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Europe

Islam Critic Seeks European Protection

A former Dutch politician who has received death threats for her outspoken criticism of Islam announced she wants French citizenship. Ayaan Hirsi Ali also called on Europe to establish a fund to protect others like her.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks to a reporter

Hirsi Ali has been threatened with death for her views on Islam

Several hundred people, among them well-known French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and former French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal, gathered in Paris on Sunday, Feb. 10, to support for Hirsi Ali. The 38-year-old wants French citizenship and the financial help paying for her security costs that would come with it.

"I hope that the initiative of the French intellectuals will be honored and that my security problems will be resolved and for that to happen I have to have French nationality," Hirsi Ali told the AFP news agency.

Somali-born Hirsi Ali has been under police protection since Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, was killed by an Islamic extremist in 2004 for his film "Submission." Hirsi Ali wrote the script for the film, which graphically portrays the lives of Muslim women who had been abused in the name of Islam.

Transformation to secularist

French and EU flags

France and the EU could offer help

Hirsi Ali was born into an orthodox Muslim family in Somalia in 1969. She underwent female circumcision at the age of five and was later exiled along with the rest of her family to Kenya. She fled to the Netherlands in 1992 to escape an arranged marriage.

Five years after obtaining political asylum, she became a Dutch citizen, broke with Islam and joined the center-right VVD party in 2002. She has since become an outspoken secularist and defender of Muslim women's rights, publishing the autobiography "Infidel" in 2006.

Hirsi Ali has made controversial statements such as likening Islam to fascism and calling the Prophet Mohammed a "pervert" and a "tyrant."

Hirsi Ali said she wants 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," Hirsi Ali told AFP.

Calls for international protection

Demonstrators show images of slain politician Pim Fortuyn, top center, and slain filmmaker Theo van Gogh, left and top right, outside a court in Amsterdam

The murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh shocked Holland

Hirsi Ali works for the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. She moved to the United States in May 2006 after a scandal broke out in the Netherlands over her admission that she lied about her age and name when requesting Dutch asylum.

Hirsi Ali, who does not receive Dutch support for her protection when she travels outside the country, suggested that a European fund could be established "to protect people like me whose lives are threatened in the name of Islam."

The idea of a European protection fund has found some powerful supporters in France, among them President Nicolas Sarkozy. At Sunday's gathering, Rama Yade, France's junior minister for human rights, read a message of support from Sarkozy to use his presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2008 to push for such a fund to "ensure the protection of people under threat."

Another top French official, Valerie Letard, secretary of state responsible for the protection of women, said she supported Hirsi Ali being given honorary French citizenship.

Later this week, Hirsi Ali will travel to Brussels where a group of EU deputies are trying to convince their colleagues to secure funding for her protection.

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