Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where she researches the "relationship between the West and Islam." She was previously a visiting fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). She is also the founder of the AHA Foundation, which claims to be a "leading organization working to end honor violence that shames, hurts or kills thousands of women and girls in the U.S. each year."
Before moving to the United States, the Somali-born Hirsi Ali served as a member of the Dutch Parliament and wrote the screenplay for the controversial film Submission, which spurred an Islamic extremist to murder the film's director, Theo van Gogh.
Author Max Blumenthal has said of Hirsi Ali: "She has marketed herself as a expert native informant who has emerged out of the dark heart of radical Islam and into the light of Western civilization. Her tale is an uplifting, comforting one that tells many Westerners what they want to hear about themselves and their perceived enemies. … The only problem is that like her writings on Islam, much of what she has told the public about herself is questionable."
A self-described Muslim apostate, Hirsi Ali is a strident critic of Islam. In notorious comments to the London Evening Standard in 2007, she referred to the faith as "a destructive, nihilistic cult of death" and called it "the new fascism." Later that year, she told the libertarian Reason magazine: "We are at war with Islam. And there's no middle ground in wars. … There comes a moment when you crush your enemy." When asked by her interviewer whether she meant specifically radical Islam, Hirsi Ali replied, "No. Islam, period." Taking specific issue with Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative activist who has argued that "moderate Islam is the solution" to Islamic terrorism, Hirsi Ali insisted, "There is no moderate Islam. There are Muslims who are passive, who don't all follow the rules of Islam, but there's really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There's nothing moderate about it."
Hirsi Ali later softened her tone, acknowledging in a 2013 column for the Wall Street Journal that "the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists or sympathetic to terrorists. Equating all Muslims with terrorism is stupid and wrong. But," she added, "acknowledging that there is a link between Islam and terror is appropriate and necessary."
However, during Israel's 2014 bombing of Gaza and offensive against Hamas, during which more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians—including hundreds of children—were killed, Hirsi Ali reverted to some of her more strident positions. In an August 2014 interview with Israel Hayom, she argued that in the West people tried to claim after the 9/11 attacks that "Islam is a religion of compassion, it is a religion of peace, it is a great civilization, and all the things that are done in the name of Islam, they are done by a small minority that hijacked this religion." However, she said that while the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by a "small group of men who were pathological and they twisted Islam to fit their pathology … [now] there are millions" who agree with them. "The point is that it is not a minority. But the premise that this is a small problem caused by small group of very naughty boys, that is still the premise that underpins foreign policy [in the West]."
Asked whether Israel should negotiate with Hamas, Hirsi Ali praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that she agreed with his insistence that Hamas should first recognize Israel's right to exist, adding: "Israel is investing everything it has into life on earth. Hamas is investing everything it has into life after death. When Hamas recruits young people, their doctrine is 'we love death, they love life.'" Regarding Netanyahu, she said that she admired him "Because he is under so much pressure, from so many sources, and yet he does what is best for the people of Israel, he does his duty. I really think he should get the Nobel Peace Prize. In a fair world he would get it."
After the January 2015 terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Hirsi Ali implied in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that the West's "appeasement" of Muslim organizations had directly led to the attack. "We appease leaders of Muslim organizations in our societies. They ask us not to link acts of violence to the religion of Islam because they tell us that theirs is a religion of peace, and we oblige," she wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "What do we get in return? Kalashnikovs in the heart of Paris. The more we oblige, the more we self-censor, the more we appease, the bolder the enemy gets."
In 2015, Hirsi Ali released the book Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation. The book argues that "without fundamental alterations to some of Islam's core concepts, we shall not solve the burning and increasingly global problem of political violence carried out in the name of religion." She also claims in the book that "Islamic violence is rooted not in social, economic or political conditions—or even in theological error—but rather in the foundational texts of Islam itself."
In a review of the book for the New York Times, Susan Dominus wrotethat Hirsi Ali "loses the reader's trust with overblown rhetoric." She added: "When Hirsi Ali writes, almost wistfully, that 'it is unrealistic to expect a mass exodus from Islam,' even secular readers may begin to wonder if she is their best guide to understanding the religion."
Like other erstwhile Muslim women who have made names for themselves denouncing misogyny and violence in some Islamic societies—including Wafa Sultan and Nonie Darwish—Hirsi Ali's work has been embraced by neoconservatives who advocate an aggressive U.S. foreign policy toward Muslim countries. David Frum, for example, the former Bush speechwriter who reportedly coined the phrase "axis of evil," once hosted a party in honor of Hirsi Ali, and veteran neoconservative activist Bill Kristol has referred to her critics as "Muslim thugs."
