She is as famous as she is notorious. Ayan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch parliamentarian and outspoken critic of Islam (detailed in her new book, “Infidel,” which chronicles her difficult childhood and journey out of Islam), is now a fellow at The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank. Ali is a stinging and unrepentant in her criticism of what ails the Islamic world. Yet, she does not blame individual Muslims for this, but Islam itself.
She is a celebrity of sorts among Islamophobes, and I am not sure why. But consider her personal history, the way she tells it: She had a very difficult childhood, being born into the strife of a war-torn Somalia. She moved from place to place, eventually escaping an arranged marriage to the Netherlands.
Ali then became famous with her controversial film "Submission,” which depicted near-naked women with verses of the Qur'an draped across them (and resulted in the brutal death of the filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, who had a death threat against Ali stuck to his chest with a knife).
In the Netherlands Ali rose up the ranks to become a member of the Dutch parliament. But here is where the story unravels: She left the parliament and the country when she was found to have lied on her asylum application about the story of her “escape” from the arranged marriage in Somalia. By that time Ali was known to the world, and after 9/11, she permanently and publicly renounced Islam.
And now her move to AEI has her back in the media spotlight. Why does she garner such interest wherever she goes? Perhaps because these days the world seems to love outspoken critics of Islam, whether or not they have the facts to back up what they’re saying.
In a recent interview with the British newspaper Metro, Ali was asked whether she sees any positive sides to Islam. She replied, "That's like asking if I see positive sides to Nazism, communism, Catholicism. Of course Islam preaches generosity and kindness and taking care of the poor and elderly and so on-- but these values aren't limited to Islam."
Ali is an expert on putting a big negative stamp on Islam and finding ways to blame the religion for all sorts of problems that ail the Muslim (and non-Muslim world). Consider some of her incendiary statements:
- On NPR's "Talk of the Nation," Ali tried to link the ills of the Muslim world--which have a multitude of causes—with just Islam itself. Of female genital mutilation, Ali admitted that it started "1,800 years before Christ, so it was way before Islam came about." Then comes the "but": "If you look at the countries that practice it today," Ali said, "most of them are Islamic. And one of the things that makes [female genital mutilation] very useful for Muslims is their attitude towards virginity and premarital sex. The Qur'an is very clear and says those who engage in premarital sex should be flogged 100 times, both men and women. But it is, of course, much easier to prove that a woman has had premarital sex. Islam, like some of the other monotheistic faiths, tries to control the sexuality of the woman first."
- When talking about slavery, she highlighted how the fight to abolish the slavery practiced by the West came from within the West itself. In contrast, however, "Today, in the world we live in, slavery is practiced only in Arab/Islamic world ... Muslims are not responding to that," she said to Neal Conan of NPR.
I guess she's unaware that according to a report by MSNBC , officials estimate that "more than 200,000 women and girls--a quarter of all women trafficked globally--are smuggled out of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics each year, the bulk of whom end up working as enslaved prostitutes. Almost half are transported to Western Europe. Roughly a quarter ends up in the United States." But in Ali’s mind, since "slavery is practiced only in Arab/Islamic world," it must be because of Islam itself.
Ali is notorious for making sweeping generalizations about Islam and Muslims, and she frequently cites information that is incorrect. For instance, on the NPR show she said: "For empirical evidence on whether women and/or the Islamic world is in a crisis, I would like to refer Tony [a caller to the show] to the Arab Human Development report ... in which the writers of that report say the Arab/Islamic world is retarded when it comes to ... three factors: The freedom of the individual, knowledge, and the subjugation of women."