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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 11:06 GMT
Dutch MP defies Muslim pressure
By Jane Beresford
Producer, Taking a Stand, BBC Radio 4

Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali wanted to shape her own future
What turns a devout young Muslim woman into one of Islam's most outspoken critics?

For the Somali-born Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, it was a long journey that started with an arranged marriage.

She sought refuge in the Netherlands on her way to her new husband's home in Canada.

"I wanted a chance at a life where I could shape my own future," she says.

"I knew the risks - being disowned or being shunned by my father and the rest of my family. I took those risks and I don't regret it."

Hirsi Ali describes the anti-US attacks of 11 September 2001 as pivotal to her questioning of Islam.

She remembers the moment when she realised that Mohammed Atta, the leader of the hijackers, had studied the Koran, like her, in the mid-1980s.

She says: "I grabbed the Koran and I started to read what Bin Laden had written and... I put (his) citations next to what is written in the Koran and I realised that, yes, a lot of it is part of my religion and what do I think of that?"

Defending principles

She wrote the play Submission to "challenge the conviction that what is written in the Holy Koran is absolute".

I have come to the conclusion that Islam can and should be reformed if Muslims want to live at peace
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
It was an act that was to lead to the murder of her collaborator Theo Van Gogh.

"I still do feel guilt," she says.

"Guilt is irrational, but for Theo it was the freedom of expression. He said 'If I cannot make films in Holland then I am a slave... and I would rather be dead'. And I am just as principled as he is."

Hirsi Ali now lives under 24-hour armed guard. A note pinned to Van Gogh's body by the murderer threatened the MP directly.

It read: "You have your principles and I have mine, I am prepared to die for mine, are you prepared to die for yours?"

She says "it's like the sword of Damocles that hangs above my head. I do realise that".

"I live like someone who has been told 'you have some kind of terminal disease - we just don't know when it's going to strike'."

Call for reform

But Hirsi Ali has no intention of being silenced. Submission 2 is in production and Submission 3 is planned.

Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh
Theo Van Gogh was a well-known critic of fundamentalist Islam
"The transition from, let's say, pre-modern to modern, is something that Judaism and Christianity have gone through and that transition is something that Islam is experiencing right now.

"I have come to the conclusion that Islam can and should be reformed if Muslims want to live at peace... that's why I need the freedom of expression... for other Muslims to think that through."

Does she think she will survive?

"Yes," she says. "And if I don't, well, I've lived my life as I want to live it. So be it."

You can hear Fergal Keane talk to Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Radio 4's Taking a Stand on Tuesday 24 January at 2130GMT or for the following week at the Listen again page.


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