A few weeks before Fortuyn was killed, a documentary filmmaker, Karin Schagen, asked me if she could do a short film about my life as a refugee in Holland. Over the course of that summer, she drove me around to the office in Zeewolde where I had first asked for asylum, and the places I had lived. It had been ten years since I first arrived in Holland, and I gladly showed her around.

One evening Karin phoned my father. He was visiting my stepmother, Maryan, in London, where Maryan, too, had received refugee status. My father told Karin that he was receiving threats on my life. Somalis from Italy, from Scandinavia, from Holland were phoning him and warning, "Hirsi, if you don't do something fast to rein in your daughter, she is going to be killed."

At first Karin didn't tell me about that conversation. Later, when she did let me know, I didn't take it seriously. Who would bother to kill me?

In early August I was invited to appear on a Dutch TV program about women in Islam. There were a number of short items on girls in the Netherlands who had escaped their parents' abuse, and about girls who chose to walk about veiled even though they were living in Holland.

When I was asked for my opinion, I explained that Islam was like a mental cage. At first, when you open the door, the caged bird stays inside: it is frightened. It has internalized its imprisonment. It takes time for the bird to escape, even after someone has opened the doors to its cage.

A week after the show aired, my phone rang: it was my father. He said, "What on earth is happening, child? It's raining phone calls. In just one week I have been called by twenty people. What is all this stuff I'm hearing about you? What have you said about Islam?"

I told him, "Abeh, there are so many Muslim women in shelters here, who have been beaten. The men who beat them say these women must obey because Islam requires it. I am exposing this relationship between our faith and the behavior of our men."

My father said, "Islam does not say women should be beaten. Islam is a religion of freedom, and peace. You can fight the oppression of women, Ayaan, but you must not link it with Islam."

I couldn't bear to tell him directly that I no longer believed he was right. I spluttered, "No, it's not that," but my father cut me off. He told me he was praying for me, and he told me to pray; then he hung up.

A month later, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I was invited to the most popular talk show on Dutch TV at the time, a live program that aired at 10:15 p.m. Early that morning my doorbell rang, and two huge men told me that the show had sent them to accompany me to work and all my appointments that day. It was a normal courtesy, they said.

I was only going to Amsterdam. The train station was right around the corner; it was a simple commute. I thanked the men and told them I didn't need their services, but Karin, who was still filming me, was encumbered by cameras; she was glad for the lift, so we accepted.

In the car, looking at all the communications equipment and the heavy doors, and the enormous backs of these two men, Karin went silent. Then she said quietly, "Ayaan, this is not standard procedure. Look at the size of these men. They are bodyguards. There's something wrong."

Before we needed to be at the TV studio, they accompanied us to the Felix Meritis discussion house in Amsterdam, where I had been invited to participate in a debate on the integration of Moroccan youth. Someone from the Liberal Party was also speaking, and a Moroccan woman who was alderman of an Amsterdam neighborhood. As the debate went on and we discussed the apathy and hostility of many migrants, it became clear that the Moroccan woman and I disagreed the most, and the Liberal and I agreed in essence.

I often found this to be the case. Especially in public, Muslim opinion leaders loudly denied the truth of what I was saying; yet in private, some Muslim women would agree with me. As for Dutch people, the Labor types usually felt uneasy about my critique of their multicultural tolerance of Islamic practices, but Liberals were often enthusiastic about my emphasis on the rights of the individual.

After the debate, my two drivers took us to Utrecht for another panel discussion about Islam and multiculturalism. This discussion took place in a cafe full of Moroccan young people. As I came in they booed loudly. I was astonished: Did all these people recognize me? Every time I opened my mouth they shouted, and others shouted back. A fault line seemed to divide the room between the native-born Dutch, who approved of my views, and the Muslims. One after another the Moroccan kids stood up, men and women, and told me, "You’re a traitor. You sound like Pim Fortuyn. You know nothing about Islam. You're stigmatizing us."

The atmosphere was thick with personal insults and bad feeling, but I had to leave for the TV studio. In the car, I said, "Karin, what is going on with these people?"

Karin said, "Don't you realize how small this country is, and how explosive it is, what you're saying?"

Explosive? In a country where prostitution and soft drugs are licit, where euthanasia and abortion are practiced, where men cry on TV and naked people walk on the beach and the pope is joked about on national TV? Where the famous author Gerard Reve is renowned for having fantasized about making love with a donkey, an animal he used as a metaphor for God? Surely nothing I could say would be seen as anything close to "explosive" in such a context.

"These people have lived here for years," I told her. "The girls were all wearing tight trousers and T-shirts—they're Westernized. They attend debates. They're accustomed to criticism."

'You're wrong," Karin said, "If your name hadn't been on the flyers, they wouldn't have come. With you, there is something to discuss. They don't attend these things regularly—they've heard about you from TV, I don't think they are accustomed to this kind of criticism—not from someone who is a Muslim, like you."

We arrived just before the show was scheduled to air. Frits Barend and Henk Van Dorp, the hosts, told me they had received a threatening phone call about my appearance, and the police were taking it seriously. I was startled, but I had no room in my brain to deal with this information right now: it was time to go on the air.

After briefly introducing me, Frits Barend asked, "So, you came to Holland in 1992 as an asylum seeker. Did you lie, like everybody else did?" I answered that yes, I had lied, about my name and about my story, and I explained why: I was afraid of being sent back to my clan. They seemed to accept that, and after more questions, asked the big one of the day: "Do you agree with Pim Fortuyn that Islam is backward?"

I was taken aback, but answered, "According to the Arab Human Development Report of the UN, if you measure by three things-—political freedom, education, and the status of women—then what Pim Fortuyn said is not an opinion, it's a fact." I thought I had been very deft. I had not actually repeated what Fortuyn had so controversially stated, but I was clear and, I thought, accurate. Aspects of Islam did slow a society's development, by curbing critical thinking and holding women back.

Next I was asked, "But are you still a Muslim?" Now I felt truly on the spot. And once again I avoided a direct repudiation of Islam, answering instead, "I am secularized."

I did not feel strong enough to face what would happen if said, out loud, that I no longer believed. For a Muslim, to be an apostate is the worst thing possible. Christians can cease to believe in God; that is a personal matter that affects only their eternal soul. But for a Muslim to cease believing in Allah is a lethal offence. Apostates merit death: on that, the Quran and the hadith are clear. For a Muslim woman to abjure her faith is the worst kind of disobedience to God, because it comes from the lowest, most impure element in society. It cries out for God's punishment.

I had been invited to another debate the next day. There really was a public discussion of these issues under way, I thought, as I accepted every invitation to speak; it seemed as if the whole country was churning with debate. Again, this debate was televised, this time with mostly Muslim men and women present. Finally, I thought, Dutch TV is inviting Muslims to participate in discussions.

I was seated next to Naema Tahir, a beautiful young Pakistani woman who had been married off by her father. Naema had rejected that marriage and put herself through school to earn a master's degree in law. She and I were both dressed in light blue blouses, like schoolgirls, and we felt very much alike. All around us were men, and as the show went on, they began barking at us: screaming, shouting at us, cutting us off. Then one man yelled, "But you're not a Muslim! You said you're not a Muslim! You said Islam is backward! You're lying!"

I sat up and said, "It's my religion, too, and if I want to call it backward I will do so. Yes, Islam is backward."

Chaos broke out. As the atmosphere thickened at that debate, I found myself growing more tense. Men were glowering at me; one of them stormed out. I thought back to what Frits Barend had said the night before. There were no bodyguards around me now.

After the show, the moderator said to me, “You're not safe walking out of here by yourself." He told me the TV program would pay for a taxi to take me all the way back to Leiden. When I got home, the phone rang: it was Johanna and Maarten. They had watched the program and they were worried; they thought something might have happened to me after the filming and were relieved I was home. But Maarten was also angry. He told me I must be more careful. "What you're doing is wrong for you," he said. “You're putting yourself in danger. Try to find something else to talk about."

The next day was a Friday, a normal working day. I got up and took the train as usual to the think tank's office. This was daytime, in Holland: I wasn't frightened. I was, however, very motivated to prepare a proposal for our institute to put real money into investigating the situation of Muslim women in Holland, and I began working on a draft for a proposal. When I popped into Paul Raima's office, he said to me, "I saw the show last night. You should be careful, Ayaan. I would advise you not to do these things any more. Television is too sensational. Writing opinion pieces may not be so bad after all!"

Everyone seemed to agree that doom was nigh and I was too dumb to have spotted it. I began to feel a little intimidated. A friend arrived at the office to escort me home that evening, and as we were talking together, I looked around nervously: Did anyone recognize me? Was I being followed? But no, everything seemed normal: people were cycling, chatting on cell phones, and they paid no special attention to me at all.

That evening Ellen sat me down for a talk. She told me quite frankly that I had lost my mind. I had bought the house with her fourteen months before and I was barely ever home. I worked all the time trying to become the female answer to Bin Laden, and as a result I was ruining my health and our friendship.

The next day, Saturday, Karin came over. We phoned my father again. Again, he told Karin there were threats against me, that he was truly afraid that people were planning to have me killed. Karin took notes on the conversation. But when I spoke to him, he didn't repeat it: I think my father wanted to protect me from fear. He just told me, "Be very careful." I asked "Careful of what?" and my father said again, "I'm getting warnings from everywhere. Don't say anything about Islam."

When I hung up, Karin said, "Your father wants me to look after you. He thinks you're going to be assassinated."

