Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia to devout Muslim parents and was enclosed by Islam for the first 22 years of her life, which she spent variously in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
When she was five, her mother and grandmother arranged to have her genitals mutilated to make her “clean” and to safeguard their family honour. When she was 14, she came under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and became increasingly devout in her observance of Islam. When she was 22, her father married her against her will to a man whom she barely knew. Soon after her marriage, she sought asylum in Holland. (Full details are contained in the first half of her autobiography, Infidel. See Part 1 of my review, “The insidiousness of Islam”, in the June-July issue of Life News.)
In Holland, Ayaan learned that she could not apply for asylum on the grounds of forced marriage. (Millions of Muslim women could claim asylum on that basis.) So she lied, claiming to be a refugee from the civil war in Somalia, fleeing for fear of persecution. The Dutch officials believed the lie and gave her asylum. “With hindsight I’m not proud of this fact,” she writes, “but yes, it is true that I did not tell my full story to get into Holland.”
With characteristic perception, Ayaan notes one of the more serious consequences of her lie: “I was occupying a bed meant for someone deserving”. Yes, when people enter a country surreptitiously and then deceive the officials of that country to get refugee status, they deprive genuine refugees of a place. Ayaan was to pay dearly for her lie some years later. But initially her deception worked to her advantage.
Ayaan soon realised that she was not the only illegal immigrant who had lied to get legal status to stay in Holland. It seems it was common practice among the asylum seekers to lie about their background and their reason for leaving their homeland: “the camp was full of people with manufactured stories quaking that they would be thrown out.” To get refugee status, one woman claimed to be Somali, “though anyone [from Somalia] could tell from her accent that she was from Djibouti.” Another woman who was caught with false papers “told the officials she was a minor so she could stay in the country. She knew how it worked.”
Ayaan was impressed by the efficiency, prosperity and liberty she encountered everywhere in Holland. The vast superiority of life in the West compared with life in Islamic countries raised questions in her mind about Islam: “This was an infidel country, whose way of life we Muslims were supposed to oppose and reject. Why was it, then, so much better run, better led, and made for such better lives than the places we came from?” Again, Ayaan notes: “We had always been sure that we, as Muslims and Somalis, were superior to unbelievers, and here we were, not superior at all.”
From the moment she entered Holland, Ayaan was astonished by the kindness and decency of the Dutch. These white Westerners—from public officials to private individuals—treated her with respect and went out of their way to help her. The first person she encountered at the first refugee centre she went to was a policeman. He gave her instructions, a bus card and a train ticket. She writes:
Police to me were oppressors, demanders of bribes. They were never helpful. I asked him ‘Why are you helping me?’ and he smiled and said, ‘Those are the rules.’ I asked, ‘And is every policeman this kind?’ and he replied, ‘I sure hope so.’
After this, anything was possible. To me, government was bad. It was crooked and duplicitous and it oppressed you. And here all these people were busy helping you and this for foreigners. How on earth did they treat their own clans?
At another refugee camp, a policewoman gave Ayaan a pink card and said with obvious delight, “Oooh! Congratulations! … You can stay in Holland for the rest of your life. You are a recognized refugee, and now I will read you your rights.” They were effectively all the rights of a citizen, with citizenship to follow. When the policewoman asked if she had any questions, Ayaan said, “Yes. Why are you doing this?” The policewoman replied, “The authorities have determined that you have a well-founded fear of persecution. It’s the law.”
Ayaan was getting a glimpse of the glory of Western democracies: the rule of law. Western societies have avoided the rule of tyranny and the rule of anarchy because they have established the rule of law. And this rule involves laws founded on a respect for individual human life and freedom, laws intended for the benefit of all, laws framed in parliaments by legislators elected by the people, laws enforced impartially by independent-but-accountable police and judges. Welcome to the West!
The cruel irony is that many of Ayaan’s Muslim compatriots did not share her gratitude for the welcome they had received in Holland. On the contrary, they actually despised the Dutch people—despised them because they were white, because they were gullible, because they were infidels. Ayaan states:
It irritated me now when Somalis who had lived in Holland for a long time complained that they were offered only lowly jobs. They wanted honorable professions: airline pilot, lawyer. When I pointed out that they had no qualification for such work, their attitude was that everything was Holland’s fault. The Europeans had colonized Somalia, which was why we all had no qualifications and were in this mess to begin with. I thought this was so clearly nonsense. We had torn ourselves apart, all on our own.
