She courageously battles the Left’s comfortable narrative of the Muslim world
By Jeff Robbins
Ayaan Hirsi Ali can recount in virtual slow motion the events of November 2, 2004—the day Theo Van Gogh, her collaborator on a film about abuse of women in certain Muslim societies, was assassinated. The Somali-born women’s rights advocate and writer, then a member of the Dutch Parliament, had herself received innumerable death threats for writing the film, entitled Submission. The Dutch Minister of Interior informed her of what had occurred: Mr. Van Gogh was shot eight times and left on an Amsterdam street with his throat slit and a large knife stuck in his chest. The killer used a second knife to attach a note to Mr. Van Gogh’s chest, warning of violence to Western nations and to Jews, and pronouncing a death sentence against Ms. Hirsi Ali.
The death sentence began this way: “In the name of Allah most gracious, most merciful,” and went on to proclaim that “all enemies of Islam will be destroyed.”
With an estimated 140 million girls and women throughout the world subjected to genital mutilation, with thousands murdered each year in so-called “honor killings” and untold millions forced to marry against their will, one would suppose that Ms. Hirsi Ali—the world’s preeminent critic of these practices and advocate on behalf of their victims—would be universally hailed by those who style themselves as progressives. Since Ms. Hirsi Ali’s advocacy for women has meant that she has lived under death threats for over a decade, one would be the more justified in imagining that she would be regarded as a hero by progressives everywhere. But despite a body of work as a parliamentarian, a writer and as head of a foundation that is devoted to the protection of women and has earned her recognition by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 most important people on the planet, Ms. Hirsi Ali finds herself the object of vitriol by some on the left, who cannot bear her for this reason: She is critical of Islam and what she sees in the Muslim world as not only an indulgence in violence but a practice of justifying it. Ms. Hirsi Ali says unapologetically that in Islam there exists a “culture of misogyny [that] needs to be addressed quickly and frankly, and we must not censor ourselves.”
But as Ms. Hirsi Ali works to combat those challenges, she finds herself battling the stubborn, unrelenting forces that would have her censored. The efforts to tar her with the tried-and-true epithet of “Islamophobic” come both from powerful Muslim enterprises that would like to squash her like a bug and some on the left, for whom a narrative of the Muslim world as victims and the West as victimizers is precious and comfortable. They regard Ms. Hirsi Ali as trouble. She is, after all, a Muslim-born woman who personally experienced the very abuse that she criticizes. The 46-year-old is also a superb writer, a winning speaker, inarguably courageous and telegenic to boot. She is an atheist as well. For those who wish to suppress criticism of the plight of women under Islam, she is, in short, a disaster.
Ms. Hirsi Ali warns against use of the words “extreme” and “radical” to describe as peripheral an ideology which, she argues, is in fact quite prevalent in Muslim communities around the globe, and which leads easily to violence—whether in the form of female genital mutilation or honor killings or wife-beating or suicide bombings. She views the reliance on those words as self-delusion, a soothing, self-administered palliative whose effect is to mask evidence that violence is the largely natural extension of fundamentalist values sternly dictated and widely embraced in Muslim communities—values that encourage harsh treatment of women and strict, even brutal, punishment of non-believers. Her warnings, and those of others who risk their reputations and lives to criticize Islamic institutions, are distinctly unwelcome in many Western quarters, where they are regarded as grievously politically incorrect, and where the “few-bad-apples” narrative of Islamic extremism is vastly preferred.