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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project




Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1969. The daughter of a political opponent of the Somali dictatorship, Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in exile, moving from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia then Kenya.

As a young child, she was subjected to female genital mutilation. As she grew up, she embraced Islam and strove to live as a devout Muslim. But she began to question aspects of her faith. One day, while listening to a sermon on the many ways women should be obedient to their husbands, she couldn't resist asking, "Must our husbands obey us too?"

In 1992 Ayaan was married off by her father to a distant cousin who lived in Canada. In order to escape this marriage, she fled to the Netherlands where she was given asylum, and in time citizenship. In her early years in Holland she worked in factories and as a maid. She quickly learned Dutch, however, and was able to study at the University of Leiden. Working as a translator for Somali immigrants, she saw at first hand the inconsistencies between liberal, Western society and tribal, Muslim cultures.

After earning her M.A. in political science, Ayaan worked as a researcher for the Wiardi Beckman Foundation in Amsterdam. She then served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006. While in parliament, she focused on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society, and on defending the rights of Muslim women. She campaigned to raise awareness of violence against women, including honor killings and female genital mutilation, practices that had followed the immigrants into Holland. In her three years in government, she found her voice as an advocate for an "enlightened Islam".

In 2004 Ayaan gained international attention following the murder of Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh had directed her short film Submission, a film about the oppression of women under Islam. The assassin, a radical Muslim, left a death threat for her pinned to Van Gogh's chest.

In 2006, Ayaan had to resign from parliament when the then Dutch minister for Immigration decided to revoke Ayaan's Dutch citizenship, arguing that Ayaan had mislead the authorities at the time of her asylum application. However, the Dutch courts confirmed that Ayaan was indeed a legitimate Dutch citizen, leading to the fall of the government. Disillusioned with the Netherlands, she subsequently moved to the United States.

Ayaan is a Fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and The Harvard Kennedy School. She is also a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC. Ayaan is currently researching the relationship between the West and Islam. She has to live with round-the-clock security. Her willingness to speak out and her abandonment of the Muslim faith have made her a target for violence by Islamic extremists.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was named one of TIME Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" of 2005, one of the Glamour Heroes of 2005 and Reader's Digest's European of the Year for 2005. She has published a collection of essays, The Caged Virgin (2006), a memoir, Infidel (2007), and has written and delivered many speeches and articles. She has just completed Nomad, the second volume of her autobiography, and is now working on Short-cut to Enlightenment, a fascinating dialogue between Mohammed, the founder of Islam, and three of her favorite twentieth century Western thinkers: John Stewart Mill; Karl Popper and Friedrich von Hayek.



By Date



June 13, 2016

"Islam’s Jihad Against Homosexuals"

Op-Ed, Wall Street Journal

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project

The Orlando massacre is a hideous reminder to Americans that homophobia is an integral part of Islamic extremism. It is important to establish why a man like Omar Mateen could be motivated to murder 49 people in a gay nightclub while he proclaimed his support for Islamic State and then pray to Allah. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow of the Future of Diplomacy Project examines the connection between homophobia and the Islamic religion.



Summer 2016

"Center Fellows Share Insights"

Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter

By Michael Poznansky, Research Fellow, International Security Program, Jinqiang (JC) Chen, Giorgio Ruffolo Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Sustainability Science, Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, David Eaves, Research Fellow, Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project, Jayita Sarkar, Associate, Project on Managing the Atom, Karoline Steinbacher, Giorgio Ruffolo Doctoral Research Fellow in Sustainability Science, Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, Kaho Yu, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Geopolitics of Energy Project and Jieun Baek, Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Several fellows from different Belfer Center programs and projects described insights they’ve gained or lessons they’ve learned during their fellowships at the Center.



Secretary of Defense

August 14, 2015

"Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Why the United States should back Islam's reformation"

Op-Ed, Dallas Morning News

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project

We have a problem — not a problem from hell, but one that claims to come from heaven. That problem is sometimes called radical, or fundamentalist, Islam, and the self-styled Islamic State is just its latest iteration. But no one really understands it.

In the summer of 2014, Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, the commander of U.S. special operations forces in the Middle East, admitted as much when talking about the Islamic State. “We do not understand the movement,” he said. “And until we do, we are not going to defeat it.”



Wikimedia Commons

March 23, 2015

"From Selma to Tunis: When Will We March Against the Segregation of Our Own Time?"

Op-Ed, The Huffington Post

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project

This year, with good reason, Americans have celebrated the moment 50 years ago when the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans reached a decisive moment: the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery. The movie Selma won an Oscar. President Obama went to Selma and gave one of his finest speeches.



April 1, 2015

"Hirsi Ali: Beware of Michiganistan"

Op-Ed, TIME /

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project

Since the massacre at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, the U.S. media has understandably devoted attention to the problem of radical Islam in Europe. The fact has been widely reported that thousands of European Union citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the self-styled Islamic State. Almost as much coverage has been given to stories of French Jews emigrating to Israel. And there have been numerous articles about Michel Houellebecq’s diabolically timed novel Soumission, which imagines France in 2022 with a Muslim president introducing sharia law and being fawned over by the Parisian establishment.



Wikimedia Commons

March 31, 2015

"Ayaan Hirsi Ali: America's Academies for Jihad"

Op-Ed, Wall Street Journal

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project

Less than a year after I moved to the United States in 2006, I was asked to speak at the University of Pittsburgh. Among those who objected to my appearance was a local imam, Fouad El Bayly, of the Johnstown Islamic Center. Mr. Bayly was born in Egypt but has lived in the U.S. since 1976. In his own words, I had “been identified as one who has defamed the faith.” As he explained at the time: “If you come into the faith, you must abide by the laws, and when you decide to defame it deliberately, the sentence is death.”



Wikimedia Commons

March 27, 2015

"The Islam reformers vs. the Muslim zealots"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project

The ferment we see in the Muslim world today is not solely due to despotic political systems, and it is not solely due to failing economies and the poverty they breed. Rather, it is also due largely to Islam itself and the incompatibility of certain of that faith’s key tenets with modernity. That is why the most important conflict in the world today is between those who are hell-bent on preserving, and even increasing, these incompatibilities, and those who are bravely prepared to challenge them — not to overthrow Islam but to reform it.



Wikimedia Commons

March 20, 2015

"Why Islam Needs a Reformation"

Op-Ed, Wall Street Journal

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project

“Islam’s borders are bloody,” wrote the late political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1996, “and so are its innards.” Nearly 20 years later, Huntington looks more right than ever before. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at least 70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims. In 2013, there were nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks world-wide. The lion’s share were in Muslim-majority countries, and many of the others were carried out by Muslims. By far the most numerous victims of Muslim violence—including executions and lynchings not captured in these statistics—are Muslims themselves.



March 24, 2015



By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project

In Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes that a religious reformation is the only way to end the terrorism, sectarian warfare, and repression of women and minorities that each year claim thousands of lives throughout the Muslim world. She argues that the violent acts of Islamic extremists cannot be divorced from the religious doctrine that inspires them. Instead, she says, we must confront the fact that they are driven by a political ideology embedded in Islam itself.



Pixa Bay

March 23, 2015

"Reform is the best weapon against radical Islam"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project

"Last week’s horrific lynching of an Afghan woman falsely accused of burning the Koran perfectly illustrates the desperate need for a Muslim Reformation," writes Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

"Violence in the name of religion is endemic in the Muslim world today, from Afghanistan to Tunisia, from Yemen to Syria and Iraq. Yet there is also a backlash brewing against it, and that is what gives me hope."

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We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.