Ayaan Hirsi Ali

On this date in 1969, passionate critic of religion, author and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her family moved often during her childhood, seeking political asylum because her father, Hirsi Magan Isse, a Somali scholar and politician, was a revolutionary opposition leader. Raised as a devout Muslim, young Ayaan endured a traumatic genital mutilation when she was about five years old. Her grandmother had secretly arranged the religious rite to take place while her parents were out of town. In her early twenties, Ayaan was informed by her father that a marriage to a cousin in Canada had been arranged, and that she had no choice in the matter. Dramatically fleeing the marriage and seeking political asylum in Europe, Ali went to the Netherlands in 1992. There she earned a master's degree in political science and became a fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Foundation. She was first elected to the Dutch Parliament in 2003, as a representative of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. A prominent critic of Islam, Ali spoke out publicly against the abuses of women under Islam. She was also active in seeking to reform Netherlands' handling of asylum seekers. Ali became a well-known in the Netherlands, making many TV and debate appearances, and writing numerous articles and two controversial books: The Son Factory: About Women, Islam and Integration (2002), and The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (2003-2004). In 2005, Ali was awarded the Democracy Prize of the Swedish Liberal People's Party "for her courageous work for democracy, human rights and women's rights." She was named by Time magazine in 2005 as "one of the 100 most influential people in the world."

Exposed to western culture and values through her readings of literature, history and philosophy, including The Atheist Manifesto by Herman Philipse, Ali moved from Islam to atheism. Ali considered herself a Muslim until May 28, 2002, when she said she became an atheist while sitting in an Italian restaurant 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" (Interview, Swiss magazine "Das Magazin," September 2006). Ali penned the script for the film "Submission," which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society, bringing her to international notice. Two months after the film's release in 2004, the film's producer, Theo van Gogh (great-grandnephew of Vincent van Gogh), was viciously murdered as he bicycled in Amsterdam by a Moroccan member of a Dutch Islamist terrorist. The assailant, who was later convicted, had pinned a death threat to Ali on van Gogh's body. Ali, who was already receiving security from the Dutch government, was forced to go into hiding. After some political concerns arose, she resigned from the Dutch parliament and moved to the United States, working for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative political think tank. Ali's moving and critically-acclaimed autobiography, Infidel, was published in English in 2007.

“I had left God behind years ago. I was an atheist. . . . From now on I could step firmly on the ground that was under my feet and navigate based on my own reason and self-respect. My moral compass was within myself, not in the pages of a sacred book. . . .

All life is problem solving . . . There are no absolutes; progress comes through critical thought. . . . Reason, not obedience, should guide our lives. Though it took centuries to crumble, the entire ossified cage of European social hierarchy--from kings to serfs, and between men and women, all of it shored up by the Catholic Church--was destroyed by this thought.”

—Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel (2007)

(Compiled by Jane Esbensen)

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