutch Parliament, representing the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. 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 and 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 2012 Hirsi Ali is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a policy think tank, and lives in the United States.
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 making false statements in her application for asylum to enhance her chances of staying in the Netherlands. 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 of dreading being forced to submit to a stranger, someone with "the Holy Book on his side" who could force himself on her sexually. Also 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 center 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 centers, hostels for battered women, and the Dutch immigration and naturalisation service. While working for the Dutch immigration and naturalisation service, 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.
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 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."
She then decided that, despite her upbringing, she had to regard the Qur'an as relative - 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 (English: The Son Factory). It was at this time that she first began to receive death threats. In 2003 at age 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
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 angry controversy, 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.
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. 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 euros 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.
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. 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. 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 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. 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. 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. Following the citizenship controversy Hirsi Ali took up a position at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. 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, Frederick Hayek and Karl Popper, 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. 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.
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."
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 legitimiticizes murder".
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, 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."
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.
Yabanci is a book by a Dutch woman who moved from Holland to Turkey to starta new life in a Turkish village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. A great read for those who are considering a move abroad or have lived in a different culture. Available in English as an ebook or in Dutch in both print and popular ebook formats.. take a look