Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the personification of strength.
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia and raised in a devoutly Muslim household, Ali grew up in an oppressive Islamic society yet surfaced to tell her tale.
Ali, now in her 40s, has lived a life rarely fathomed anywhere but within the pages of an adventure book. After surviving genital mutilation as a child, fleeing to the Netherlands to escape from an arranged marriage in her twenties, condemning her former faith, and surviving multiple death threats, Ali is now a staunch and outspoken advocate for women and human rights in Islamic countries.
Advocating for justice in the Muslim world has not been easy. After receiving asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, Ali earned a degree in political science at the University of Leiden and served in the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006 — often speaking out passionately about the plight of women in the Muslim world.
In 2004, Ali partnered with director Theo van Gogh to create a film about the Muslim oppression of women, called “Submission.” Several months after the film aired, a Muslim radical named Mohammed Bouyeri murdered van Gogh on the streets of Amsterdam, stabbing a note to his body warning Ali that she would be next. Since then, Ali has been in hiding, protected by 24-hour security.
Now living, writing, and speaking out in America, Ali continues to reflect on the life she left behind. In a recent conversation with The Daily Caller, Ali explained that she never realized what a risk she was taking when she left Islam and began speaking out against it.
“When I first started publishing and responding to interviews I didn’t know that my life was in danger,” she said. “And when I got the question, ‘So are you, yourself, Muslim?’ The answer I gave was no, I’m secularized and I realized too late that that answer meant, as a Muslim, I am an apostate and inviting violence.”
According to Ali, Islam, as a template for societal organization, is a complete failure.
“If you look at nations that have adopted Sharia law, you see a number of things: you see an upsurge in the violations of human rights — rights of women, gay people, and religious minorities. You see a dictatorship at all times even though it is sometimes presented as a democracy. For instance, because Islamic law is divine law who ever takes control of government puts himself in the position of God,” she said.
Growing up in a culture that shuns women is incompatible with the ideals of feminism, Ali told TheDC, saying that she got the strength to leave Somalia and the culture in which she was raised from within herself and from circumstances in her life that were unusual for women in her situation — specifically having the opportunity to get an education.
“I was sent to school and there are so many Muslim girls who never go to school or never get to finish it,” she said. “Another circumstance which put me in a lucky position is my father left our family when I was about 10- or 11-years old and he returned when I was 21. And that’s the period when most girls get married off. So, if I had been married off at 16 or 17, I would’ve been much more vulnerable — not as strong. But at 22, after having observed what happens to these young women who are married off and how their lives get shattered, that strengthened me even more to say no to these men.”
Ali says that she never reached common ground with her father and has little idea of where her mother is, saying only that she is “somewhere in Somalia.”
NEXT: Ali takes on her critics
Ali’s unique journey makes her one of America’s more poignant polemicists. Opponents to her message claim she is merely a woman spewing ideas that are a result of the traumas she suffered as a child and young adult. She says that argument is the refuge of opponents lacking intelligent retorts.
“So when these Muslim Brotherhood types say, ‘it’s only because she is traumatized,’ what they’re trying to do is distract our attention from their agenda and the negative consequences of Islam. Because if we start talking about what it really means to live under Shariah, then you see the contents of the political agenda they’re pushing,” she said. “So it’s better [for them] to change the subject and keep changing it and keep talking about associations with sinister right-wing organizations and youth trauma. They’re playing the white man’s game, presenting themselves as a minority,” a contention she says is outrageous given that there are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and nowhere near that number of Westerners.
“If you count all Westerners together, they don’t make up 800 million – who is the minority here?,” she said.
Living an odd existence as a public figure in hiding, Ali identifies with “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” cartoonist Molly Norris, who was recently forced to go underground after a fatwa was issued calling for her death. According to Ali, the U.S. government has an obligation to help Norris.
“It is the duty of the government of the United States to protect her from physical harm, which is a direct threat given by those people who are violating her civil rights to express herself and her thoughts,” Ali said. “If the government cannot protect the civil rights of the citizens, then it is not a democratic government and it’s unconstitutional. So, the government must do something about that.”
Ali added that the idea that American citizens would be forced to change their identity and go underground for fear that they may be killed for merely criticizing a religion is “outrageous” in the modern world in which we are supposed to be living.
“It is outrageous that Americans in the 21st century are going into witness protection programs on an issue of a criticism of a religion,” she said. “It’s crazy.”