Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Theo Van Gogh

From Submission to Resistance

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 37, lived a life few could ever imagine. She was born in Somalia but was forced to leave her native country with her family because her father was an unwelcome political dissident, reported. The article suggested that Ali was constantly on the move, temporarily living in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya and then Canada. Even though Ali was born and raised according to Islam, she rebelled against its teachings as she grew older. She believed Islam to be "backward" and its prophet Mohammed a pedophile because he married a 12-year-old girl, Cormac Mac Ruairi said in an article.

Ali fled from Canada to the Netherlands in 1991, escaping her religious confines and an arranged marriage to a distant cousin. Upon her arrival in the Netherlands, she obtained temporary refugee status until she became a recognized citizen several years later. reported that Ali studied political science at the renowned Leiden University and after graduation went on to conduct scientific research under the social-democratic party, PvdA, which primarily "focused on the integration of foreign women (mostly Muslim) into Dutch society." However, Ali abruptly left the PvdA in 2002 because she didn't think the party was strong enough concerning their stance on women's rights.

She found her true voice with the Dutch liberal party, VVD, which catapulted Ali into parliament as a member of the Lower House. While there, Ali drew the nation's attention to the "widespread but hidden violence against Muslim women," such as genital mutilation and spousal abuse, Marlise Simons reported in an International Herald Tribune article. Many Dutch Muslims were outraged by Ali's criticism of Islam because they believed she grossly misrepresented their religion and degraded believers. Consequently, she received many death threats and was forced to hire armed protection in order to avoid assassination attempts.

Resentment against Ali reached unprecedented levels after the release of Submission, for which she wrote the script. During the production of the film, Ali and Theo decided to use visually powerful "shock" tactics to get viewers attention and relay their message that the Muslim faith practices "savage medieval customs" and promotes violence against women, Simons reported. It was a view that not everyone shared.

The film provoked mixed reactions among Dutch audiences ranging from repugnance and anger to approval and praise. Ruairi quoted Mohammed Sini of the Dutch foundation of Islam and Citizenship who believed that the film "had gone too far and insulted many Muslims" who felt "their identity was under siege..." Conversely, VVD leaders Gerrit Zalm and Jozias van Aartsen expressed "support for the central message of the film," Ruairi stated. Regardless of the varying responses, Theo and Ali succeeded in getting their message out and causing a furor in the Netherlands concerning women's rights in the Muslim community.

Even though both knew that there were dangerous consequences for expressing their opinions, it was a chance they were willing to take in order to initiate change. They both paid an unimaginably high price. Theo sacrificed his life for his views and Ali continues to live in constant fear of a similarly gruesome fate. It is the high price for freedom of speech these days in not only the Netherlands but around the world. Many ask, is it worth it? Others believe that if they were to give up their freedom of speech, then the demise of democracy is close at hand. This, indeed, is likely the main objective of terrorists like Bouyeri, who seek to destroy western powers and along with it the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens. However, what few terrorists realize is that few are willing to give up such rights easily.


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