Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a strident defender of the rights of Muslim women—so why do so many liberals attack her?by Bella Thomas / March 22, 2007 / Leave a comment
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s story filtered slowly into Britain at a tangent via Holland. Her fame preceded her, and her image became mired by controversy and confusion before her argument was properly heard. But apart from her would-be assailants who would kill her for her views on Islam, Hirsi Ali has an array of unlikely liberal critics, many of whom underestimate her and misrepresent her argument.
Hirsi Ali was a Somali asylum-seeker who took on her former religion, got into trouble for doing so, and became a Dutch MP but then resigned. Her collaborator, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, was famously murdered in 2004, but a surprising number of people writing on this subject got their Dutch political murders muddled up, and assumed, falsely, that because she was associated with one of them (Van Gogh), she was somehow linked with the other too (Pim Fortuyn), and that therefore she was largely responsible for convulsing Dutch politics over race and overturning the traditions of Dutch tolerance.
Her new book, Infidel, an autobiography, puts her life story and her position into a frame which should make it rather more difficult to dismiss her argument. By any standards it is an enthralling story about her life between three continents and several geostrategic cross-currents. It starts with her nomadic grandmother in Somalia and explains how, as a child, she fled Somalia (where her father was a warlord who opposed the presidency of Siad Barre), lived fleetingly in Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia before ending up in Kenya. She then fled a forced marriage, arriving as an asylum-seeker in Holland in the early 1990s, where she became a cleaner and translator, studying political science in her spare time. While working as a translator in shelters for battered women, she began to see that some of the practices meted out to Muslim women (forced marriages, genital mutilation), which she thought she had left behind in Somalia and Kenya, were being carried on in the suburbs of Rotterdam and Amsterdam. She sought to raise these issues in political debates, and became a fiery critic of the segregation of different cultures instituted by a blinded version of multiculturalism. She was then invited by the Dutch Liberal party to become an MP.
In spite of the acclaim for Infidel, many of the original accusations of extremism have stuck. So Maria…