MSTERDAM — Ayaan Hirsi Ali had done well in the 10
years since she arrived in the Netherlands as a young refugee
from Somalia and, until a few months ago, she lived a quiet
life in her adopted land. Never did she intend to create a
She studied Dutch, took on cleaning jobs, went to
university and worked as a political scientist. She made a
name for herself pressing for the emancipation of Muslim women
and documenting how thousands, living even here, were
subjected to beatings, incest and emotional and sexual
To the surprise of many, she became a leading voice
condemning the government's support for multiculturalism,
programs costing millions of dollars a year that she considers
misplaced because they help keep Muslim women isolated from
Then Ms. Hirsi Ali, 32, began receiving hate mail,
anonymous messages calling her a traitor to Islam and a slut.
On several Web sites, other Muslims said she deserved to be
knifed and shot. Explicit death threats by telephone soon
followed. The police told her to change homes and the mayor of
Amsterdam sent bodyguards. She tried living in hiding.
Finally, last month, she became a refugee again, fleeing the
"I had to speak up," she said, in a telephone interview
from her hiding place, "because most spokesmen for Muslims are
men and they deny or belittle the enormous problems of Muslim
women locked up in their Dutch homes."
Her ordeal has caused an outcry in the Netherlands, a
country already uneasy with its recent waves of immigrants and
asylum seekers, now representing almost 10 percent of the
population. Many Dutch see the threats as an intolerable
assault on the country's democratic principles. The threats
have also intensified a fierce debate — one that can be heard
these days across Europe — about what moral values and rules
of behavior immigrants should be expected to share.
Though absent, Ms. Hirsi Ali seems very present here. Her
portrait has appeared on magazine covers and television and
there have been indignant newspaper editorials and questions
in Parliament. Some have called her the Dutch Salman Rushdie.
In paid advertisements, more than 100 Dutch writers have
offered her support.
"I've made people so angry because I'm talking from the
inside, from direct knowledge," she said. "It's seen as
treason. I'm considered an apostate and that's worse than an
The theme of injustice toward women in Islamic countries
has become common in the West, but it has gained fresh
currency through Ms. Hirsi Ali's European perspective, her
study of Dutch immigrants and her own life. Born in Mogadishu,
she grew up a typical Muslim girl in Somalia. When she was 5,
she underwent the "cruel ritual," as she called it, of genital
cutting. When her father, a Somali opposition politician, had
to flee the country's political troubles, the family went to
Saudi Arabia, where, she said, she was kept veiled and, much
of the time, indoors.
At 22, her father forced her to marry a distant cousin, a
man she had never seen. But a friend helped her to escape and
she finally obtained political asylum in the Netherlands.
She was shocked when, as a university student, she held a
job as an interpreter for Dutch immigration and social workers
and discovered hidden "suffering on a terrible scale" among
Muslim women even in the Netherlands. She entered safe houses
for women and girls, most of them Turkish and Moroccan
immigrants, who had run away from domestic violence or forced
marriages. Many had secret abortions.
"Sexual abuse in the family causes the most pain because
the trust is violated on all levels," she said. "The father or
the uncle say nothing, nor do the mother and the sisters. It
happens regularly — the incest, the beatings, the abortions.
Girls commit suicide. But no one says anything. And social
workers are sworn to professional secrecy."
More than 100 women a year have surgery to "restore" their
virginity, she estimates in her published work. While only 10
percent of the population is non-Dutch, this group accounts
for more than 60 percent of abortions, "because the Muslim
girls are kept ignorant," she said. Three out of five
Moroccan-Dutch girls — Moroccans are among the largest
immigrant groups — are forced to marry young men from villages
back home, to keep them under control, she said.