Islamist target Hirsi Ali seeks French protection

Islamist target Hirsi Ali seeks French protection

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born former Dutch deputy threatened with death for her outspoken criticism of Islam, sought European protection and possible French citizenship at the start of a visit to Paris on Sunday.

French star philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy has spearheaded a campaign for Hirsi Ali to receive honorary French citizenship — and financial aid to cover her security costs — and Sunday night saw several hundred sympathisers attend a support meeting in the French capital.

“I hope that the initiative of the French intellectuals will be honoured, and that my security problem will be resolved, and for that to happen I have to have the French nationality,” 38-year-old Hirsi Ali told AFP in an interview.

“I don”t expect anything,” added Hirsi Ali, who has been living under tight police protection since the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic extremist in 2004.

Hirsi Ali is threatened with death for her role in writing the script of Van Gogh”s film “Submission”, about the treatment of women under Islam. A note targeting her by name was found on his body.

“I”m fighting for a change in the minds of people,” she told AFP, saying she hoped to convince Muslims that “the principles of liberal democracy, that the principles of freedom are far more precious than the principles of Islam.”

“Islam is not compatible with democracy, but Muslims can live in a democracy,” she Ali said, stressing that she was “fighting only with peaceful means.”

Hirsi Ali left the Netherlands for the United States in May 2006 following a bitter row which broke out when she admitted lying about her age and name in her Dutch asylum request.

She does not receive financial support for her protection from the Dutch government while she is out of the country, and for legal reasons the United States cannot cover her costs, she said.

Another possible solution could be “a European fund that will protect people like me whose lives are threatened in the name of Islam,” she said.

Hirsi Ali is currently raising funds to pay for her own protection and works for a conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Those attended Sunday night”s gathering in Paris included Levy, Socialist former presidential candidate Segolene Royal and Rama Yade, France”s junior minister for human rights.

“We are looking into the way to get you access to France, to naturalisation. Not helping you would go against our principles. Forgetting you would be to forget who were are,” Yade said.

Yade read out a message of support from French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressing his determination “to act with the Europeans to put into place a collective fund to ensure the protection of people under threat” during France”s presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2008.

Another top French official said said that she was in favour of Hirsi Ali being given honorary French citizenship.

This “which would be a guarantee for her a signal to those who threaten” her, Valerie Letard, secretary of state responsible for the protection of women, said in a statement.

On Thursday Hirsi Ali she heads to Brussels where around 60 European deputies are trying to obtain the 393 signatures needed to secure funding for her protection.

Born into an orthodox Muslim family in Somalia in 1969, Hirsi Ali had her genitals excised at the age of five and was later exiled with her family in Kenya. She fled to the Netherlands in 1992 to escape an arranged marriage.

She obtained political asylum, followed by Dutch nationality five years later, becoming a deputy for the VVD party in 2002.

Hirsi Ali says she broke definitively with Islam following the September 11 attacks in the United States and has since become a fierce defender of secularism and Muslim women”s rights.

She caused shockwaves in 2002 by describing Islam as a “backward culture”, and again in 2004 by calling the Prophet Mohammed a “pervert” and a “tyrant”. In a recent interview with British newspaper The Independent, she described Islam as a “new fascism.”

She was also in France to receive the Simone de Beauvoir prize for women”s freedom, which she was co-awarded with the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen.