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Unguarded voice

Accused of Islam bashing, Hirsi Ali advocates a Muslim Reformation


Associated Press Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- She breaks all Dutch molds. A former refugee from Somalia, she is a black face in the white crowd in parliament. She seeks blunt confrontation rather than the quiet consensus of traditional politics. In a country that used to pride itself on its free and easy ways, she lives under constant guard.

Elected to parliament four years ago, Ayaan Hirsi Ali became internationally famous when a film she wrote provoked the murder of its director, Theo van Gogh, by an Islamic radical on an Amsterdam street. It drove home to the Dutch how vulnerable they are to terrorism.

To meet her at the Dutch parliament, a reporter must be escorted by a security guard who stays by the door throughout the interview.

Hirsi Ali's unusual trajectory started when she was 22 and passing through Germany en route to Canada for an arranged marriage to a distant cousin she had never met. She instead got on a train to Amsterdam and got asylum.

She briefly worked as a chambermaid and part-time translator before studying for a political science degree and joining the leftist Labor Party.

In 2002, on the promise of a parliament seat, she jumped to the conservative Liberal Party, causing a political storm but guaranteeing her a high visibility platform and a regular spot on TV talk shows.

Today, at 36, she feels she is having an impact.

"Issues that I wanted to put on the agenda in 2002 and that were dismissed as incidental or unimportant are now issues that are discussed at all levels of government," she said. "I have a satisfaction that this wasn't for nothing."

Not all Dutchmen agree. Hirsi Ali was indirectly targeted in a report by a government advisory group that criticized the "climate of confrontation and stereotypical thinking" about Islam and its activists.

Its author, Jan Schoonenboom, was more direct in news interviews, accusing Hirsi Ali and other politicians of "Islam bashing" and of appealing to "gut feelings" rather than reason.

Immigration and integration, women's rights and the place of Islam in Western countries are subjects of "The Caged Virgin," a book Hirsi Ali recently launched in New York.

The essays and reprinted articles explore "my relationship with Islam. We Muslims should learn to look at ourselves critically, at our moral values," she says. "The best agent for this reform is emancipating or liberating our women."

"We Muslims" may sound curious coming from Hirsi Ali, who was raised a strict Muslim but now calls herself an atheist. She would like to see a Muslim Reformation of the kind that remade European Christianity in the 16th century.

Muslims need "to develop a different relationship, a different concept of God, of what God means," she says -- not just total submission to God's will but "a dialogue with God."

Such a reformation is more likely to emerge from the West, she said, because for reformers in Muslim societies "there is always the fear of being killed, of being shunned by your community, of being exiled, jailed, tortured."

But Holland hasn't proved much safer. She went into hiding after Van Gogh's murder, spending 2 1/2 months in the United States.

She faults the Dutch intelligence service for focusing too late on the Islamic fringe, and the government for then overreacting by allowing infringements on civil liberties.

"There is ethnic profiling. But unlike in the United States, we don't even debate it. That's bad," she says. "In the Netherlands and in the rest of Europe, we pretend that we are morally superior to the United States, that we are not doing any form of ethnic profiling. But we are."

She was a critic of Dutch immigration policy at a time when it was unfashionable to talk about an immigrant underclass, high crime rates among second-generation migrants, and crowded Muslim ghettos.

As a translator for the immigration service, she says, she saw evidence of the mistreatment of women in Muslim families and the difficulty of the Calvinist Dutch to deal with an alien culture.

Joining the conservative governing coalition in parliament hardly softened her criticism.

"Our migration policy is a failure," she said. "We used to pretend that we were a homogenous little country and that Holland is not a migration country. We have become a migration country like the United States."

She believes the housing projects that have become immigrant ghettos should be demolished and their inhabitants blended into mainstream society.

Hirsi Ali is the daughter of Hirsi Magan, a Somali politician who opposed the regime of Mohammed Siad Barre and took his family into exile in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and finally Kenya.

Her 11-minute film "Submission" got its director killed three months after it aired on Dutch television, but Hirsi Ali is undaunted. She says she's going ahead with "Submission Part II," a 90-minute sequel.

Source: SouthbendTribune, May 7, 2006

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