SPIEGEL Interview with Hirsi Ali "We Must Declare War on Islamist Propaganda"
Dutch member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been threatened with death for writing the film "Submission" -- which is heavily critical of Islam and for which filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered in November. She spoke with SPIEGEL about her life as a fugitive, how to fight radical Islam, and the need for legitimate intolerance.
Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali: "My life was turned upside down."
Ms. Hirsi Ali, the trial of Theo van Gogh's murderers is about to begin. A Muslim fanatic stabbed the filmmaker to death in broad daylight last November, because, with your collaboration, he had filmed "Submission," a film about the suppression of Muslim women. Did you have any idea, at the time, that this eleven-minute short film could endanger the lives of both of you?
Hirsi Ali: I knew that there are many enemies. After all, they have been threatening me ever since I turned away from my faith in 2002. I warned Theo, urged him to request a bodyguard. But he defied me, saying that he didn't want the Dutch police entering his house.
SPIEGEL: Wasn't he aware of the reactions he would trigger among radical Muslims by portraying an abused woman in a see-through chador, her naked body painted with verses from the Koran?
Hirsi Ali: It was, after all, his intention to be provocative. But he underestimated the radicalism of his opponents. At the time, I had long since been provided with bodyguards by the government. But Theo would ride his bicycle through the city, and he continued to be listed in the telephone book. Everyone knew where he lived. He was an easy target. His only fear was for my safety. He kept urging me to move to the United States and start a new life.
SPIEGEL: The murderer left behind a death threat against you, a five-page letter stuck to Van Gogh's chest with a knife.
Hirsi Ali: I didn't find out about that until two days later. From then on my life was turned upside down. The police moved me from place to place, first to a navy barracks, then to a police academy, and from there to a resting room in the offices of the minister for Europe.
SPIEGEL: What did you feel during those days?
Hirsi Ali: I felt stunned. Only now has it become clear to me how concrete and deadly the threat is. But I also understood that this fatwa isn't just directed against me, but against Holland, against the entire Western world. We are all targets. In the eyes of radical Muslims, any country in which Muslims can be criticized openly is an enemy of Islam.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, you felt responsible for Van Gogh's death.
Hirsi Ali: I do have a sense of guilt, but it's mixed. Yes, I wanted to shake things up. But if I had thought that someone would die, I probably would not have written the screenplay for "Submission." I tried to keep Theo's name as secret as those of the actress and the crew, but Theo insisted on having his name on his film. For him it was a matter of principle.
SPIEGEL: Following Van Gogh's death when you knew you were targeted, were you able to think clearly about what you should do?
Hirsi Ali: No, I was constantly on the move. But I had had enough after six days. I was advised to go into hiding abroad if I wanted to sleep in one place for a longer time. The only places I would consider were Israel and the United States, because they know what the Islamic threat means in those countries. I decided to go to the United States.
SPIEGEL: Were you able to live openly there?
Hirsi Ali: No. Even in California I was constantly protected by bodyguards. I wasn't allowed to go outside or to meet with anyone. On the inside, I still felt numb.
SPIEGEL: Did you think about asking for advice from Salman Rushdie, against whom the Iranian mullahs issued a fatwa years ago?
Hirsi Ali: Before all this happened, I wasn't in contact with Salman. I met him for the first time at a PEN Club dinner in April of this year. He encouraged me, implored me, to remain strong. He explained to me how one can continue living in spite of a fatwa, and he gave me some tips.
SPIEGEL: For example?
Filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam in November, 2004.
SPIEGEL: But you don't want to?
Hirsi Ali: We'll see. I gradually recovered after two months in California. The legislative session was beginning in The Hague, and I had to decide whether I wanted to return to parliament or remain in hiding. I returned.
SPIEGEL: So now you are once again working as a member of parliament, giving interviews and publishing. Your book "I Accuse" will appear in Germany on Wednesday. Has your life returned to normal?
Hirsi Ali: Normal? I am guarded 24 hours a day. My bodyguards are always with me, everywhere I go. There are two bedrooms in my apartment, one for me, and the other for two bodyguards who take turns sleeping. Whenever I open my door, the door to the other bedroom opens and they check to see what's going on.
SPIEGEL: You are never alone?
Hirsi Ali: Rarely. But I don't have a healthy social life either. How can you have a relationship when you must constantly be afraid of putting your partner's life at risk?
SPIEGEL: Can you go to the movies, go jogging, go shopping?
Hirsi Ali: The bodyguards try to adjust to my needs. I have to give them a copy of my schedule every morning and I'm not allowed to leave the house until they've made their preparations. Then I'm driven to the parliament building in an armored vehicle. When we arrive, I go through the side entrance, which has been heavily guarded since the attack on Theo. Incidentally, the government's ministers also stopped riding their bikes to work after the attack. A bodyguard sits in my office, and he waits in front of the door when I'm in meetings. Whenever I appear at events, the local police are always put on high alert. That's the way my life is, and I believe it will stay that way. That is, if I even have the opportunity to have a long life.
SPIEGEL: Isn't that grotesque? You fight for the liberation of the Muslim woman and now you yourself are guarded from morning to night. Your chador consists of bodyguards. Was it worth it?
- Part 1: "We Must Declare War on Islamist Propaganda"
- Part 2: Part Two: "If we remain silent, there will be more than just one or two deaths."
© DER SPIEGEL 20/2005
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