When I ask Ayaan Hirsi Ali what she likes to do for fun, she has to pause. It’s not that she can’t think of an answer—she loves dancing—but rather she worries, as the question is a personal one, whether something in her seemingly innocuous response could compromise her safety.
It’s a legitimate concern. Since she first started voicing extreme criticism of Islam, Hirsi Ali has faced grave death threats. The most explicit one occurred in 2004 after the release of a film she had worked on with Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh. The short documentary, Submission, which aims to showcase how Islamic doctrine condones violence against women, features images of the abuse of Muslim women, juxtaposed against specific Koran verses. A few months after the film’s release, an Islamic extremist shot and stabbed Van Gogh to death in Amsterdam, pinning a five-page warning letter on his body for Hirsi Ali—she would be next.