Daughter of the Enlightenment
By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
ast spring, Ayaan Hirsi Ali took her ''Dutch mother'' -- the woman who taught her the language and cared for her after she arrived in the Netherlands as a refugee in 1992 -- to lunch at the Dudok brasserie, near the Parliament in The Hague. As always, Hirsi Ali's armed security detail was there. They have been her companions since she started receiving death threats in September 2002. Hirsi Ali, who was born in Somalia and has been a member of the Dutch Parliament since January 2003, had endorsed the view that Islam is a backward religion, condemned the way women live under it and said that by today's standards, the prophet Muhammad would be considered a perverse tyrant. She had also announced that she was no longer a believing Muslim. The punishment for such apostasy is, according to strict interpretations of Islam, death. That day at the Dudok, several dozen vocational students were taking up the main restaurant, so she and her guards parked at two tables near the bar. Hirsi Ali had her back to the restaurant when one of the students, apparently a Dutch convert to Islam, tapped her on the shoulder. ''I turned around,'' she recalls in her elegant English, ''and saw this sweet, young Dutch guy, about 24 years old. With freckles! And he was like, 'Madam, I hope the mujahedeen get you and kill you.' '' Hirsi Ali handed him her knife and told him, ''Why don't you do it yourself?''
The story is, like much in Hirsi Ali's life, an inseparable mix of the terrifying and the tender. Sipping tea and nibbling from a bowl of chocolate-covered raisins in a house in the Dutch countryside in February, she made every attempt to soft-pedal it. ''Nothing nonverbal about him was violent -- and it wasn't a real knife,'' she told me. ''Just for bread and butter.'' Now as then, her armed guards were along. It had been dark for several hours and they'd positioned their bulletproof vehicles as inconspicuously as possible along the street. She was doing her best to ignore them.
Hirsi Ali is self-effacing and slight. Relaxing on a sofa, she had folded herself into so small a shape that she seemed to disappear behind the throw pillow that she hugged to her knees. Every few minutes she pulled a thick, black woolen shawl around her shoulders and clutched it close under her chin against the cold. Because her voice is soft, she can seem meek. She is not. Hirsi Ali has a calm and syllogistic way of dropping verbal bombs all over the place, using words European politicians never do: Decadent. Corrupt. Cowardly. Wrong.
Dutch voters have an increasing appetite for such talk. Sept. 11 raised worries all over Europe about whether Islam -- the faith of some 20 million on the Continent -- was compatible with the West's open societies. With the 2002 murder of the populist politician Pim Fortuyn and the slaying last fall of the director Theo van Gogh, the Netherlands, arguably the most open society of all, has become reacquainted with political violence. Hirsi Ali, a politician who has thought hard about these issues in her own life, has emerged as perhaps the country's best-known politician and certainly its most imperiled. ''It makes me feel dizzy,'' she told me. ''I've discovered my strong side and my weak side. I'm enriched, and I'm scared.''
irsi Ali was born into Somalia's Darod clan. Her rebellion against her Islamic roots has estranged her somewhat from her father, Hirsi Magan Isse, whom she had always emulated. Her father, who now lives in England, was an iconoclastic Somali intellectual and politician who studied in Italy and earned a degree from Columbia University in 1966. He returned to Africa strengthened in his Muslim faith, his daughter says, but also deeply touched by North America. ''If such a young nation as the U.S. could make it to superpower status,'' she recalls him saying, ''we could do it as well.'' An anti-Communist, he agitated against the Marxist dictatorship of Mohammed Siad Barre, who came to power in 1969, the year Hirsi Ali was born. Hirsi Magan spent part of the 1980's as a leader of a guerrilla force in the Democratic Front for the Salvation of Somalia. Hirsi Ali's mother -- the second of the two wives Hirsi Magan had at the time -- was illiterate but wielded domestic clout. Women had certain narrowly defined areas of power. It was Hirsi Ali's grandmother who managed, following regional custom, to have Hirsi Ali and her sister ritually ''circumcised'' at age 5, against the wishes (and without the knowledge) of Hirsi Magan. From age 6, Hirsi Ali and her siblings shared their father's political exile, in Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia and then, for 10 years, in Kenya. In the course of her travels, Hirsi Ali learned five languages: Somali, Arabic, Amharic, Swahili and English, which she speaks in a lilting accent picked up from the Indian teachers who taught her at the Muslim Girls' Secondary School on Park Road in Nairobi.
Hirsi Ali was an obedient, serious girl. Her religious observance drifted between the devout and the fanatical. But this did not stop her growing realization that there was less scope for women than for men in her world, or her sense that Islam was to blame for it. A crisis came in 1992, when her father contracted her in marriage to a Somali-Canadian cousin she did not know. After a wedding ceremony in Kenya, she followed him on a flight to Canada. During a layover in Germany, scheduled for the completion of her immigration paperwork, she decided to bolt -- an idea that did not occur to her, she says, until she arrived in Europe. She fled across the border on a train to the Netherlands, fearful that the Somali-German guardian assigned her by her clan would find her if she stayed in Germany. (Ten years later, her father would phone to inform her that she had been formally divorced under Islamic tradition.) In the Netherlands, she changed her name (from Ayaan Hirsi Magan), falsified her birth date and applied successfully for political asylum. She found a job as a cleaning lady (''I would rather clean than beg'') in the Riedel juice factory in Ede, a heavily Moroccan city that has since become notorious in the Netherlands as the place where a television camera caught children and teenagers celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center.
She also worked as a translator for immigration and social-service agencies. She interviewed Muslim women married off to reprobate cousins because they had lost their honor (virginity) and no one outside the family would have them. She interviewed battered wives and women infected with the AIDS virus who were under the impression that Muslims could not contract it. She came to marvel -- and despair -- at the tenacity of traditional Islam's grip on women who, now living in the West, seemingly had little reason to fear it.
In 1995, she entered the University of Leiden. She studied political science and political philosophy, and she wrung all she could out of her studies, which she remembers with a desperate gratitude. She will still, for instance, express skepticism about a public-opinion survey by raising an eyebrow and saying, ''Now, when I did Methods of Social Research, I had two very stern professors. . . . ''
n Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, Hirsi Ali was in her second week of work as a researcher at the think tank of the center-left Labor Party, a job she'd sought after a short corporate stint peddling drugs to doctors for GlaxoSmithKline. Although she now describes herself as an atheist (''I do not believe in God, angels and the hereafter''), she had not at that point wholly lost her faith. The water-cooler talk that week was converging on agreement that it was simplistic to blame the attacks on Islam. Hirsi Ali begged to differ. She had been haunted by the letter left by the hijacker Mohamed Atta, in which he reminded his accomplices to pray for martyrdom. ''If I were a male under the same circumstances,'' she says, ''I could have been there. It was exactly what I used to believe.''
Soon she had the chance to talk this way in public. Television interviewers were clamoring for immigrant analysts. She took the floor at a conference in an Amsterdam political club to say that what Islam needed was not understanding from others but its own Voltaire. The national daily Trouw had her write an op-ed on the matter. Asked her opinion of Pim Fortuyn's characterization of Islam as a ''backward religion,'' Hirsi Ali replied that by certain measures, including the treatment of women, Fortuyn's statement was not an opinion but a fact. Muslim leaders began to threaten her and her employers. ''Every time I went on TV,'' she says, ''I got a threat.'' In London, her father received menacing calls about her from Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands. Not only Muslims but also multiculturalists were outraged. Hirsi Ali wasn't impressed. ''I was like, 'I can't say that?' '' she recalls. '' 'For five long years in Leiden, you taught me to state facts. Now I do.' ''
The important thing, she insisted, was that people be able to talk about Islam openly, in an atmosphere free of intimidation. In her 2004 book, ''The Cage of Virgins,'' she wrote, ''When a 'Life of Brian' comes out with Muhammad in the lead role, directed by an Arab equivalent of Theo van Gogh, it will be a huge step forward.''
Hirsi Ali's name will be forever linked to van Gogh's. But the two had known each other for less than a year when, on Nov. 2, 2004, the director was shot and stabbed to death on his morning bike ride to work. Muhammad Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch-born Islamist of Moroccan immigrant parents, has been charged with the murder. That spring, van Gogh, a celebrated provocateur and public nuisance, had attended a political forum where he defended Hirsi Ali whenever her name came up. The Lebanese-Belgian Arab-nationalist firebrand Dyab Abou Jahjah was there, bodyguards in tow, and when van Gogh was invited to lead a discussion, Abou Jahjah refused to participate. Van Gogh asked what Abou Jahjah, whom he called ''the pimp of the prophet,'' was afraid of, since he had not only Allah but also a gang of bodyguards by his side. Two Dutch politicians rose to repudiate van Gogh. He left in a huff and called Hirsi Ali on her cellphone.
She was in a New York taxi at the time. ''With a Pakistani driver in a beard, with his beads and caftan,'' she told me. ''I'm looking at his name on the license -- something like Muhammad Abdullah Hassan -- and I was like: 'Shhhhh . . . I have to hang up now, Theo. When I come back to the Netherlands, I'll visit you immediately, O.K.?' '' He was still angry days later, she recalls. ''I tell him: 'Listen, why are you so angry? You're a film director. Make films out of that.' And I told him about an idea I had.' ''
''Submission Part 1'' the 11-minute film that Hirsi Ali conceived and wrote and that van Gogh directed, was shown on television soon thereafter. It presented four fictional episodes. All involved violence against women and the Koranic verses that had been, or could be, used to justify it. These verses were written on the skin of the actresses' seminaked bodies.
Hirsi Ali says she felt guilt over van Gogh's death -- guilt that van Gogh's mother publicly insisted was misplaced -- but she continues to reject any suggestion that the film they made was sensationalist, or gratuitous in its use of see-through clothing. ''Maybe Americans think, 'This is a naked body,' '' she says. ''But this body is why half the nation in Saudi Arabia is not allowed to drive.''
After stabbing van Gogh, the killer left impaled on the corpse a five-page letter addressed to Hirsi Ali. As the Netherlands suffered an explosion of mosque-burnings and attacks on churches, Hirsi Ali was moved under heavy guard from secret location to secret location, sometimes more than once a day. After six days of that, she had had enough. She was told that the only safe alternative was for her to leave the country for a spell. Hirsi Ali insisted on going to either Israel or the United States. ''Those are the only places,'' she recalls thinking, ''where people will understand what happened Nov. 2.'' Two days later, she disembarked from an Orion patrol plane onto the freezing-cold tarmac of a military airport in Maine. She would not return to the Netherlands until mid-January.
When Hirsi Ali was 16, an Iranian-trained Shiite fundamentalist arrived to teach at the previously Anglophile Muslim Girls' Secondary School in Nairobi. The girls had been reading ''Little Women'' and Mark Twain and Dickens. That changed. Sister Aziza, as she was called, wore a full Muslim wrap and gloves. She was so pale, graceful and charismatic that Hirsi Ali's eyes still widen when she speaks of her. In the tender way of an elder sister, Aziza began questioning the girls about their Muslim observance. A Muslim prayed five times a day, she told them, and anyone who did not was not a Muslim. A Muslim did not wear shorts and T-shirts, even to sports class. The teacher took them to eat sweets and read magazines at the Iranian Embassy -- the East African equivalent of being wined and dined. ''Gradually we were covering ourselves,'' Hirsi Ali remembers. ''We were not taking part in sports, we were not laughing anymore, we were not visiting each other anymore. We were praying five times a day. We were reading the Koran. And suddenly we hated Israel with a passion. We didn't even know where Israel was. I was 16, and I had never seen an Israeli, but we hated them because it was 'Muslim' to hate them.''
Sister Aziza called this inner jihad. ''We all wanted to be martyrs,'' Hirsi Ali says, ''or I did, because we saw what the Iraqi army was doing to the Iranians. Only it was always 'We the Muslims,' '' meaning Iran, ''and 'They the infidels,' '' meaning Iraq, ''helped by the huge devil, the United States.'' Hirsi Ali's mother, a Sunni like virtually all Somali Muslims, was both delighted at her daughter's piety and a bit shocked by the Shiite form it was taking. But Hirsi Ali was also casting about for religious answers wherever she could find them. For a while she was a sympathizer of the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood. She and her comrades addressed one another as ikhwan, or ''brethren.'' She began covering herself in a hijab, a punishing ordeal in sweltering Nairobi.
Hirsi Ali's African upbringing came up frequently on the three-hour ''Summer Guests'' TV program last August when she showed ''Submission'' for the first time. The program invites Dutch celebrities to select and comment on favorite video clips as a way of revealing something about their personal lives. Hirsi Ali's included ''The Gods Must Be Crazy'' and a news clip about Kenya's dictator Daniel Arap Moi. But, strikingly, the majority of clips were of things you have to be deeply Dutch to like or even understand -- the family comedy ''Flodder,'' for instance, or the ''Oprah''/ish ''Het spijt me'' (''Sorry!'') -- choices that revealed how much Hirsi Ali had adapted to her new home. Her defenders use the same term to praise her that detractors use to sneer at her: she is a ''model immigrant.''
