Ayaan Hirsi Ali is known as a human rights activist, champion of free speech, and best-selling author.
She is also a fearless warrior in the battle for tolerance, gender equality and social justice.
Ayaan’s journey began in Somalia in 1969 where, as a young girl, she was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM).
When she was five years old, she was made “pure” by having her genitals carved out with a knife.
Her grandmother and two of her friends pinned her down, pulled her legs apart, and sawed away her clitoris and labia.
She remembers the sound even now – “like a butcher, snipping the fat off a piece of meat.”
She could not walk for two weeks after the traumatic and excruciating procedure.
When Ayaan first menstruated, her mother screamed at her: “Filthy prostitute! May you be barren! May you get cancer!” Ayaan tried to commit suicide not long after.
From very early on, she questioned the systemic subjugation and violent oppression of women she saw all around her; while listening to a sermon on the many ways women should be obedient to their husbands, she couldn’t resist asking, “Must our husbands obey us too?”
Upon being forced by her father to marry a distant cousin, she fled to Holland and claimed political asylum.
Once there, she worked her way up from being a janitor to serving as an elected member of the Dutch parliament.
As a member of parliament, she campaigned to raise awareness of sanctioned violence against women in Islam, including honor killings and FGM, practices that had followed her fellow immigrants into Holland.
In 2004 Ayaan gained international attention following the savage murder of Theo van Gogh by a fanatical Muslim.
On the morning of November 2 in a street in east Amsterdam, a 26-year-old Dutch Moroccan named Mohammed Bouyeri pulled out a gun and shot controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was riding his bike to his office.
Van Gogh fell and stumbled across the street to a nearby building. He didn’t make it. As the Moroccan walked toward him, van Gogh shouted, “We can still talk about it! Don’t do it! Don’t do it.” But the brute didn’t stop.
He shot him four more times, slit van Gogh’s throat till his head was nearly severed from his body and stuck a letter to his chest with a knife. He was slaughtered like an animal, witnesses said. Van Gogh, the Dutch painter’s great-grand-nephew, was 47 years old.
In Islamic law, the punishment for heresy is death.
Theo was shot and then stabbed with a knife pinning two notes to his body.
Police say that one of them was a five-page letter accusing Hirsi Ali, of “terrorizing Muslims and Islam”..
The letter went on to threaten Ali…“AYAAN HIRSI ALI, YOU WILL SMASH YOURSELF ON ISLAM!” The letter ended with a kind of chant: “I know for sure that you, O America, are going to meet with disaster. I know for sure that you, O Europe, are going to meet with disaster. I know for sure that you, O Holland, are going to meet with disaster.”
Ayaan explains: “The letter was addressed to me.” It said that Van Gogh had been “executed” for making a film with her that exposed the widespread abuse of Muslim women. Now, she would be “executed” too – for being an apostate.
She says that, even now, “every time I close my eyes, I see the murder, and I hear Theo pleading for his life. ‘Can’t we talk about this?’ he asked his killer. It was so Dutch, so sweet and innocent.” At the trial, Bouyeri spat at Van Gogh’s mother: “I don’t feel your pain. I don’t have any sympathy for you. I can’t feel for you because I think you’re a non-believer.”
Van Gogh had directed her short film Submission, a film about the brutal oppression of women under Islam.
This tragic event, and Ayaan’s life leading up to it, are all chronicled in her best-selling book, Infidel.