I said, "For heaven's sake. My father grew up far away, long ago. Come on, what have I done? I'm just a little pawn who earns sixteen hundred euros a month. You don't murder people for raising a small voice in a small country."

Then Marco called. He told me he had to see me. I said fine, I would cycle right over, and he said, "Don't do that—you can't go out on your own." I told him this was absurd, but he came by in his car and drove me to a sweet little village called Roelofsarendsveen, where the chance of encountering an angry radical Muslim was next to zero. Marco said, "Ayaan, something could happen to you. You have to be careful."

While we were talking, my phone rang. It was Leon de Winter, a famous Dutch writer. I asked "Oh, are you going to tell me to be careful?" because all these lectures from friends and colleagues were starting to get on my nerves. But de Winter said, "No, I am only going to say how much I admire you. I watched you on TV the past two evenings, and I really think what you're doing for us is great." He warmly invited me to dinner the next week, which was something like an American receiving an invitation from Philip Roth, except that in Holland everyone knows Leon de Winter. I accepted, of course, but I told him, "I'm a little ashamed, because I haven't read any of your books." He said, "No problem. I've read your articles."

The phone rang again, and now it was Jaffe Vink from Trouw, who said, "I want you to talk to this special policeman who works for the Dutch Secret Service, because something very bad is brewing. I think the threats against you are real. You can see him on Monday." I agreed to do it.

I spent that weekend at home with Ellen, doing chores and trying to mend our flagging friendship. On Monday morning I went to meet this special policeman. His office was like a prison: bars, and more bars, and every door with elaborate locks and cameras. I told the man, "I don't know what I did or said, but my father is afraid I will be assassinated, and all sorts of people seem to be terribly worried about me. I haven't received any threats directly, so I feel a little dumb, but it's beginning to frighten me."

He said, “You are a little dumb, because these threats are very real. We know about some of them. You'll need protection. Go to the police office in Leiden and file a complaint. And tell them about the stuff on the Internet."

I said, "Is there something about me on the Internet?"

He sighed and said, "A lot, and it's growing. We're monitoring it." 

This man was very Dutch, very avuncular and protective, and he told me to stop thinking I was an invisible nonentity. I had set off something that could be very big and very dangerous.

I went to the police station in Leiden, which I knew well from my work as a translator. A police officer who had already heard about me— and seemed, in fact, to know far more about my situation than I did— said police would evaluate the security of my house, and that Ellen and I would have to change the locks.

He asked, "How many people do you think know your address?" I showed him one of my business cards: my home address was printed on it. I'd given those cards out to people at debates all over the country. Networking was part of my job. Moreover, I said, Ellen and I were in the phone book. He groaned.

At another Wiardi Beckman Institute board meeting that night, I was on the agenda again, but nobody blamed me for anything. Again, Job Cohen was splendid. He said, “Whether I agree or disagree with Ayaan is irrelevant. Any threat against her for expressing a simple opinion is completely unacceptable to all of us."

I thought, “Why on earth isn't Cohen the leader of the Labor Party?" He was such a clear thinker; he had authority; he understood the rule of law better than anyone I knew. I felt slightly ashamed that I had once called him names in an article. After the meeting, Cohen came up to me and said, "Ayaan, you look exhausted. I want you to think long and hard about taking on this challenge. This could take a long time. Do you want to live like this? Go and eat something, and get some sleep, and think about it."

It was clear to everyone, apparently, that I shouldn't take the train to work again. It wasn't clear to me exactly what they thought I should be protected against, but all were adamant that any chance encounter might set off some kind of violence. So that night Karin drove me homeland the next morning she came with her crew and drove me to work. The following day, Paul Kalma called the hosts of the TV show and got the name of the private bodyguard service they had used to protect me. He decided to hire them to drive me to and from work.

My daily life became unbelievably complicated. When I was at work in Amsterdam, the Amsterdam police were responsible for my safety. But once I got to Leiden, thirty miles away, I had to phone the Leiden police to let them know I was home, because now they were responsible for me. Moreover, the bodyguard service was expensive, and the Labor Party, having lost a number of votes, had just slashed the funding of our think tank. Paul Kalma asked me if I couldn't find an address in Amsterdam for a while, so the Amsterdam police could just walk me home every night.

A reporter called to talk to me. I said,,"I can't. I just filed a complaint, and I'm not going to talk to the media any more." She put that in the paper; it became headline news that I was being forced into hiding. I received bags full of mail and lots of offers from people who wanted to hide me in their homes. One was my former professor of Methods of Social Research. He lived near the Labor Party office, and his duplex apartment included a granny flat with a kitchenette, which was empty.

