Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaks at a conference on business, politics and civil society at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland | EPA/Ennio Leanza
‘Political correctness is counterproductive,’ says prominent critic of Islam, a decade after quitting Dutch politics.
A decade ago, when Ayaan Hirsi Ali was forced to leave her adopted homeland of the Netherlands, a former colleague by the name of Geert Wilders had just launched his own, far-right political party.
The rise of Wilders and his fellow populists since then has been “alarming,” she said, and it will only get worse if the establishment keeps ignoring “the voice of the people” and doesn’t “acknowledge the issue of Islam.”
Even the defeats inflicted on Wilders and France’s Marine Le Pen — both runners-up in elections this year — haven’t changed Hirsi Ali’s view of Europe’s populists and the damage they can cause. In France, for example, if new President Emmanuel Macron, “doesn’t tackle problems; if the economy doesn’t grow; if he can’t control immigration; and if he won’t address the issues of Islam — I think that country could just fall into civil war,” she said over the phone from the U.S.
Hirsi Ali, 47, is as well-placed as anyone to discuss extremism of all stripes. An asylum-seeker from Somalia who was raised a Muslim, she had a rapid rise through the ranks of Dutch politics — rubbing shoulders with the likes of Wilders and Mark Rutte, now the prime minister — before becoming the Netherlands’ most strident opponent of Islam and a target for radical Islamists.
When the film-maker Theo van Gogh, a fierce critic of Islam and with whom Hirsi Ali made a provocative film called “Submission” about the oppression of Muslim women, was murdered in November 2004, a note pinned to the body by the killer — Mohammed Bouyeri — said she was on his kill list. Hirsi Ali has been under 24-hour protection since.
It hasn’t stopped her from confronting controversial topics and she believes that only if the establishment tackle such issues in a “serious way” will populist parties disappear. “That is what the voters want, they want solutions, they don’t want Marine Le Pen. They want their government to address the issues that affect them on a daily basis.”
“Countries in the Middle East, in Africa, Asia, they are falling apart. In those countries there are either crazy dictators or complete anarchy. They are failed states. And as long as this constant flow of human beings fleeing war exists, the European problem will too.”
Her views continue to cause controversy and elicit threats. In April, she canceled a speaking tour of Australia and New Zealand citing security concerns. She was due to appear on on Australian TV before starting her tour, titled “Hero of Heresy.”
Hundreds of people signed an online petition opposing Hirsi Ali’s visit. “Against a backdrop of increasing global Islamophobia, Hirsi Ali’s divisive rhetoric simply serves to increase hostility and hatred towards Muslims,” the petition said.
A month earlier, in an article for the Hoover Institution, Hirsi Ali described what she called “political Islam” as being not just a religion but “a political ideology, a legal order, and in many ways also a military doctrine associated with the campaigns of the Prophet Muhammad.”
In a 2011 interview, Hirsi Ali said she never expected a long career in politics. She was right but nevertheless she left her mark on Dutch politics and set a precedent for the fight against radical Islam.
She came to the Netherlands in 1992, learned Dutch, worked as an interpreter and briefly joined the research department of the Labor Party, before switching allegiance to the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), for whom she became a member of parliament in 2003.
The following year came Van Gogh’s assassination. Hirsi Ali’s refusal to step away from the spotlight earned her a place on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005. She attributes her resilience in part to the tolerant Dutch political climate.
“I have not been to any other country that is as open in its discussion of these issues as the Netherlands,” she said, occasionally mixing Dutch words into her English for emphasis. But, she added, the country failed to implement the anti-Islam policies that would have brought about real change.
Fighting political Islam
In 2006, Hirsi Ali’s ascent in Dutch politics came to an abrupt end when it emerged that she had lied when seeking asylum. She lost her citizenship, the controversy brought down the government and she moved to the U.S, becoming an American citizen in 2013.
It hasn’t been the safe haven she was hoping for.
“At the moment, polarization is just so high, worse than anything I have seen,” she said of Donald Trump’s election win.
“Trump has shown that he is incompetent: he can’t do the job. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to get things done, but he is too inexperienced to resist distractions.”
Trump should be focusing on fighting political Islam, she said.
While she has plenty of advice for politicians, Hirsi Ali is happier staying away from frontline politics and concentrating on academia, writing and activism.
“Things I say and do don’t have to fit into a political manifesto,” she said. “The way I see my role is to make people understand that the wonderful Western idea of multiculturalism and political correctness is counterproductive. It works to help them [the radical Islamists]. So we have to abandon that.”
Hirsi Ali believes that an antidote to the infiltration of political Islam in the Western world is a strong civil society that educates people about the threat it poses. She is also positive about changes happening in the Middle East, where protests and the rise of young people who don’t want sharia, have brought about changes in some countries.
“Ultimately that is where the solution lies, to isolate and marginalize the radicalized,” she says.
“The way to marginalize them is to get as many people as possible to stand against them and to stand against the idea of sharia.”
While she continues her fight against radical Islam, Hirsi Ali continues to live in fear of Muslims wanting to attack her. The question is not if, but when she will be targeted, she has said.
But after so long of living that way, she’s pragmatic about being a target. Citing the economist George Shultz, a colleague at Stanford University, Hirsi Ali said, “There are problems you solve and problems you work at. And this is a problem you work at.”