The Netherlands has a mixed record at producing these. The country's demographic changes since World War II, in their broad outlines, resemble those of other Western European countries, but the Netherlands has done better than most. Migrants from the former Dutch colony of Suriname were the problem immigrants of the 1970's, with high crime levels. Now they are classed among the success stories of Dutch immigration. It is the children of the ''guest workers'' who, starting in the boom economy of the 1960's, were invited to take manual-labor jobs that businesses could not fill, who present today's big challenge. The fiction that newcomers from Morocco and Turkey were only in the Netherlands temporarily was slow to die. Over the years, both communities have had low rates of mixed marriage. More than half marry spouses from their homelands. According to the country's Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 1.7 million ''non-Western'' immigrants or their children among the 16.3 million people in the Netherlands. Almost 1 million are Muslim. In 2003, people of non-Western descent accounted for a third of the population in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.
Until recently, the Netherlands adhered to a national policy cumbersomely known as ''integration with maintenance of one's own identity.'' It arose partly out of unspoken guilt over the country's failure to save many Jews under German occupation during World War II and partly out of a modish multiculturalism. But letting ethnic communities go their own way also had a long history in the Netherlands. The ''Pacification'' of 1917 formalized a system in which different groups -- Catholics, Protestants, secular citizens and others -- lived in separate institutional universes, or ''pillars.'' A Catholic would typically attend a Catholic school, read a Catholic newspaper, join a Catholic trade union and social club and vote for a Catholic political party.
The system withered in the 1960's, but many Dutch clung to the hope that its virtues could be revived for an age of immigration. In the early 1990's, Frits Bolkestein, then the leader of the country's pro-free-market party, the VVD, warned in articles and speeches that they could not. He argued that certain identities, unlike the old Catholic and Protestant ones, would, if maintained, undermine the individual rights that are at the heart of the Dutch constitution. He cited the practice of bigamy, for instance. Where clashes occurred, Bolkestein insisted, Dutch norms must prevail. For this observation, he was condemned as a rightist and a racist. Today, most Dutch accept the validity of Bolkestein's critique, even if they can't agree on what to do about it.
In 2002, Bolkestein's VVD persuaded Hirsi Ali to leave her Labor policy group to take a place on the VVD's parliamentary list for the next election. Some on the left greeted her departure with relief -- Labor usually competes with two other left parties for Muslim votes, and activists had threatened to withdraw support for Labor when Hirsi Ali began speaking out. Still, it is a natural question whether the VVD -- traditionally a businessmen's party -- is the right place for a Third World feminist. It is not a question that troubles Hirsi Ali much. She says, ''It gives me, intellectually and ideologically, an easier position to say, 'Listen, we are the party for the individuals, and Muslim women who are individuals.' ''
The predicament of individual Muslim women has become a public concern in the Netherlands. In February, the daily Volkskrant ran an expose of widespread bigamy among Dutch Moroccans. Muslim views on virginity have led to other clashes. There are clinics that specialize in the surgical repair of broken hymens, a practice that was often covered by national insurance until the ministry of health blocked it last May. Genital mutilation, of the sort practiced on Hirsi Ali and 98 percent of girls in Somalia, has been illegal in Holland since 1993 but still occurs. Self-deprecatingly, Hirsi Ali refers to Muslim women as ''my issue.'' But it overlaps with so many of the crises in Dutch and European society that being a single-issue politician has not made her a narrow politician. Hirsi Ali has taken positions on nonfeminist issues from the Iraq war (which she favors) to Turkey's candidacy to join the European Union (she calls it a ''big gamble'' for Europeans).
Until the arrival of Hirsi Ali, Dutch feminists tended to duck when there appeared to be a conflict between the rights of women and the culture of immigrants. One exception is the Egyptian-born essayist Nahed Selim, an ally of Hirsi Ali on many issues. Another is Cisca Dresselhuys, editor of the large-circulation feminist magazine Opzij, who drew fire when she announced that she would not hire women who wore head scarves. Dresselhuys wants Hirsi Ali to leave Dutch politics and take up a post where she could pursue her political passions internationally. For Dresselhuys, Hirsi Ali is ''more an activist than a politician.'' This is a common view in the Netherlands -- though not necessarily a correct one. Hirsi Ali's legislative work on women's issues has certainly been substantial. Last year, she drew up a plan to better enforce the law against genital mutilation, which passed the chamber. She has spent recent months trying to stiffen enforcement of laws against ''honor killings,'' prevalent among certain Muslim immigrant groups, especially those from Turkey. She wrote a legislative paper on the economic integration of Muslim women and has urged closer scrutiny of new Muslim schools before they are accredited.
