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Ayaan Hirsi Ali: How I got here

Author, Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Author, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

"How I Got Here" is a series of conversations with newsmakers about the path they took to their present place In America.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the author of "Nomad: From Islam to America, A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations." A native of Somalia, she later moved to Holland to escape an arranged marriage, and eventually became a member of the Dutch parliament. In 2005, she was named one of Time Magazine's People of the Year. This outspoken critic of Islam moved to the United States to join the American Enterprise Institute and wrote her autobiography, "Infidel." In this interview, a woman who has been threatened with death shares the biggest obstacle she has overcome.

Q: Who are you? How do you define yourself?

A: I define myself as human. I define myself with humanity. I define myself by my human frailty. My definition of love and of affection is to see the frailty of others and love it. And when humans do something wonderful and superior, I appreciate it and celebrate it, but there's no such thing as love unless you can love human frailty.

Q: What prepared you for where you are now?

A: It wasn't one thing. There were many things. There was my father who sent me to school. There was my mother who wanted something better for herself --better than what she was born into, but who failed at it. There were my teachers who gave me books that promised of something better. There were my friends that I made in Holland and here in the United States that told me, and keep telling me, life is worth living. Everything about it: the flowers, spring, summer, fall, winter. And, I think I've come to understand that life is lived by the minute, by the day, by the month, by the year and not by a false promise of the hereafter.

Q: What's the biggest obstacle that you've had to overcome and how you got there?

A: For me, the biggest emotional obstacle was disappointing my father who I consider to be a hero. Disappointing my mother -- who if I left as I did in 1992 when my father tried to marry me off -- was going to reflect on her. The challenge was not so much what I was going to be disappointed in, but it was their disappointment. Their displeasure at me, their disapproval, my parents, my siblings, cousins, my uncles, I loved them. And they taught me to love them and to be loyal to them, that was the biggest sacrifice. And I am...I don't know what the word really is. I can only say relief that I've now become me. Perhaps one day they'll accept me for who I am, and I'll accept them for who they are. But that was the biggest challenge.

Q: How did you get there?

A: The truth is I am not there yet. I am there, perhaps in the sense that I know what I want. But on a level, we are not there. We were not there because they haven't accepted the changes that I've made, even though I accept to a certain degree the culture and the traditions that they still believe in.

Q: What do you believe in?

A: Humanity. Trees and the brain. Trial and error. Life, now, today, the air you breathe, the idea that you're okay now. Knowing that some of your friends are diagnosed with disease, some of them fall dead, you know it's all here. That's what I celebrate about life, ever since I've really come to appreciate it as a temporary thing. Here and now. Celebrate it. Live it. It's going, it's passing. It's just going.