Ayaan Hirsi Ali is supposed to be on the run, but, as one last spring snowstorm turned Amsterdam's lacy bridges and gabled canal houses into a confectioner's delight, she seemed to be everywhere. On television the slim, pantsuit-clad, Somali-born legislator demanded that the Dutch intelligence service investigate the honor killings of Muslim girls. In the pages of newspapers she harangued the health authorities to examine schoolgirls for evidence of genital mutilation. At prize ceremonies she warned European governments that women in their Muslim communities remain under threat.
Seven months ago, Hirsi Ali's implacable campaign against what she views as Islam's oppression of women prompted a Muslim fanatic to ritually slaughter Theo van Gogh, her Dutch collaborator on the film Submission. The murderer used his knife to affix a five-page letter to the corpse promising the same treatment for Hirsi Ali and another Dutch politician who has criticized Islam. The murder sent Dutch society into paroxysms of rage and fear, sparking dozens of attacks on mosques and schools. But it didn't seem to faze Hirsi Ali. In a series of defiant interviews, the former refugee refused to be intimidated. When a group of Muslims tried to block her from making a sequel to Submission, she fought back in court and won. Like a dark avenging angel, she seemed to loom over Holland's wintry Dutch, her ubiquitous media presence a virtual guarantee of further conflict.
In the United States, where few people have had the chance to read or see her critiques of Islam, the 35-year-old Hirsi Ali has been almost exclusively portrayed as a champion of free speech and women's rights. In the Netherlands, however, she remains the subject of intense controversy. Well before van Gogh's murder, she had become a major hate figure among Dutch Muslims, who accuse her of stirring up Islamophobia on behalf of a cabal of right-wing politicians and columnists. Since the murder, a surprising number of native-born Dutch intellectuals have come around to the Muslim point of view.
Published on "The Nation" website. Read this article on the Liberty Post website (new window will open).