But she prefers to describe her legislative achievements in broad terms. ''I confront the European elite's self-image as tolerant,'' she says, ''while under their noses women are living like slaves.'' In this task, she sees a role for both activism and politicking, and she is particularly proud that almost all of her parliamentary motions have passed. ''I may polarize on television and on the op-ed pages, but in Parliament, I always get my majority,'' she says.
Hirsi Ali claims a direct line of intellectual inheritance from the Dutch Enlightenment, and says she is merely laying claim as a Dutch person to freedoms won for her fellow citizens starting in the 17th century. ''Most of the philosophers then were allochtonen,'' she says, making ironic use of the term the Dutch bureaucracy uses for immigrants and their children. ''In the Netherlands they were not persecuted. They were hated, yes, but they were not killed.'' She calls Spinoza her biggest Western inspiration. Last fall, she proposed writing a book called ''Shortcut to Enlightenment,'' and her obsession with the topic is frequently skewered in the establishment daily NRC Handelsblad. Certain Muslims have labeled her an ''Enlightenment fundamentalist.''
Andreas Kinneging, professor of legal philosophy at Leiden, and leader of a conservative intellectual revival in the Netherlands, has a mixed view of these matters. Kinneging, who knows Hirsi Ali from her time at the university, shares some of her worries: that the Dutch model of cozy consensus-building among the ''pillars'' of society is dangerously out of date, for instance. But he is equally put off by the antitraditional agenda of the radical Enlightenment. ''Many of the things that happened in the last 40 years,'' he says, advance ''ultraliberal values that I think are wrong. In some areas -- decency, respect, loyalty, care for one's wife -- Islam could actually have a positive influence on our culture. Ayaan comes from a backward country. For her this 60's liberal culture is only sunshine. She doesn't see the dark side of it.'' Yet Kinneging also says he admires Hirsi Ali as ''a politician in the grand style. For 95 percent of the Dutch public, politics has always been a matter of get along and go along. They haven't a clue how to deal with her.''
Hirsi Ali describes Bolkestein, the VVD statesman, as her mentor. The affection is reciprocal. He finds her tactics both understandable and necessary. ''The lesson I have learned in this country is Geen rel, geen debat,'' he says. No ruckus, no debate. Such thinking also appeals to the Friends of Ayaan, as they are sometimes invidiously called in the press -- an ideologically varied circle that ranges from far right to far left and includes many of the leading thinkers in the country.
Hirsi Ali has also made enemies across the political spectrum. Hans Dijkstal, the former VVD leader, is a sharp dissenter from the welcome his party has given Hirsi Ali. Sitting in his office near the Parliament, he told me that ''more and more Muslims are wearing head scarves as a symbol of dignity, as a symbol of resistance'' to Hirsi Ali and the right-wing politician Geert Wilders. Geert Mak, a best-selling Dutch historian and memoirist, goes even further. In a recent pamphlet about the fallout from the van Gogh murder, Mak complained that ''an aura of martyrdom'' had arisen around Hirsi Ali, and he suggested that her security detail had become ''a sort of status symbol.'' He claimed to see similarities between the techniques of ''Submission Part 1'' and those of ''The Eternal Jew,'' a 1940 film made by Joseph Goebbels's propaganda ministry.
Hirsi Ali is not easy to place in the spectrum of Dutch politics. The country's top political pollster, Maurice de Hond, found that Hirsi Ali's own party's voters ranked her behind only the Labor leader Wouter Bos as the worst politician in the country. Meanwhile, readers of the left-leaning daily Volkskrant voted her ''Person of the Year'' for 2004. The center-left newsmagazine Vrij Nederland ran a feature in which prominent intellectuals urged her to return to Labor. De Hond says he thinks most of Hirsi Ali's votes come from women, and few from Muslims. ''She is the only Dutch politician who is completely outside our left-right continuum,'' de Hond says.
