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.


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?

Hirsi Ali: Moving to the United States, for example.

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 Two: "If we remain silent, there will be more than just one or two deaths."

Hirsi Ali: Yes. Radical Islam is too dangerous for this society, perhaps even for the entire world. It is important to fight against this threat. In the process of fighting some lives may be lost.

SPIEGEL: Now you are beginning to sound like a martyr yourself. The September 11 terrorists also died for an idea.

Hirsi Ali: I would like to draw a distinction there. If we all keep still and remain silent, there will be more than just one or two deaths. I prefer to follow the philosopher Karl Popper. He says that freedom is not to be taken for granted. It is vulnerable. One must fight for it and be willing to die for it. The Islamic scene is very aggressive. Those Muslims who wish to kill someone receive a great deal of support from their home countries. There is plenty of wealth, there are plenty of sponsors and there are plenty of desperate people who choose this path. We must defend ourselves if we wish to preserve our Western values. The price we pay is to be threatened.

SPIEGEL: You seem to be resistant against the hostility. In your book, you are unrestrained in your denunciation of Islam as backward, and you call for policies that force immigrants to become integrated. You are also in the process of preparing a second part of the film "Submission." Aren't you concerned about generating even more rage against you?

Hirsi Ali: What else can they do but issue a death threat? Now that I've already been given the maximum sentence, at least I can act freely.

SPIEGEL: The politics of intimidation seem to be effective with others. The producers of the Tessin film festival didn't dare to screen "Submission."

Hirsi Ali: I believe this will change. If Islam is to develop peacefully, words or images will be necessary. Even radical Muslims have had access to the Internet and satellite television for a long time. We must have answers to this. In other words, there will be a "Submission II," and also a "Submission III."

SPIEGEL: Not everyone in your party, the right-leaning liberal VVD, is happy about your commitment.

Hirsi Ali: The VVD is primarily an economic party that promotes liberal markets. Attacks on Islam are not part of the party platform. That's why many are irritated by my work.

SPIEGEL: Why did you switch from the Labour party to the VVD in 2002?

Hirsi Ali: The Labour party and the Green party are too politically correct for my tastes. They believe in a purely multicultural ideology. Because of my criticism of Islam, I could have been the cause of a split in the party, especially as many of their voters are Muslims. But I absolutely wanted to utilize the opportunity to fight for my cause in parliament. Politics can offer solutions for social problems, and that's important to me.

SPIEGEL: Since the murder, you have been making appearances everywhere. Are you satisfied with the political response to the threat posed by religious fanatics?

Hirsi Ali: The intelligence services only became truly attentive after the attack, and now they say they have a better handle on the movement. They searched the apartments of presumed Islamists -- and there are rumors of a video on which Theo's murderer, Mohammed Bouyeri, announces the attack. He also explains that it wouldn't matter to him if he were to die in the attempt, because he would end up in paradise.

SPIEGEL: But didn't the authorities respond to September 11?

Hirsi Ali: Yes they did. They called together the Muslim leaders, gave them money and asked them to keep their young people under control. It was laughable. Then they tried to force the many different groups under one roof. That effort produced two groups, one for liberal and one for orthodox Muslims. Their spokesmen were then expected to enforce all agreements internally. This is simply a naive expectation.

SPIEGEL: Why? After all, Islam is a highly authoritarian religion with strong leaders.

Hirsi Ali: Do you know what young Muslims who are drawn to radical Islam call these "leaders" who negotiate with the government? Charity whores. They consider them to be collaborators, traitors, idiots.

SPIEGEL: You want to see these young people be systematically introduced to Western values. But they live in closed communities, so how can they be reached?

Hirsi Ali: Start by knocking on the door! We must penetrate into their worlds.

SPIEGEL: You'll be seeing many doors slammed in your face.

Hirsi Ali: I'm not saying that it would be easy. For her book entitled "Invisible Parents," the journalist Margalith Kleijwegt did some research in the Moroccan section of Amsterdam, where Van Gogh's murderer, Bouyeri, lived. She knocked unsuccessfully on doors six times. The seventh door was opened, and then she learned a great deal about this community. For example, she learned that no parents in that neighborhood knew about the murder, that no parents even knew who Van Gogh was or had heard about the film. They only watch Arab television where they are fed with conspiracy theories about the West. They spend every vacation at home in Morocco. They can't speak or write Dutch, and they don't read newspapers. The lesson of Margalith Kleijwegt's book is that the parents are not equipped to give their children the upbringing necessary in a modern western society. They also have many children and these parallel worlds are growing. We look on without even knowing what happens in them.

SPIEGEL: Who should go in? Social workers?

Hirsi Ali: Certainly not. They are too politically correct and in most cases very young and inexperienced. No, there are other ways to get in. One is the political tool of preventing further growth of the ghettos. We need to employ a policy of integration that dictates to people where they can live and where they cannot live, thereby guaranteeing a mixing together of cultures and nations.

SPIEGEL: That sounds like a lot of trouble -- from the Dutch as well.

Hirsi Ali: So what? What is at issue is defending our values, and that can certainly lead to arguments.

SPIEGEL: Aren't you concerned that tensions would arise in these forced communities?

Hirsi Ali: The other alternative creates even greater tensions. If you allow the ghettos to grow, you'll have clashes between skinheads and Muslim extremists, for example. The second means of access should also be controlled by political means: A prohibition on all faith-based schools. Schools must be places of civilization, places that impart Western values, the purposes of democracy. We must treat the children as our children and not turn their education over to defenders of foreign dogma who indoctrinate them with anti-liberal doctrines.

SPIEGEL: Ignore the cultures of the immigrants?

Hirsi Ali: Blindly respecting their cultures is the wrong approach. Here's an example: Many children in Holland's Arab ghettos are taught the teachings of Ibn Abu-Taymiya, one of the founders of pure Islam who preaches the holy war as a way of life. Instead of studying European philosophers, the children are taught to abide by 11th century teachings!

SPIEGEL: Integration and European culture can't be imposed on people.

Hirsi Ali: But we can do something about it. This is where society comes in. Artists, kindergartens, churches, they should all penetrate into the ghettos. It's really grotesque: We have all kinds of NGOs that send people all the way to Africa to convince people to use condoms. But they don't dare touch the problems we have at home. Charity begins at home.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps this is partly because part of democracy means allowing people to think as they wish.

Hirsi Ali: Democracy also includes legitimate intolerance. The intolerable cannot be tolerated. We must declare war on Islamist propaganda. Why should we ignore that women in our midst are being suppressed, beaten, enslaved? Why should we ignore that people preach hatred and vow to destroy us?

SPIEGEL: Ms. Hirsi Ali, thank you for speaking with us.

Interview conducted by Conny Neumann and Michaela Schiessl

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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