A Muslim Voice Welcome an enemy of violence

Posted: May 21, 2006

You probably haven't heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch politician, who has become known for her provocative - some say reckless - critique of fundamentalist Islam.

A collision between Dutch politics and her views may lead her to the United States.

Welcome her if she does come to this country, where she has been offered a job at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. You don't have to agree with everything Hirsi Ali says to regard her voice as a useful addition to discussions on Muslim women's rights and militant Islam.

Hirsi Ali was born a Muslim in Somalia, though she now calls herself an atheist. Years ago, she wasn't happy when her father arranged for her to marry a man in Canada. During a stopover in Europe on the way to Canada, Hirsi Ali headed for the Netherlands.

She wrote a controversial film on violence against Muslim women that provoked an Islamic extremist to kill the movie's director, Theo van Gogh, in 2004. Pinned to his body was a death threat for Hirsi Ali. Since then, bodyguards have been at her side at all times.

Last week, the country's immigration minister decided to revoke Hirsi Ali's citizenship because she lied about her name and age on her asylum application in 1992 - transgressions she admitted to in 2002 with no objections.

Hirsi Ali said she lied to prevent her family from finding her. An outcry over Hirsi Ali's losing her citizenship has prompted the immigration official to reconsider.

But the final push toward the United States may have come from the neighbors in Hirsi Ali's apartment building. They feared that their proximity to an assassination target exposed them to harm. They got a court to order that Hirsi Ali move out.

Beyond the personal hardships, her situation highlights issues that need honest and open debate to combat extremist Islamic ideology, which terrorists use to justify their violence.

These include the struggle for Islam between extremists and moderates, the tension in Europe between native-born citizens and immigrants, and the sensitivity of proposing that Muslims reexamine how their religion gets used to promote violence and intolerance.

While al-Qaeda's attacks in the United States and elsewhere feature radical Muslims, adherents of any faith should worry when extremists kill in their religion's name.

Hirsi Ali recently spoke here at an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. With powerful words, she praised secular legal systems and democratic ideals such as freedom of expression.

If she does come to the United States, may she find a safe haven to exercise that freedom.

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