Disrupting political classifications is explicitly what Hirsi Ali means to do. In her view, consensus-seeking politicians of all parties work hard to keep off the table the issues most Dutch people care about. Sometimes she refers to these people -- from Dijkstal to the Christian Democrat justice minister Piet Hein Donner to Job Cohen, the Labor mayor of Amsterdam -- as ''the Baby Boomers,'' sometimes as ''Madurodam politicians,'' after the tourist attraction in The Hague that displays the entire Netherlands in miniature. ''We have a fundamental dispute,'' she says. ''The Dijkstal-Cohen-Donner argument is that if you can approach matters in a spirit of pragmatism, you can avoid talking about values. They seem to think that if Muslims and non-Muslims have a principled confrontation, the Netherlands will be destroyed in a civil war. But I believe a values confrontation is inevitable. Donner and Cohen and Dijkstal have been raised in Dutch history. Fine. I accuse them of an inaccurate understanding of the tribal principle.''
The present Dutch crisis looks very different if you believe a tribal principle is at work. It can look apocalyptic, in fact. In late February, sitting in an empty conference room in The Hague, clutching her black woolen wrap, Hirsi Ali speculated on one consequence. ''The Netherlands is an art country,'' she said. ''If the citizens of Amsterdam, 60 percent of whom will soon be of non-Western origin, are not made part of that, all of this will decay and be destroyed. When the municipality has to vote on whether funds go to preserve art or build a mosque, they may ask, 'Why should I pay for this stupid painting?' They may do a host of other things that are undemocratic, illiberal and unfriendly toward women and homosexuals and unbelievers.'' Hirsi Ali fears that inaction will be grist for the mill of an extreme right that is on the rise. ''If we don't take effective measures, now,'' she said, ''the Netherlands could be torn between two extreme rights'': an Islamic one and a non-Islamic one.
ast fall, entering the Dutch Parliament wasn't much different than entering one of the museums nearby. Now it is like entering a military base. You go in through a side entrance, which has been equipped with bulletproof glass, behind which the main hall is piled up with office furniture, crime-scene tape and two-by-fours. The building is being turned upside down over the threats to Hirsi Ali.
Those threats continue. In the days after the van Gogh murder, the Dutch police were met by a grenade attack when they raided the apartment of Jason Walters, a half-American member of a suspected terrorist cell called the Hofstad Group, with which van Gogh's accused killer was linked. There, they found a death list that had Hirsi Ali's name on it. Dutch investigators later announced they had found a plan drafted by Walters's brother Jermaine to kill Hirsi Ali at midnight on New Year's Eve. De Volkskrant interviewed several women associated with the Hofstad Group, one of whom bragged of the group's patience and said they hoped a woman would commit the murder, so that it would have greater impact. In November, a woman came to the Legislature, claiming to be a big fan of Hirsi Ali's, with a gift for her, a book. She waited for Hirsi Ali to come outside the security perimeter. Hirsi Ali was delayed in a meeting. After a long wait, the girl left, and left the book. It was a call to jihad that had been written under a pseudonym by van Gogh's accused killer.
Hirsi Ali now receives death threats in Internet chat rooms and in rap songs. Last month, she spent time in court, the target of a civil suit filed by an Islamic group from the provinces. Its lawyer complained that ''blasphemous and offensive'' language in her book ''The Cage of Virgins'' was causing ''psychic damage'' to his clients. He sought a court order that any future movies she made be submitted to a three-person panel before they could be shown. The suit was rejected. ''It's a strategy,'' Hirsi Ali says. ''Some threaten me and make real preparations to kill me, and others try to pester me.''
In mid-February, Hirsi Ali shocked the country by revealing the location at which she was being kept in hiding -- a naval base in Amsterdam. She complained, ''I want a house just like anybody else.'' After days of recriminations in the press, she now has one. Her undisclosed location has become permanent. ''I sleep very little,'' she says. ''I have no real social life. It's like having a body with no bottom,'' she adds, using a Somali expression. Her friends worry that she will not soon find the chance to marry and have children. ''Well, who on earth can I saddle with a relationship?'' she asks. ''It's not off-limits, and technically it can all happen. But is it, as we say in Dutch, verstandig? Sensible? It doesn't seem sensible now.''
Hirsi Ali has been dealt a full house of the royal virtues: courage, intelligence, compassion. She has needed them. Hers is a big, heroic life that moves her fellow citizens but now gets lived mostly in locked rooms and bulletproof cars. She leads that life partly above other Dutch people, as a national symbol -- and partly below them, as a prisoner. She is a democracy campaigner for whom the role of an ordinary democratic citizen is off-limits, an egalitarian for whom equal treatment is turning out to be an elusive and maybe impossible thing.
Christopher Caldwell is a contributing writer for the magazine.