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Enter the Dutch 'Infidel,' Faithful to Herself (Q.& A. with Ayaan Hirsi Ali)

Enter the Dutch 'Infidel,' Faithful to Herself (Q.& A. with Ayaan Hirsi Ali)

Author: Laurie Goodstein
Publication: The New York Times
Date: February 4, 2007
URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/04/weekinreview/04goodstein.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

As a 22-year-old Somali Muslim, Ayaan Hirsi Ali disappeared en route from Nairobi, Kenya, to an arranged marriage in Canada, and fled to the Netherlands. A decade later, she won a seat in the Dutch Parliament, where she became known as an advocate for women and a critic of Islam. She collaborated with Theo van Gogh on a movie that depicted abused women with passages from the Koran written on their skin. In 2004, Mr. van Gogh was shot dead in Amsterdam by a Dutch Muslim born to Moroccan immigrants, who then staked a letter threatening Ms. Hirsi Ali onto Mr. van Gogh's chest, sending her into hiding for a while. Three months ago she landed in Washington as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Her autobiography, "Infidel," will be published in English on Tuesday. Recently she spoke to Laurie Goodstein, a reporter for The New York Times.

Q. What do you think it was about you that made you grab the reins of your own life?

A. In my upbringing I had watched my mother and I had watched other women go through the whole process. And I didn't want to be that. I didn't want to be a victim of the circumstances, and other people's decisions. And education contributed to my leaving this man and my clan, in the sense that it gave me the self-confidence to think I can leave.

When I came to the Netherlands I spoke English. And before me was this woman who had lived in our house [in Nairobi] when she was a refugee. She had four children and spoke only Somali and moved to the Netherlands, and it was like, if she can survive, I can do much better. My first experience in the Netherlands was very pleasant, extremely pleasant. I mean, I got my residence permit, refugee status, within four weeks of arrival. People treated me extremely well.

Q. Would a Somali arriving in the Netherlands now, similar description to you - speaks English, educated woman on her own - have the same experience?

A. The whole asylum process has changed. I was received at a center - it looks like a holiday resort, with a golf course, swimming pools, and tennis courts and people who are assigned to make the lives of the refugees coming in as pleasant as possible. Today in Holland you will be received at a center where you will be put in a small room that looks like a prison and you will sit in that room with hundreds of others, in each other's sweat and tears, and you will be kept, you will be made to wait for hours before you can even be heard. And within 48 hours you get an answer, and the answer is, 9 out of 10 times, it's negative.

Asked if she found the situation and attitude of Muslims here different from those in Europe, Ms. Hirsi Ali said she hadn't yet had enough contact with Muslims in the United States to form an opinion, but she recounted her experience in Canada last year.

A. I took part in a debate and there were many Muslims, and I thought there was a huge difference between the Canadian Muslims and, for example, the Dutch Muslims. The Canadian Muslims were just as angry with me as their counterparts in Holland, but they refrained from shouting, from insulting and from disrupting the session. And that's what some of the Muslims in Holland would do, and did.

Q. You think the North Americans are doing something right with assimilation?

A. The Canadian Muslims I am talking of, and it is just one experience, spoke perfect English. Our Dutch Muslims hardly speak any, or take the trouble to speak Dutch. The second generation that does seems to have learned only insults and terrible words to throw at other people.

Q. As a teenager you wore the hijab and a robe that went down to your ankles. You wrote in your book that it actually helped you feel empowered and individual and superior. So why did you stop covering and start denouncing it?

A. I was just one of the few who went about the streets like that, and it was of my own choice. I wasn't forced to do it. I try to explain in the book that what might seem as if these radical Muslims who come and indoctrinate young people, as if they force you into something. That's not the case. It's an ideology that is consistent with our faith. You know, we are brought up as Muslims. And we are passive Muslims.

And in my case Sister Aziza [a teacher trained in Saudi Arabia] comes around and she makes us active. So it's all very congruent at that stage. And then we were shown pictures of dead people. Bloodied, killed, large numbers of corpses in Iran. And she says this is what the Jews are doing to Muslims; this is what the Americans are doing to Muslims. So there was the sense first of all as a teenager discovering an aim for your life, developing a sense of morality between right and wrong, belonging to a group that is superior, and all non-Muslims were inferior.

Q. Have you seen any ideology coming from within Islam that gives young Muslims a sense of purpose without the overlay of militancy?

A. They have no alternative message. There is no active missionary work among the youth telling them, do not become jihadis. They do not use media means as much as the jihadis. They simply - they're reactive and they don't seem to be able to compete with the jihadis. And every time there is a debate between a real jihadi and, say, what we have decided to call moderate Muslims, the jihadis win. Because they come with the Koran and quotes from the Koran. The come with quotes from the Hadith and the Sunnah, and the traditions of the prophet. And every assertion they make, whether it is that women should be veiled, or Jews should be killed, or Americans are our enemies, or any of that, they win. Because what they have to say is so consistent with what is written in the Koran and the Hadith. And what the moderates fail to do is to say, listen, that's all in there, but that wasn't meant for this context. And we have moved on. We can change the Koran, we can change the Hadith. That's what's missing.

Q. When Muslims here talk about rights, the big issue is discrimination, particularly in this post-9/11 era where Muslims have had trouble even traveling through airports.

A. Like all other Muslims who go through this, and all other individuals who go through this, it's a terrible experience. But it is an experience that I understand. I as a Muslim, or as a human individual, would like to minimize the risk of being blown up on a plane. ...

However, I would say singling out people that you think are Muslims simply because they might is not something in an open society that you can defend.

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