DICK BAYNTON: A Triumph of The Human Spirit

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Dick Baynton

Today’s column is about a world famous person who you may have never heard of; her name is Ayaan Hirsi Ali who was born on November 13th, 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia. Upon reading her story, her name may be engraved in your memory.

Mogadishu, the capital has a population of more than 2 million and is a coastal city on the Indian Ocean.  Her father was Hirsi Magan Isse, a prominent member of opposition to the Siad Marre government that believed in female genital mutilation; since her father was opposed to that surgical act, he was imprisoned. While he was in prison, Ali’s grandmother had the procedure performed using a woman acquaintance.

Her father escaped from prison and took his family to Saudi Arabia in 1977, then to Ethiopia and settled in Nairobi, Kenya in 1980. Saudi Arabia was funding Islamic education throughout several countries; Ayaan was impressed by the Qur’an studies and ‘lived the Islamic life’ throughout her childhood. Ayaan had attended an English language Muslim Girl’s Secondary School where a teacher taught the more rigorous interpretation of Islam that inspired her to wear a ‘hijab’ and share the views of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood.’ Ayaan attended Valley Secretarial College in Nairobi after completing secondary school and began reading English- language adventure stories.

In 1992 she visited relatives in Du?sseldorf and Bonn, Germany and then ventured to The Netherlands where she requested ‘political asylum’ to escape an ‘arranged marriage.’ She was granted asylum and received a residence permit. Taking whatever menial jobs she could find, Ayaan decided to learn the Dutch language and studied both the language and social work at the De Horst Institute for Social Work in Driebergen. Impressed with Dutch society, she entered Leiden University and received an MSc in political science in 2000. Ayaan became competent in six languages and thus was able to assist with translating the challenges of asylum applicants, especially those from the Middle East.

Becoming critical of Islam, she was shocked at the 9/11 attacks in the United States. By 2002, she rejected the notion of there being a single God thus becoming an atheist. She was a frequent speaker on TV as she poured out her criticisms of Islamic culture. At age 33 in 2002, she won a seat in Dutch Parliament. In a newspaper interview, she mentioned that according to Western’ standards, Muhammad would be considered a pedophile.  These words brought immediate criticism and threats by Dutch Muslims.

In 2004, Ayaan wrote a script for a short film about the abuses of women in Islamic society. The film ignited disdain and outrage for both its director Theo van Goph and Ayaan by Dutch Muslims. Critics were so inflamed that on November 2nd, 2004, a 26-year-old Muslim man who belonged to a local terrorist group shot and killed Theo van Goph. Pinned to his body was a letter that was a death threat to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The murderer was sentenced to life in prison without parole and Ayaan received personal protection by the Dutch government and was moved around and even sent to the United States for several months. Returning to The Netherlands in January of 2005, she resumed her seat in Parliament but was provided a ‘secure’ residence for her safety.

In May of 2006 a Dutch TV program revealed that Ayaan had lied in her original application for asylum. The TV report claimed that she had given false information about her name, her age, her country of residence and about the ‘arranged’ marriage. Ultimately, after admitting to deliberate errors in her application and with the belief that her asylum request was valid, she left The Netherlands and relocated to the United States. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick commented that, “she is a courageous and impressive woman and welcome in the U.S.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been employed by the ‘American Enterprise Institute’ in Washington, D.C. since 2006. She received her ‘Green Card’ in 2007 as a permanent U.S. resident and married Niall Ferguson in September of 2011. Ayaan has written several books, won numerous awards and prizes from several countries and organizations and contributes to several media outlets in the U.S. and abroad. She has become a leading advocate for repressed women and minorities worldwide.