Nancy Drew stirred rebellion in me: Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Interview)

Jaipur, Feb 3 (Calcutta Tube) Forty-year-old Dutch feminist, writer and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali says when she was 13, fictional detective Nancy Drew sowed the seeds of rebellion in her.

Talking of her growing up years in Mogadishu in Somalia, Ali said she ‘was influenced by English literature with Charles Dickens and fiction novel series like Nancy Drew and Barbara Cartland, Harold Robbins in youth.’

‘When I was 13, the detective Nancy Drew – as an icon of a feisty young woman sleuth – shut me off from my life of cooking and cleaning. It sowed the seeds of rebellion,’ Ali told IANS in an interview here.

She has been living under siege for six years after writing the screenplay for Theo Van Gogh’s movie, ‘Submission’. Ali said his ‘murder has made me realise how dangerous Islam can be. I come from a culture of honour and shame.’

Theo Van Gogh was assassinated by an Islamic fundamentalist extremist in 2004 after making ‘Submission’, which was branded anti-Islamic.

Born Ayaan Hirsi Magan, she is the daughter of Somalian scholar, politician and revolutionary opposition leader Hirsi Magan Isse. She was at the Jaipur Literature Festival where she discussed her memoir, ‘Infidel’, published in 2006. The festival was held for five days from Jan 21.

‘In Islam, men and women are not equals. Homosexuals are not acknowledged – women are not allowed to move out of their homes without a man or/and guardian and they have to wear a veil. One needs to see how much of Islam is religion,’ said Ali, an atheist.

‘I don’t relate to it under my current liberal settings. I don’t need to keep up the pretence of practising Islam and live a liberal life. Many more like me are doing that,’ she said.

However, in her teens, Ali had supported the ‘fatwa against Salman Rushdie for Satanic Verses’.

She said post-1985, ‘a lady (unnamed) influenced her toward inner jehad of why and how she was different from others, especially men’.

‘Before I became observant, we took Islam for granted. Islam to me during my formative years was about spitting in the bucket after reading the Koran. Afterwards, it made me identify right from wrong, thus giving me self-confidence,’ she said.

She is the writer of ‘Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam’. The book chronicles Ali’s struggle with Islam.

She is a member of the People’s Party for Freedom of Democracy, a liberal Dutch political party. A fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Ali lives under tight security.

‘The militant variety of Islam shuts down criticism of the Koran. Be it in any language – Chinese, Hindi, English – even if you touch upon the Koran, all discussion ends with accusations of being a traitor and an infidel,’ Ali said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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