One of America's most prominent Islam bashers has a long history of making things up. Almost everything she has said about her personal experiences with Islam is a fraud and her fabrications even led to the fall of the right-wing political party she was a member of in the Netherlands.
|Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (Photo by Steve Jurvetson)|
While promoting her new book, Heretic, on a March 23 episode of "The Daily Show," Somali-born author and anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali made a staggering claim: “If you look at 70 percent of the violence in the world today, Muslims are responsible,” she told host Jon Stewart.
Stewart did not demand any evidence and Hirsi Ali provided no citation. However, she made a strikingly similar statement in a March 20 essay previewing her new book for the Wall Street Journal: “According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies,” Hirsi Ali wrote in WSJ’s Saturday Essay, “at least 70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims.”
I contacted the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a leading British foreign policy think tank, to inquire about the source of Hirsi Ali’s statistic. According to IISS Media Relations and Communications Officer Kat Slowe, IISS did not explicitly state such a figure in its research.
“I have spoken to a number of our experts and they cannot identify where this statistic may have come from,” Slowe told me.
“Their best guess is that the journalist in question [Hirsi Ali] may have access/a subscription to the [IISS] Armed Conflict Database and may have calculated this statistic independently. There are some concerns that it could be misleading as, without Syria (near 200,000 total deaths, and almost half of last year’s global conflict deaths) the figure would look massively different (and of course, this conflict did not have its root in religion),” Slowe added.
Hirsi Ali’s AHA Foundation did not respond to my request for a citation on the statistic, nor did the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute that employs Hirsi Ali as a resident scholar. My email query to Hirsi Ali’s personal account at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where she serves as a fellow, also went unanswered.
History of fraud
Hirsi Ali’s highly suspect statistic is only the latest deception by one of the world’s most prominent opponents of Islam. While other anti-Muslim activists like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller have marginalized themselves on the fringes of the far-right, Hirsi Ali remains a darling of the American mainstream media. In Heretic, a polemic recycling many of her past arguments against Islam, she calls for the emergence of a Muslim Martin Luther — the authoritarian 16th-century zealot who called for burning down the synagogues of Jews, whom he compared to a gangrenous disease. With the book's release, Hirsi Ali has been welcomed with open arms by the BBC, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and a relatively accommodating Jon Stewart. ABC News has even run an excerpt from Heretic, while the New York Times Book Review hosted her for an interview filled with hardball questions about her favorite children’s books.
Hirsi Ali’s power to persuade lies in her dramatic personal story and the public persona she has constructed. She has marketed herself as a expert native informant who has emerged out of the dark heart of radical Islam and into the light of Western civilization. Her tale is an uplifting, comforting one that tells many Westerners what they want to hear about themselves and their perceived enemies. With anti-Muslim attitudes at their peak across Europe and the US, her sweeping critique of Islam as an endemically violent faith has enormous cachet. The only problem is that like her writings on Islam, much of what she has told the public about herself is questionable.
In May 2006, the Dutch television program Zembla thoroughly debunked the dramatic story Hirsi Ali had told to advance her career, concluding that Hirsi Ali had sold the Dutch public “a story full of obscurities.”
Born Ayaan Hirsi Magam, she migrated to the Netherlands in 1992, changed her name to Hirsi Ali, and lied to Dutch authorities about her past. Contrary to the story she told the government, she arrived in the Netherlands not from war-torn Somalia, but from Kenya, where she lived in a secure environment and under the protection of the United Nations, which funded her education at a well-regarded Muslim girls’ school. Though she told immigration authorities and the Dutch public she had fled from civil war in Somalia, she left that country before its war broke out. Indeed, she did not live through a war there or anywhere else. Thanks to her fabrications, Hirsi Ali received political asylum in just five weeks.
Hirsi Ali told astonished audiences on Dutch talk shows that her supposedly devout family had forced her to marry a draconian Muslim man, that she had not been present at her own wedding, and that her family had threatened to kill her for offending their religious honor. However, Zembla told a drastically different story. Hirsi Ali’s brother, aunt and former husband each testified that she had indeed been present at her wedding. It turned out that Hirsi Ali’s mother had sent her brother to a Christian school, not exactly an indication of Islamic fanaticism.
“Yeah, I made up the whole thing,” Hirsi Ali admitted on camera to a Zembla reporter who confronted her with her lies. “I said my name was Ayaan Hirsi Ali instead of Ayaan Hirsi Magan. I also said I was born in 1967 while I was actually born in 1969.”
Hirsi Ali’s claim of honor killing threats also appears to be empty; she remained in touch with her father and aunt after she left her husband. In fact, her husband even came to visit her in the Dutch refugee center where she lived after leaving him. Even though he had paid her way to Europe on the grounds that she would join him in Canada, Hirsi Ali’s husband consented to the divorce she sought. (Watch the full Zembla program on Hirsi Ali.)
Fabrications that toppled a government
In 2003, just a decade after gaining political asylum in the Netherlands, Hirsi Ali was elected to the Dutch parliament on the ticket of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. VVD leadership knew that the story Hirsi Ali told on her immigration forms was a gigantic lie — she had told them as much — but covered up the fraud and even advanced it to propel her career.
“She’s witnessed five civil wars in her youth, and has fled with her family many times. She’s made of iron and steel,” the VVD’s Neelie-Smit Kroes said of Hirsi Ali at the time, reciting claims her party knew were false.
A year after joining the Dutch parliament, where she said she attempted to ban Islamic schools in the Netherlands, Hirsi Ali teamed up with Dutch director Theo van Gogh to produce a documentary called Submission. The film portrayed violence against women in Muslim communities as a logical result of Islamic belief, relying on actresses to portray abused women and featuring semi-nude, niqab clad women with Quranic verses scrawled across their torsos. Van Gogh, a filmmaker and columnist who had taken to calling Muslims “goat fuckers,” was gunned down and stabbed to death soon after the film’s release by a Dutch Islamist radical. Before fleeing the scene, the killer pinned a note to van Gogh’s body threatening Hirsi Ali with death. Hirsi Ali’s persistence in the face of the episode helped earn her hero status across the West, particularly in post-9/11 America, where Time magazine named her one of its 100 Most Influential People in 2005.
Zembla’s revelations of Hirsi Ali’s lies in May 2006 interrupted her ascent and threw the Dutch government into chaos. No one was more damaged than her friend and close party ally, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk. Nicknamed “Iron Rita” for her ruthless anti-migrant crackdowns and her demagogic appeals to xenophobia, Verdonk was shamed by the revelations of Hirsi Ali’s deceptions. When she announced her intention to strip Hirsi Ali of her citizenship, however, she was skewered in parliament and forced to relent.