When Ayaan Hirsi Ali scheduled an appearance at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown in Western Pennsylvania, Islamic leaders wanted her stopped. One Islamic center leader who had immigrated to America from Egypt told the Tribune-Review the author had “defamed the faith.” He further noted, "If you come into the faith, you must abide by the laws, and when you decide to defame it deliberately, the sentence is death."
Hirsi Ali’s lecture did take place, with security measures carefully put in place. Death threats are no surprise to anyone who’s read the book. The svelte native of Somalia walked away from her religion after realizing she had no personal freedom, not to mention a traumatizing experience with genital mutilation when she was very young.
“Muslim schools,” she writes, “reject the values of universal human rights. All humans are not equal in a Muslim school… there can be no freedom of expression or conscience. These schools fail to develop creativity—art, drama, music—and they suppress the critical faculties that can lead children to question their beliefs.” She wrote that passage in response to Islamic schools in Holland, the country she fled to after her father arranged her marriage to a complete stranger.
Hirsi Ali’s book is a page-turner in the grand memoir style. Her Ulysses-themed journey takes her from continent to continent, and she ultimately ends up in the one country that represents redemption for so many, America. The author finally admitted to herself and to the public, “I don’t believe in God.” That statement, along with revelations about the rigors and cruelties of her girlhood in an Islamic society, has earned her great praise from Western thinkers and vitriol from many Muslims, both male and female.
Her flight to America followed the death of a friend and collaborator, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The two made a short film together. ‘Submission’ offered an artistic take on the violence Muslim women often face. A Muslim man who had come to Holland from Morocco stabbed and shot van Gogh to death because of the film.
Deeply pained by van Gogh’s death, the author refused to be silenced. “I am told,” Hirsi Ali reflects, “ ‘Submission’ is too aggressive a film. Its criticism of Islam is apparently too painful for Muslims to bear. Tell me, how much more painful is it to be these women, trapped in that cage?”