“When I first came to a Western country, I was astonished to find men who said, ‘Ladies first,’” Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently recalled. “I was amazed because I was born and raised in a culture that put me last because I was born a girl.”
The former Dutch parliamentarian captivated some 1,500 guests at the Congress of Racial Equality’s 23rd annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ali received CORE’s International Brotherhood Award January 15 at the New York Hilton. As a woman whom radical Muslims have marked for death, her message deserves every American’s attention.
Ali, 39, was born into a Muslim family in Mogadishu. Her father’s opposition to Somalia’s then-president, Siyad Barre, led him to move his family to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, then Kenya. When she was about 25, her father arranged for her to wed a stranger. En route to meet this distant cousin in Canada, Ali deplaned in Germany and instead absconded to Holland by rail. She secured asylum and changed her name from Hirsi Magan to Hirsi Ali.
Ali prospered. She learned Dutch, studied politics at Leiden University, and served several think tanks. In January 2003, she won a seat in the Tweede Kamer, Holland’s lower house of parliament.
In 2004, Ali wrote Dutch director Theo Van Gogh’s Submission, a provocative film about Islamic-fundamentalist misogyny. That November 2, Dutch-Moroccan citizen Mohammed Bouyeri assassinated Van Gogh — the great-grand nephew of the 19th Century Impressionist painter — on an Amsterdam street. After shooting him and slitting his throat, the radical Muslim used another knife to bury a five-page letter into Van Gogh’s lifeless chest.
“YOU WILL BREAK YOURSELF TO PIECES ON ISLAM!” read the communiqué, addressed to Ali. “Be warned that the death that you are trying to prevent will surely find you.”
Bouyeri also carried with him “Baptized in Blood.” The poem reads, in part:
To the enemy I say…
You will surely die…
Wherever in the world you go…
Death is waiting for you…
Chased by the knights of DEATH…
Who paint the streets with Red.
Since then, Ali has labored under a fatwa. Scheich Fawaz, an imam in The Hague, said Ali would be “blown away by the wind of changing times” and would suffer “the curse of Allah.”
After going into hiding, Ali fled yet again, from Holland to America. Though still protected by bodyguards, she now thinks and speaks freely in Washington, D.C., primarily at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. She also authored the forthcoming Infidel: My Life (Free Press, 2007).
“Because the culture the U.S. leads and stands for is under threat,” Ali tells me, “it would help a great deal if the Democrats and the Republicans were less polarized, if they understood that they are under threat, and that fighting for what America stands for is far more important, far more important, than all the small differences that we have on a domestic level.”
First and foremost, Ali argues, the West should champion a culture that is superior to militant Islam, which has civilization itself in its crosshairs. As she puts it: “Human beings are equal; cultures are not.”
“A culture that holds the door open to her women is not equal to one that confines them behind walls and veils,” Ali told CORE. “A culture that encourages dating between young men and young women is not equal to a culture that flogs or stones a girl for falling in love. A culture where monogamy is an aspiration is not equal to a culture where a man can lawfully have four wives all at once.”
Such candor has won Ali high praise on either side of the Atlantic. Time magazine in 2005 named her one of the “100 Most Influential Persons of the World.” In 2006, Reader’s Digest dubbed her its European of the Year. Also last year, Norwegian legislator Christian Tybring-Gjedde nominated Ali for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Ayaan Hirsi Ali is equivalent to Lady Thatcher — the iron lady of Somalia,” says Herbert I. London, president of the Hudson Institute, who introduced Ali at CORE’s banquet. “In standing up for women’s rights in the Islamic world, she has faced down the jihadists’ fatwa. While the West is on the defensive about its own values, this woman from the East comes to remind us that the culture we have is far superior to the culture she escaped.”
“Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the single most important figure in the fight for awareness of the plight of women in Islam,” says Douglas Murray, a fellow with the Social Affairs Unit, a London-based think tank, and author of NeoConservatism: Why We Need It. “Her own personal story and the eloquence and bravery that she has brought to the debate have brought the issue to the eyes of the world more than any other individual.” Murray notes that anti-Islamist Dutch parliamentary candidate “Pim Fortuyn said before his assassination, ‘It is five minutes to midnight, not just in Holland, but in the whole of Europe.’ With Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s departure, the Netherlands has gone back to sleep a little, and Pim’s clock is a stroke closer to midnight.”
Ali is grateful for what the West has done for her and many others it shields from Islamofascism. She despairs, however, for the West’s wavering self-confidence.
“Unfortunately, it is this culture that is under threat today,” she told CORE’s guests. “Many of those born into it take it for granted or, worse, apologize for it.” As Ayaan Hirsi Ali asked: “Let’s join together to protect this culture of life, this culture of liberty, this culture of ladies first.”
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. He has moderated several CORE events.