Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 881

Controversial Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Muslim turned atheist, to resign from Dutch Parliament

BY Sohail Choudhury

Just in less than two weeks of receiving prestigious ‘Moral Courage Award’ from American Jewish Committee, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has decided to resign from Dutch Parliament when the Dutch government had abruptly threatened to revoke the citizenship of the most prominent Somali-born member of Parliament, who arrived as a refugee 14 years ago.

The minister of immigration, Rita Verdonk, said that Hirsi Ali had provided inaccurate information when applying for political asylum in 1992 and seeking Dutch citizenship in 1997. As a result, the minister said, both applications were invalid. Hirsi Ali has been given six weeks to respond.

Meanwhile, Ayaan said she would resign from Parliament this week and speed up her intended departure for the United States, where she has applied for a job at the American Enterprise Institute.

She had intended to serve out her mandate, she said. But in April she was notified that she would have to vacate her secure government apartment because her neighbors won a lawsuit complaining that her presence exposed them to risk.

The move is likely to provoke a widespread reaction because Hirsi Ali, 36, has faced repeated death threats since 2002, when she became well known because of her outspoken criticism of conservative Islam and of the mistreatment of Muslim women, even in the Netherlands.

She was the writer of a short television documentary on violence against Muslim women that was made by the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in an Amsterdam street in 2004 by a Dutch-Moroccan who claimed his victim had insulted Islam. The killer pinned a note to the body of van Gogh saying that Hirsi Ali would be next.

Long before van Gogh's death, Hirsi Ali had been provided with full-time bodyguards by the Dutch government and had been living in a series of safe houses.

Despite that, she continued speaking and writing on abuse of women in Islam and her view that the religion promotes intolerance.

"I'm speechless," Hirsi Ali said in a telephone interview from The Hague after she had received a call from Immigration minister Rita Verdonk.

Hirsi Ali said she considered the move to take away her citizenship, leaving her stateless, as an attempt to silence her.

"I have been fully committed to my work in Parliament, and I have taken many risks," she said. "This will make others think harder before they speak out."

She said that she was baffled by the unexpected uproar over her asylum procedure because she had told the story numerous times both in interviews and in her own essays about how she had changed her last name from Magan to Ali and had changed her date of birth when she arrived in the Netherlands at age 22. She had escaped from an arranged marriage.

She tried to hide at first "in case my father or my brother or my husband looked for me with bad intentions," she said. "I'm now being picked on for lying, but I have admitted this for years." She said she discussed this with the leaders of the conservative political party VVD when they invited her to run for Parliament.

The crisis erupted over the weekend after a television documentary retraced her steps and she once more said on camera that she had changed some facts on arriving in the Netherlands.

As elections approach, the debate about immigration in the Netherlands has become increasingly tense, with Verdonk taking an ever harder line and recently expelling would-be immigrants who failed to meet the criteria for political asylum.

Hirsi Ali has also come under criticism for polarizing the immigration debate, and some opponents have called for her to be deported.

Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia into the Majeerteen sub-clan of the Darod clan. Her father, Hirsi Magan Isse, was an opponent of Siyad Barre, the president of Somalia. Although her father, who had studied in Italy and the United States, was opposed to female genital cutting, a Somali tradition, when Hirsi Ali was five years old her grandmother had the procedure performed on her while her father was abroad.

When she was six, her family left the country for Saudi Arabia, later moving to Ethiopia and then to Kenya, where the family obtained political asylum. In Kenya she attended the English-language Muslim Girls' Secondary School in Nairobi under sponsorship of the UNHCR, where, for a brief period she received guest lessons from a fundamentalist teacher called Aziza.

Following the invasion by the secular nation of Iraq of the Islamic republic of Iran, she sympathised with Iran, and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and wore a head-scarf together with her school uniform. After secondary school she attended a secretarial course at the Valley College in Nairobi (near Yaya center) for one year.

In 1992, Hirsi Ali's father is said to have arranged for her to marry a distant cousin who lived in Kenya for eleven years. She subsequently traveled to Düsseldorf and Berlin in Germany. After a brief stay in Germany, she decided to go to the Netherlands, instead of Canada.

Once in the Netherlands, she requested political asylum and received a residence permit. It is not known on which grounds she received political asylum. Technically, since her first stop had been in Germany, she should have applied for asylum there.

In the Netherlands she gave a different date of birth and different name to the Dutch immigration authorities. Until May 2006 she was known in the West by the assumed name Hirsi Ali instead of her real name, Hirsi Magan.

On the advice of her aunt she told the immigration authorities that she had come straight from Somalia, instead of Kenya where she had been living for eleven years. In Somalia there was a serious famine at that time and a civil war leading to the ‘Operation Restore Hope’ by the United States. Due to these circumstances asylum seekers from Somalia were routinely granted asylum on humanitarian grounds. Hirsi Ali received a residence permit within three weeks of her arrival in the Netherlands.

After receiving asylum, she held various short-term jobs, ranging from cleaning to mail sorting. During this time she took courses in Dutch and a one-year course in Social Work.

