I first heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali when they pulled the knife from Theo van Gogh's chest in November of 2004. The Dutch filmmaker had been shot and then nearly beheaded as he rode his bicycle to work in Amsterdam. His attacker felt justified in committing this filthy murder because van Gogh had insulted Islam in a short film titled "Submission" about the treatment of women in the Islamic world. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali by birth but by then a member of the Dutch parliament, had written the screenplay. Under that knife was a long rambling letter addressed to Hirsi Ali and to the West generally. Full of threats and imprecations, the letter warned that she was next.
It is appropriate that Hirsi Ali was singled out along with the United States, Holland and Europe -- "I surely know that you, O America, will be destroyed. I surely know that you, O Europe, will be destroyed. I surely know that you, O Holland, will be destroyed" -- because as we learn from her new autobiography, "Infidel," Ayaan Hirsi Ali has come to appreciate and to personify the greatest virtues of our civilization.
Her story, a completely engrossing narrative I found hard to put down, began in Somalia in 1969. She was born into the Osman Mahamud subclan of the Darod clan. For a Somali child, nothing is more important than memorizing her lineage for as many generations as she can count. It can mean the difference between murder and protection -- and later in the story, it does for Ayaan.
Her birth coincided with the birth of the new Somalia, which was emerging from years of colonization by the English and the French. Her father, active in politics and later in the opposition forces, hoped to create a democratic society that would astound the world. Instead, as with nearly all of the newly independent African nations, Somalia spiraled down -- first into a Soviet-style dictatorship and later into civil and tribal war and chaos.