Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali knows the risks of standing up for one's beliefs. The Somalia-born Dutch politician last year made Submission, a film that portrays a Muslim woman ritually abused by the men in her family. Hirsi Ali used the woman's body as a canvas on which to display troubling verses from the Koran. Her film incited a fanatic to kill Hirsi Ali's co-producer, Theo Van Gogh. After plunging a knife into his body, the murderer transformed Van Gogh's corpse into a canvas of his own. On it, he pinned a letter to Hirsi Ali, warning her that she is next.

I met Hirsi Ali, 35, last year during a book tour. Because I have written a blunt call for reform in Islam, a Dutch newspaper assigned her to interview me—heretic to heretic. The difference is, she has left Islam. I asked her if she thought I was naive for sticking with Allah. "Don't go," she told me. "Islam needs you."

And Europe, it seems, needs her, to highlight a critical challenge: Can a multicultural society produce pluralism without relativism? So far, it doesn't bode well for her plight. After Van Gogh's killing last November, Hirsi Ali hid for two months. Now, as then, she is enveloped by a human burqa of four bodyguards.

Still, she persists. In parliament, Hirsi Ali is pushing to outlaw honor crimes—customs that can't be pinned on the Koran but thrive amid the silence of Muslim leaders. They have forgotten, she says, that the Koran implores Muslims to "bear true witness, even if it be against yourselves, your parents or your family." In that sense, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a true believer.

Manji is the author of The Trouble with Islam Today

From the Archive
Aftermath of a Murder: The death of a filmmaker sparks questions about Islamic influence in Europe