Following her initial studies, she studied political science at the University of Leiden until 2000. Between 1995 and 2001, she worked as an independent interpreter and translator, working primarily for the National Migration Service. While working for the NMS, she had access to inside knowledge of the workings of the Dutch immigration system. She was heavily critical of the way the Dutch system handled asylum seekers, favoring highly educated applicants over less educated ones.

After earning her masters in political science, Hirsi Ali became a fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Foundation, a scientific institute linked to the social-democratic PvdA, of which Leiden University Professor Ruud Koole was steward.

Inspired by the Atheist Manifesto (Atheistisch Manifest) of Leiden philosopher Herman Philipse, she renounced Islam and became an atheist. During this period she began to formulate her critique on Islamic culture, which she put to words in a book De Zoontjesfabriek ("The Son Factory"). After the publication of this book, she received the first threats on her life.

In November 2002 she switched to the conservative VVD party, which offered her a position in parliament. She criticized the PvdA for being blind to the negative effects of immigration from Islamic countries. Hirsi Ali was an assistant of the VVD parliamentary party between November 2002 and January 2003. Because of the escalating threats to her life, Hirsi Ali began to receive permanent police protection.

In January 2003 she was elected to the Tweede Kamer. She received a large number of preference votes.

Because of her statements about the Islamic prophet Muhammad in a Trouw interview, a discrimination complaint was filed against Hirsi Ali on April 24, 2003. The Prosecutor's office decided not to prosecute her, 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 for submission, a short, low-budget film directed by Theo van Gogh. The film criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society. It showed women, one of whom was dressed in a semi-transparent burqa, with texts from the Qur'an projected on their bodies. The texts referred to the subordinate role of women. In addition to writing the script, Hirsi Ali also provided the voice-over. The release of the film sparked much controversy, as well as violent reaction, when radical Islamist Mohammed Bouyeri gunned down Van Gogh in an Amsterdam street on November 2, 2004. A letter pinned to Van Gogh's body with a knife was primarily a death threat to Hirsi Ali.

In 2004 the group "The Hague Connection" produced and distributed the rap song "Hirsi Ali Dis" on the internet. The lyrics of this song included yet more violent threats against Hirsi Ali's life. The rappers were prosecuted under Article 121 of the Dutch criminal code, because they hindered the execution of Hirsi Ali's tasks as politician. In 2005 the rappers were sentenced to community service and a suspended prison sentence.

After the incident, Hirsi Ali went into hiding in the Netherlands, and even spent some time in New York, a situation which lasted until January 18, 2005, when she returned to parliament. On February 18, 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 November 16, 2005, Hirsi Ali reported being seriously threatened by the Imam Scheich Fawaz. This Imam, who worked in a mosque in The Hague, announced on the internet that Hirsi Ali would be "blown away by the wind of changing times" and that she could anticipate "the curse of Allah".

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 organize 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 a letter she co-signed entitled MANIFESTO: Together facing the new totalitarianism with eleven other individuals (most notably Salman Rushdie) was published in response to violent and deadly protests in the Islamic world surrounding the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.

On April 27 a Dutch judge ruled that Hirsi Ali had to leave her house - a highly secured secret address in the Netherlands. Her neighbors had complained that living next to her was an unacceptable security risk for them.

Hirsi Ali's political views are for the most part inspired by her personal change from a fundamentalist Muslim to an atheist. Hirsi Ali is very critical of Islam, and especially of the prophet Muhammad and the position of women in Islam.

Ayaan has received a number of awards and appreciations from different organizations and institutions for her admirable works.

In January 2004, Hirsi Ali was awarded the Prize of Liberty by Nova Civitas, a classical liberal thinktank in the Low Countries.

On November 20, 2004, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was awarded Denmark's Liberal Party’s Freedom Prize (largest party of Denmark and part of the ruling coalition) "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, November 17, 2005, she travelled to Denmark to thank Anders Fogh Rasmussen, leader of Denmark's Liberal Party and Prime Minister of Denmark, for the prize.

On February 25, 2005 she was given the Harriet Freezerring by Cisca Dresselhuys, editor of the feminist magazine Opzij, "for her work for the emancipation of Islamic women".

According to the American Time Magazine of April 18, 2005 she was amongst the 100 Most Influential Persons of the World. The Time 100 She was put in the category "Leaders & Revolutionaries".

In June 2005, Hirsi Ali was awarded by the Norwegian Political Think Tank, Human Rights Service (HRS), with the annual Prize, This Year's European Bellwether. 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.

On August 29, 2005, Hirsi Ali was awarded the annual Democracy Prize of the Liberal Party of Sweden "for her courageous work for democracy, human rights and women's rights."

Hirsi Ali was voted European of the Year for 2006 by the European editors of Reader's Digest magazine. At a ceremony in The Hague on January 23, Hirsi Ali accepted the Reader's Digest award from EU Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes.

On May 4, 2006, Hirsi Ali accepted the Moral Courage Award from the American Jewish Committee.

The Norwegian member of parliament Christian Tybring-Gjedde has nominated Hirsi Ali as candidate for Nobel Peace Prize of 2006.

- Asian Tribune-

Share this


.