Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Research Fellow
Awards and Honors:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1969. 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 fled to the Netherlands to escape a forced marriage. There she was given asylum, and in time citizenship. She quickly learned Dutch and was able to study at the University of Leiden, earning her M.A. in political science. Working as a translator for Somali immigrants, she saw first hand the inconsistencies between liberal, Western society and tribal, Muslim cultures.

From 2003 to 2006, Ayaan served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament. While in parliament, she focused on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society, and on defending the rights of Muslim women.

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 her citizenship, arguing that Ayaan had misled 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.

In 2007, Ayaan founded the AHA Foundation to protect and defend the rights of women in the US from harmful traditional practices. Today, the Foundation is the leading organization working to end honor violence that shames, hurts, or kills thousands of women and girls in the U.S. each year, and puts millions more at risk. 

Ayaan is a Fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at The Harvard Kennedy School and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ayaan is currently researching the relationship between the West and Islam. She has to live with round-the-clock security, as 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 is the best selling author of Infidel (2007) and Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (2015).

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Recent Commentary

In the News

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Warns Of Islamic Anti-Semitism

quoting Ayaan Hirsi Alivia The Canadian Jewish News
Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Islamic anti-Semitism is of a “scale and scope” that most people in the West do not understand and is therefore all the more insidious, the controversial critic of the Muslim religion, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, told a capacity audience at the Jewish Public Library (JPL) in Montreal on May 13.

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Gimme Shelter

by Ayaan Hirsi Alivia Hoover Digest
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The definition of a “refugee” dates back decades and has outlived its usefulness. Nations now need a much more rigorous idea of just who deserves refuge.

Windmills in the Netherlands
In the News

Holland Tacks Metropopulist

quoting Ayaan Hirsi Alivia OpsLens
Friday, March 22, 2019
Not many people take Holland, the Netherlands, Dutchland (?), whatever, as a locale of much political interest. Not at least since William of Orange.
Analysis and Commentary

We Need A Better Definition Of ‘Refugee’

by Ayaan Hirsi Alivia The Washington Post
Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The global asylum and refugee system is no longer fit for purpose. As a beneficiary of that system, I do not make such a statement lightly. The reality is that it is outdated and can no longer cope with the challenges posed by mass violence and global migration today.

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Never Cry “Islamophobia”

by Ayaan Hirsi Alivia Hoover Digest
Monday, July 9, 2018

Societies learn and grow when they question, challenge—even offend. Islamists are pressuring free people to give up their most basic rights.

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The Human Rights Violation Of Women That Rarely Gets Discussed

by Ayaan Hirsi Alivia Fellow Talks
Wednesday, June 6, 2018

On April 11, 2018, the Hoover Institution hosted a panel on female genital mutilation featuring Mary Wambui, the founder and director of Shelter Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Ngong, Kenya, along with Research Fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali.


The Anti-Woman Violence Feminists Are Afraid To Confront

by Ayaan Hirsi Alivia New York Post
Thursday, May 24, 2018

Virtually every issue has become a partisan football in America’s politicized age of anti-Trump hysteria. Except one. The debate that has bucked this trend is the #MeToo campaign, which has successfully cut across party lines, wealth divides, race and religion.

Analysis and Commentary

Why We Hesitate To Protect Girls From FGM In The United States

by Ayaan Hirsi Alivia The AHA Foundation
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

One year ago, news broke that an American doctor was charged in Detroit federal criminal court for performing genital mutilation on young girls. Since then, the case has uncovered a web of secrecy and abuse with seven more charged and up to 100 girls potentially victimized. 

Analysis and Commentary

Will Saudi Arabia Free Its Women?

by Ayaan Hirsi Alivia Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Imagine the humiliation of a middle-aged mother having to ask a young son’s approval for life decisions.

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The "No Platform" Brigade

by Ayaan Hirsi Alivia Defining Ideas
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Disinviting speakers like Richard Dawkins is a form of censorship at odds with Western values.