… Here in Holland the claim was always that we were held back by racism. Everyone seemed to be in a constant simmer of anger about how we were discriminated against because we were black. If a shopkeeper wouldn’t bargain over the price of a T-shirt, Yasmin said there were special, discount prices only for white people. She and Hasna told me they often didn’t bother paying for buses; they just invented appointments in town, and if the refugee office didn’t give them a ticket they said they were being racist. …
Sometimes it did feel good to be around Somalis, to relax with people I completely understood. Adapting to Dutch people was still a huge effort for me. But the minute I said “I’m sorry, tomorrow morning I have to wake up early [for work],” the Somalis were at me. I was acting white, who did I think I was, I looked down on them, I had become gaalo. …
I felt embarrassed and even let down by the way so many Somalis accepted welfare money and then turned on the society that gave it to them.
Ayaan relates that she took her Somali friend, Yasmin, to visit two young Dutch women one evening. Both these women were Christians and had shown enormous kindness to Ayaan. They had a pleasant meal together and an earnest conversation. Yet, Ayaan states, “The minute we left, Yasmin started rubbing her skin; when she got home she washed for hours. ‘I sat in their house and ate off their plates, and they are not purified!’ Yasmin said. ‘She is filthy. This whole country is filthy.’” What brought on this outburst? Yasmin had discovered from the conversation during the evening that the two Dutch women had not been “circumcised”.
This account, by the way, shows that it is nonsense to claim that Muslims are only upset with us in the West because of our decadence. Yes, they are offended by the supposed immodesty of our women. (And what right thinking person wouldn’t want to fly a plane into a building or saw off a hostage’s head after learning that Western women sometimes wear short skirts?) However, the truth is, Muslims are not offended simply because our women wear bikinis or don’t wear veils. They are offended because Western women have intact genitals. Even if we forced our women to cover their bodies with tents and their heads with hoods, many Muslims would not be placated. Unless we mutilate the genitals of our daughters and sisters and mothers and wives, they will still view us with contempt and consider our women to be filthy. As Ayaan’s Muslim Somali friend said to the Christian Dutch women: “If you’re not cut, you’re not pure”. There is nothing that will satisfy devout Muslims, nothing short of full submission to all the monstrous dictates of their religion.
But to return to the black asylum seekers’ attitudes to the white Dutch: Ayaan says of her friend, Yasmin,
She called the Dutch gaalo, and kufr. Being nice in Somali terms means when someone gives you what you ask for. So if someone politely said no, even if they couldn’t do something, Yasmin and the others saw this as arrogance, or racism.
Another of Ayaan’s friends, this time a Muslim from Morocco,
complained constantly, but it was about the Dutch [rather than her Muslim husband, who beat her repeatedly]. She was always insisting that shopkeepers looked askance at her because they were racist, and they didn’t want Moroccans in the shop. Personally, I thought they were staring at her bruises [from her husband’s beatings], and told her so. They never looked strange at me, and I was far darker than [her] …
It seems that the Somalis and other black asylum seekers never tired of alleging racism against the Dutch. In part, these allegations were actually a reflection of the racism in the hearts of the asylum seekers themselves: they despised the Dutch because of their skin colour. They thought of the Dutch as “inferior white people” and regularly spoke of them in derogatory, racist terms. They assumed that anyone with a white skin must, ipso facto, despise anyone with a black skin. And working from that racist stereotype they believed themselves to be the victims of racism whenever a white person failed to do or say exactly what they wanted them to do or say.
Yet the Somalis were guilty of more than racism by their constant allegations of racism. They were also guilty of bullying and deceit. For they had discovered that they could intimidate and manipulate the Dutch by means of these false allegations. As Ayaan notes, “the claim of racism can also be strategic.” One of her friends told Ayaan much the same thing, saying with satisfaction, “If you tell a Dutch person it’s racist he will give you whatever you want”.
Although Ali had been experiencing doubts about Islam for some time, it was the September 11, 2001 (9/11) attacks on America that brought matters to a head. She was shocked by the attacks themselves. She was shocked by the revelation that those attacks were launched by Muslims. She was shocked to see the rejoicing of Muslims worldwide over the attacks. She was shocked to realise that those attacks were motivated and justified by Islam itself.
She was shocked, too, by the excuses made by Western commentators and intellectuals on behalf of the Muslim terrorists. And she quickly saw through the nonsense of these apologists’ arguments:
Infuriatingly stupid analysts—especially people who called themselves Arabists, yet who seemed to know next to nothing about the reality of the Islamic world—wrote reams of commentary. Their articles were all about Islam saving Aristotle and the zero, which medieval Muslim scholars had done more than eight hundred years ago; about Islam being a religion of peace and tolerance, not the slightest bit violent. These were fairy tales, nothing to do with the real world I knew.
