Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where she "researches the relationship between the West and Islam, women's rights in Islam, violence against women propagated by religious and cultural arguments, and Islam in Europe." Known for her often militarist anti-Islamic views, which she argues are based in part on her own personal experiences growing up in Somalia (where she was forced to undergo female genital mutilation), Hirsi Ali's experience includes serving as a member of the Dutch Parliament and working with the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose film Submission, about the oppression women face in Muslim cultures, spurred an Islamic extremist to murder him.
A self-described apostate of Islam, Hirsi Ali's writings focus on the politics of Islam and current events in the Greater Middle East. Like other erstwhile Islamic woman who have made names for themselves denouncing the excesses of some Islamic societies—including Wafa Sultan and Nonie Darwish—Hirsi Ali's work has sparked anger in Muslim countries and been criticized by some observers for propping up hawkish U.S. foreign policies. Samer Araabi, a contributor to Right Web, writes, "Though the research and analysis produced by these self-styled 'apostates of Islam' often has limited scholarly value, they have played an important role in providing a moral justification for Western military campaigns in Muslim countries."
Like her colleagues at AEI and other neoconservative think tanks, Hirsi Ali's views tend to be Manichean, pitting the West versus Islam. Often borrowing from Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis, Hirsi Ali that there is a "clash of values between the tribal culture of Islam and Western modernity." She once described "the tragedy of the tribal Muslim man" who has fallen prey to "the grip of jihad," claiming "the only difference between my relatives and me is that I opened my mind."
Hirsi Ali has promoted antagonistic U.S. relations with the Muslim world, including expanding U.S. military engagements. Her August 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled "How to Win the Clash of Civilizations," advocated a "divide-and-rule" strategy to protect "our civilization" from destruction. She argued that "the greatest advantage of Huntington's civilizational model of international relations" is that "it reflects the world as it is—not as we wish it to be. It allows us to distinguish friends from enemies." In an earlier article she called for a continued military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, implying that any withdrawal would have "jihadis dancing in jubilation."
More recently, Hiris Ali has targeted the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, echoing the rhetoric of neoconservatives like Michael Rubin in arguing that the revolutionary events in Egypt were reminiscent of the Islamic revolution in Iran. In May 2010, she wrote: "The Muslim Brotherhood has evolved and learned the hard way that the use of violence will be met with superior violence by state actors. The clever thing to do, it now turns out, was to be patient and invest in a bottom-up movement rather than a commando structure that risked being wiped out by stronger forces. Besides, the gradualist approach is far more likely to win the prize of state power. All that Khomeini did before he came to power in Iran was to preach the merits of a society based on Islamic law. He did not engage in terrorism. Yet he and his followers took over Iran—a feat far greater than bin Laden ever achieved. In Iran the violence came later."
According to Hirsi Ali, "fighting violent extremists" is "perhaps the easier part" of the West's purported struggle against Islam. "The bigger challenge may be to deal with those Islamists who are willing to play a longer game." Glossing over the manifold developments within the Brotherhood in recent decades as well as the emergence of moderate leaders in the movement, she warned that the Brotherhood would impose an oppressive Islamic state that would indoctrinate its citizens, crush its opponents, and posed a clear threat to the United States and the West. She wrote:
"The Muslim Brotherhood sees the Saudi monarchy as decadent, hypocritical and traitors of Islam. In the coming months we shall see a dance of power as the House of Saud and the Brotherhood seek to out maneuver one other. The prospects, in short, of an Egyptian government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood are as alarming as the prospect of a French government dominated by the Jacobins in the early 1790s. Repression at home will cause human rights violations, economic crisis and an exodus of refugees, beginning with those who have money and a reasonable level of education, deepening Egypt's poverty and destabilizing the region and perhaps even Europe. Growing conflict with Israel could lead to war. For all these reasons, Western policymakers should be exceedingly wary about the influence of the gradualist jihadists on the events now unfolding in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. Bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda may soon follow him to the grave. But the doctrine of jihad lives on."
Given her views, it is little surprise that neoconservatives have eagerly embraced her. Last year, David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush who famously coined the "Axis of Evil" phrase, hosted a party to honor Hirsi Ali for her "strength," "courage," and "intelligence." Though attendees were limited for "security reasons," Hirsi Ali was surrounded by fellow neocons, discussing topics from the "liberation of Iran" to the "religious extremism" behind the Gaza flotilla.
Commented Samer Araabi, "The respect afforded by militarist ideologues to Hirsi Ali and [other like-minded apostates] is palpable, based almost solely on the ability of these figures to validate simplistic perceptions of the Muslim world as violent, backward, and dangerous. … There is an irony underlying the careers of these recanted Muslims; the very same western policies they refuse to condemn often create the resentment they ascribe as cultural backwardness or religious fervor."
In a review of her autobiography Infidel, The Economist opined that the lives of "Muslims [are] more complex than many people in the West may have realized. But the West's tendency to seek simplistic explanations is a weakness that Ms. Hirsi Ali also shows she has been happy to exploit."