"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," noted Right Web contributor Samer Araabi in 2010.
Citing Hirsi Ali's support from anti-Islamic activists like Pamela Geller and neoconservatives like Zuhdi Jasser, a 2014 blog post by Media Matters for America added, "Right-wing media have painted Hirsi Ali as a champion for women's rights, but instead appear to use her views on gender as a rhetorical gateway to attack the religion of Islam and highlight Hirsi Ali's view that Islam is a religion of violence and a 'cult of death.'"
Hirsi Ali also served as the executive producer of the 2013 documentary, Honor Diaries, which purports to cover "issues facing women in Muslim-majority societies." The film was produced by the Clarion Project, which has been identified by the Center for American Progress as an important part of the "Islamophobia network" in the United States. Alex Traiman, a controversial Israeli settler, also served as a producer and writer on the film.
Hirsi Ali has promoted U.S. military engagements throughout the Muslim world. In an August 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "How to Win the Clash of Civilizations," she argued that "the greatest advantage of [Samuel] 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." Accordingly, Hirsi Ali supported a prolonged U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggesting in 2008 that any withdrawal would have "jihadis dancing in jubilation."
When the Obama administration announced a tentative 2014 withdrawal date for U.S. troops Afghanistan, Hirsi Ali echoed a host of neoconservative talking points about the war's broader implications for U.S. foreign policy. "From the Taliban's perspective, the withdrawal is a sign of US weakness and their impending victory," she wrote. "Not only the Taliban will see it this way: Iran's and Syria's regimes and the malignant units in the Pakistani military and secret service see a weak America that roars but retreats when the going gets tough. The short-term benefits of abandoning counter-insurgency may be politically appealing. The long-term costs may be greater than Mr. Obama anticipates."
Hirsi Ali has also targeted nonviolent political Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Echoing the rhetoric of neoconservatives like Michael Rubin, she compared the group's organizing in Egypt to the Islamic revolution in Iran. "The Muslim Brotherhood has evolved and learned the hard way that the use of violence will be met with superior violence by state actors," she wrote in 2011. "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."
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 pose a clear threat to the United States and the West. "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," she wrote. "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."
Hirsi Ali has also targeted Muslim immigration to Western countries. After becoming an American citizen in 2013, she argued that politically involved Muslims should be subject to the same scrutiny in immigration proceedings today as communists were during the Cold War. "I believe that we are entitled to filter out would-be citizens who are ideologically and morally opposed to the U.S. and pose a threat to its population," she wrote. "Is it not time to update the application form, substituting political Islam for Communism?"
More recently, in an April 2015 article for Time titled "Beware of Michiganistan," she wrote: "[W]ill the melting pot work its magic this time?" Ten years ago, the late Samuel Huntington feared that it already had ceased to function, citing what he saw as problems of assimilation with Mexican immigrants. If he were still with us, I suspect he would be a lot more worried about what is happening in Muslim America." She added: "My concern is with the attitudes many of these new Muslim Americans will bring with them—and with our capacity for changing those attitudes." She stated that she places her "hopes for a better future" in dissident Muslims, among whom she included controversial figures like Asra Nomani, Zuhdi Jasser and Irshad Manji, who have routinely been criticized for advocating discriminatory policies against Muslims.
While serving in the Dutch parliament, Hirsi Ali worked with anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders to advocate legislation that would limit immigration from Arab and Muslim countries to the Netherlands. The partnership ended, however, when Hirsi Ali herself was forced to resign from parliament in the wake of revelations that she had lied on her asylum application to the Netherlands, claiming to have come from a warzone in Somalia when in fact she had lived in relative prosperity in Kenya—a fact that led many of her erstwhile allies to demand that her Dutch citizenship be revoked.
Hirsi Ali's statements about Islam have repeatedly stoked public controversy. In 2014, for example, Brandeis University was forced to reverse a decision to award Hirsi Ali an honorary degree after students, faculty, and Muslim civil rights advocates protested her lengthy record of anti-Islamic rhetoric. "We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values," said the university in a statement.
Other critics have argued that the foreign policies Hirsi Ali supports have driven much of the anti-Western sentiment she decries in Muslim countries. "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," wrote Samer Araabi. "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."
Although she was a keynote speaker at the 2015 American Atheists annual summit and has been closely aligned with hawkish "new atheists" like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, Hirsi Ali has stated that she has "tried to convert to Judaism" and that "she might attempt to do so again in the future."