Very brief background: Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in Islamic Somalia, was raised as a Muslim, subjected to the routine oppression of women, eventually fled to Holland where she became an outspoken critic of Islam and a member of the parliament. She currently lives in America and is under constant threat of death by jihadists.
I had heard about Ayaan Hirsi Ali a bit in the past, but I hadn't paid much attention because the things she was saying seemed to be beyond my scope. She's a politician talking mostly about Islam specifically. For the most part, those two subjects go over my head and frankly the specifics aren't that interesting to me. The other day I watched a video of Hirsi Ali speaking at the Atheist Alliance International conference (all of the videos at that link are fantastic, thought quite long) and I was extremely impressed. I watched a few more videos and for the most part liked what I saw. I believe that she does go a little overboard in some cases, but her arguments are convincing. I was also impressed with her modesty and humour.
Today I saw this interview with Ayaan in Reason. It starts with a great short biography, and the interview itself is cool particularly because it's Reason so where I disagree with Hirsi Ali (human rights) the Reason interviewer really challenges her. Her autobiography is called Infidel and is quite popular. I am definitely putting it on my reading list.
Whether or not you agree with her politics, you have to admire her courage. She is an amazing example of both success and tragedy (not to mention beauty...). Success because of what she has become, but tragedy for the events that created her. As a girl she was sold into marriage by her father to a Canadian. That felt quite like a punch in the gut to me, because we Canadians like to think of ourselves as equal to America in freedom, but more liberal. It hurts the national ego to think of radical Muslims who would buy women living in our midst. It also challenges the critics of the veiled voter law that I wrote about a while ago, who said there are simply no fundamental Muslims in Canada.
Hirsi Ali was also subjected to female genital mutilation in Somalia. Coincidentally, I read an article about that today as well. I have a pretty strong stomach for this sort of thing, I have always had that male fascination with the gruesome, so I'm pretty desensitized. Female genital mutilation repels me though; it makes me physically ill to read about it. This practice must absolutely end, by virtually any means necessary.
Within a day I have become a devoted fan of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is certainly an inspiration and I second Dawkins' desire to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize.