'The Trouble Is the West': Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Islam, Immigration, Civil Liberties, and the Fate of the West

By Bakel, Rogiervan | Reason, November 2007 | Go to article overview

'The Trouble Is the West': Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Islam, Immigration, Civil Liberties, and the Fate of the West


Bakel, Rogiervan, Reason


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

IT WAS A HEINOUS murder that made the best-selling memoirist Ayaan Hirsi Ali internationally famous, but she was neither the victim nor the perpetrator. The corpse was that of Theo van Gogh, a writer and filmmaker who in November 2004 was stabbed, slashed, and shot on an Amsterdam street by a Dutch-born Muslim extremist of Moroccan descent. The assassin, driven to rage by Submission, a short film Van Gogh had made about the poor treatment of women under Islam, left no doubt about his motives. A letter he pinned to his victim's chest with a knife was a call to jihad. It was also a death threat against Ayaan Hirsi All a member of the Dutch parliament. She had persuaded Van Go to make Submission and had written the movie's script.

Then 35, Hirsi Ali had already seen plenty of turmoil. She had endured a heavily religious upbringing in Somalia, SaudiArabia, and Kenya, including a brutal circumcision to keep her"pure." She chafed under the yoke of an embittered and sometimes violent mother and longed for a father who was perennially absent--often imprisoned or in hiding, due to his opposition to the Somali dictator Siad Barre.

In July 1992, Hirsi Ali defied her family's wishes, refusing to marry the man to whom her father had betrothed her. She fled Kenya for the Netherlands, gaining refugee status and finding employment as a cleaning woman and a factory worker. She assimilated quickly, learning perfect Dutch and studying political science, a choice that led to a job as an analyst at the Labor Party's think tank. There, to the consternation of her bosses, who had been courting the Muslim vote, Hirsi All worried out loud about Holland's ever-burgeoning immigrant community and the rising tensions between Muslims and the native Dutch.

In Rotterdam, the Netherlands' second-largest city, immigrants--mostly Muslims from Morocco and Turkey--had become a majority, with Amsterdam well on its way to a similar demographic sea change. That might not have been a problem, Hirsi Ali argued publicly, if the Dutch had only encouraged the newcomers to embrace the country's culture the way she had. But the country's multiculturalist mind-set, paired with the national inclination to tolerate almost any form of behavior, had led to minorities' ghettoization and to a certain lawlessness. Dutch Muslims were largely content to stay in the neighborhoods they formed together, Hirsi All observed. Raised on a steady diet of Islamic preaching and Middle Eastern and North African satellite TV channels, many of them rejected the Dutch way of life as hedonistic, even sinful.

Hirsi Ali wasn't shy about mentioning the Muslim community's self-imposed insularity, or the crime wave involving disproportionate numbers of second- and third-generation Dutch Moroccans. But mostly she agitated against the oppression of local Muslim women by male family members: forced marriages, denial of education opportunities, domestic slave labor, and, in some horrific cases, honor killings. By extension, she criticized the native Dutch for turning a blind eye to the injustices in their midst, and for tolerating those who themselves refused to tolerate alternative lifestyles.

It was a shock and a revelation to see a young, black, Muslim woman championing causes previously associated with middle-aged white male pundits who had often been dismissed as racists or Islamophobes. Hirsi Ali's star rose quickly, especially after she accepted an offer from the VVD, Holland's pro-market party, to run for parliament. By then, she was receiving a stream of death threats from radical Dutch Muslims and their sympathizers. Once she won her parliamentary seat, the hate mail intensified. A security detail shadowed her everywhere. Van Gogh's murder proved the threat was all too real.

Throughout her parliamentary career, which lasted from 2003 to 2006, Hirsi Ali reaped both praise and controversy. She continued writing and speaking out in favor of free speech and the right to offend. …

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