True Unbeliever

Hirsi Ali's arrival in Washington comes after condemnation of her book by Muslims and a stint in the Dutch parliament that ended with her resignation.
Hirsi Ali's arrival in Washington comes after condemnation of her book by Muslims and a stint in the Dutch parliament that ended with her resignation. (Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

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By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

People come along every now and then, idiosyncratic, opinionated, talented, flawed, impossible. You call them iconoclasts, troublemakers, provocateurs, opportunists, polemicists.

Camille Paglia, of the feminist and anti-feminist perspective, she's one of these. Michael Moore with his satirical film rants, Michael Eric Dyson in his race debates, Germaine Greer and the brand of feminism she called "the Push," and the late journalistic table-pounder Oriana Fallaci, too. Something between artist, scholar, journalist and radical.

So now, ladies and gentlemen, live from Somalia and the Netherlands! Give it up for new-to-Washington Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Muslim heretic, self-proclaimed "Infidel," whose memoir by that name is at No. 7 on the New York Times bestseller list!

It's a popping good story, fascinating, with lots of forward lean to the narrative. She's got guts, brains, looks, talent. She's called the prophet Muhammad a pervert. She says, "Islam is a culture that has been outlived." She has lost her faith, ditched two husbands and been disowned by her family.

She was elected to the Dutch parliament, but resigned in a scandal that brought down the ruling party. She scripted an 11-minute film about the Koran and domestic abuse of women that resulted in the throat-slitting assassination of its director, Theo van Gogh, by a Muslim fanatic.

The killer stabbed a note into the dying man's chest. It was addressed to her.

It promised death.

If you're having lunch with her -- say, at Zaytinya downtown -- a bodyguard employed by the Dutch government will call you a few minutes beforehand, saying, "I have a person to deliver to you."

She's adored by many on either side of the political seesaw: Western feminists, defenders of free speech and the American Enterprise Institute, the neoconservative Washington think tank that now employs her.

But many Muslims regard her as a self-promoting traitor.

"She's just another Muslim basher on the lecture circuit," says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Washington-based activist organization.

She's tall, black, angular, charming, sparkling brown eyes.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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