Everything in the newspapers was “Yes, but”: yes, it’s terrible to kill people, but. People theorized beautifully about poverty pushing people to terrorism; about colonialism and consumerism, pop culture and Western decadence eating away at people’s culture and therefore causing the carnage. But Africa is the poorest continent, I knew, and poverty doesn’t cause terrorism: truly poor people can’t look further than their next meal, and more intellectual people are usually angry at their own governments; they flock to the West. I read rants by antiracist bureaus claiming that a terrible wave of Islamophobia had been unleashed in Holland, that Holland’s inner racist attitude was now apparent. None of the pseudointellectualizing had anything to do with reality.
Other articles blamed the Americans’ “blind” support for Israel and opined that there would be more 9/11’s until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved. I didn’t completely believe this either. I myself, as a teenager, might have cheered the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, and the Palestinian dispute was completely abstract to me in Nairobi. If the hijackers had been nineteen Palestinian men, then I might have given this argument more weight, but they weren’t. None of them was poor. None of them left a letter saying there would be more attacks until Palestine was liberated. This was belief, I thought. Not frustration, poverty, colonialism, or Israel: it was about religious belief, a one-way ticket to Heaven.
Being conversant with the Quran and the Hadith (the revered accounts of the actions and sayings of Muhammad), Ayaan intuitively understood that “The Prophet Muhammad was the moral guide, not Bin Laden, and it was the Prophet’s guidance that should be evaluated”. Yet, for fear of what it would mean for her faith, she was personally reluctant to subject the Prophet’s moral guidance to evaluation:
Bin Laden’s quotes from the Quran resonated in my brain: “When you meet the unbelievers, strike them in the neck.” “If you do not go out and fight, God will punish you severely and put others [to fight] in your place.” “Wherever you find the polytheists, kill them, seize them, besiege them, ambush them.” “You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as friends; they are allies only to each other. Anyone who takes them as an ally becomes one of them.” Bin Laden quoted the hadith: “The Hour [of Judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.”
I didn’t want to do it, but I had to: I picked up the Quran and the hadith and started looking through them, to check. I hated to do it, because I knew that I would find Bin Laden’s quotes in there, and I didn’t want to question God’s word. But I needed to ask: Did the 9/11 attacks stem from true belief in true Islam? And if so, what did I think of Islam?
Concerning the first question—“Did the 9/11 attacks stem from true belief in true Islam?”—Ayaan’s answer is, yes and yes. Osama Bin Laden was/is a true believer in Allah and Muhammad; and his understanding of Islam was/is true. Hence, “This [9/11 attack] was not just Islam, this was the core of Islam.”
Concerning the second question—“And if so, what did I think of Islam?”—Ayaan’s answer is, not much! Indeed, the monstrosity of the TwinTowers and Pentagon attacks shook her already shaky faith in Islam to death.
Ayaan’s response to Islam after 9/11 calls into question the responses of many non-Muslims in the West. While Ayaan and other Muslims like her were beginning to see Islam for what it is, numerous non-Muslims took it upon themselves to shield Muslims from the truth of their religion. Sadly and shamefully, even Christians joined the chorus of voices declaring Islam to be a religion of tolerance and peace, a beautiful and noble religion that Bin Laden had hijacked for un-Islamic purposes. And so the extraordinary opportunity that Christians had to turn Muslims from the Prophet Muhammad to the Lord Jesus was squandered. Instead of helping Muslims to question their faith, Christians steadied and settled them in it. Whether viewed from the perspective of the eternal salvation of Muslims or from the perspective of the immediate physical protection of people in free societies, this rush to comfort troubled Muslims was a monumental blunder. What non-Muslims, and especially Christians, should have been saying to Muslims is, in effect, “Yes, your religion really is that wicked and you would be wise to renounce it utterly.”
Happily, Ayaan knew better than to believe the woolly-headed, gushy-hearted nonsense of the Islam-is-peace apologists. She saw Islam for what it is and turned away from it. The rest of Infidel documents how she freed herself from the bondage of Islam and began to expose the dangers that Islam poses to Holland and to other Western nations.
Sadly, when Ayaan turned from the false God of Islam, she did not turn to the true God of Christianity. Instead, she became an atheist. In Infidel, and in her otherwise-fine collection of essays, The Caged Virgin, Ayaan expresses hostility to any belief in any God.
Ayaan’s shift to atheism is understandable but mistaken. She seems to assume that God is essentially as Islam defines him: A God who is all power and self-absorption; a God whose sovereignty is so absolute that it cannot be influenced even by goodness. And, given the cruel, unpredictable nature of this sovereign God, who would not rather atheism to him?
However, our choice is not limited to Allah or atheism. Christianity has a completely different understanding of God. Indeed the Christian God is as good as he is great and is truly worth trusting. We can but hope and pray that Ayaan will one day come to see this.