We decided that I should move in there temporarily, after the weekend. When I told Ellen, I could feel the air stiffen with her disapproval. We had an argument; she accused me of abandoning my share of the housework and of our friendship. I told her she wasn't supportive when I needed her. It was ugly, and the bodyguards were honking impatiently. I left.

That evening I was supposed to have dinner at the Hilton in Amsterdam with Jaffe Vink, and Leon de Winter and his wife. We had just started the appetizer when suddenly the two bodyguards descended on me, caught my hands, wrapped themselves around me, and said, “We're leaving." I barely had time to put down my fork.

They took me out through the back doors. I didn't see anything, but as we drove away, fast, the bodyguards told me that cars packed with North African-looking men had begun arriving, one after another. They were dropping people off in the hotel parking lot and then heading off to get more people. Someone must have seen me walking into the hotel and cell-phoned his friends. The guards said they weren't equipped to deal with such numbers. I saw nothing, but now I was frightened.

We arrived at the Leiden police station where, an officer told me, they had been doing their own research and felt strongly it was unwise for me to continue sleeping at my house in Leiden. My address was too widely known; there was no way they could protect me. I said, "Are you saying I should sell my house?" The police officer said, “We can't tell you to do something like that, but we can tell you that you're not safe there."

I phoned my father. When he picked up the phone I said, "Hello, Abeh, this is Ayaan.” There was a shuffle and a click. This happened a number of times. I had insulted that which he held most dear. Our relationship could never be mended.

When it was clear that my living situation had become untenable, Leon de Winter proposed that I go to a writers' retreat in California to take a break. I could return when things had calmed down in Holland. I didn't have the money for such a trip, but Paul Scheffer suggested that the Institute set up a nonprofit foundation and raise funds.

I had come to incarnate a situation that Holland was beginning to perceive and was shocked by. This peaceful country, which thought it had reached the peak of civilization and had nothing more to worry about except perhaps the dikes breaking one day, was waking up to the nightmare of citizens who completely disagreed with fundamental values like free speech—to the realities of airplane attacks and murdered politicians and death threats. The news that a young woman could have her life threatened merely for speaking the truth, as she saw it, on TV seemed to many people an important symbol.

People petitioned for my right to free expression. They sent flowers. My views became a subject for debate. Some people claimed that all the threats against me were just lies and hype, but many others, whom I didn't even know, seemed to be working now to gather support for me. Leon de Winter, Geert Mak, Harry van den Berg, and Paul Scheffer, all well-known Dutch writers; Job Cohen; Felix Rottenberg, a former leader of the Labor Party, and Paul Kalma, my boss; Tilly Hermans, now my Dutch book publisher, and Cisca Dresselhuys, a prominent feminist—all these extremely visible and important figures were involved in my case. They wanted me to be able to return to Holland safely, and under the protection of the elite police corps that protects well-known politicians and the royal family, instead of just under the eye of the local police.

In October 2002, I flew to California. It was the first time I had ever been in the United States, and I realized almost immediately that my preconceptions of America were completely ludicrous. I was expecting rednecks and fat people, with lots of guns, very aggressive police, and overt racism—a caricature of a caricature. In reality, of course, I saw people living perfectly well-ordered lives, jogging, and drinking coffee.

I loved the huge bookstores and spent hours in the Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica, where I was staying, buying crateloads of books. It was a relief to have the time to think and read again.

On October 16, 2002, the cabinet fell, after less than three months in power. Pim Fortuyn's group in Parliament was unable to manage a coalition with the Liberals and the Christian Democrats. The small universe of Dutch politics was agog: the country faced the prospect of yet another election, scheduled for January 2003.

Neelie Kroes, a prominent politician from the Liberal Party, which is known in Holland as the WD, is a strong woman, very dignified and determined. Although we had never met, Neelie was outraged that someone in my position would have to leave the country to seek safety. She organized women politicians from all the main political parties in Holland to issue a statement in support of my right to speak freely, in safety.

Neelie believed that the Dutch Parliament needed more strong, bright women. When the cabinet fell and new elections were called, she thought of me, even though I was only a junior researcher from the Labor Party and she from the right-wing WD. Neelie called Leon de Winter and told him she wanted me to stand (run) for Parliament for her party.

Far away in America, I thought about it. I wasn't horrified by the idea of being called right wing, as some people are. In Holland, all the political parties are in favor of an active, almost invasive degree of government intervention in the business of buying and selling, with high taxes and redistribution of wealth. In economic terms, the Liberal Party stands for less government interference and lower taxes; I felt comfortable with this. In terms of its principles, the Liberals were secular, careful to be neutral about religion. They stood for abortion rights, gay rights—the emancipation of the individual.

Moreover, I felt disappointed by the Labor Party. I had joined them originally because, in my mind, social democrats stood for reform. They sought to improve people's lives; they cared about suffering, which I thought should have meant they would care about the suffering of Muslim women. But in reality, the Labor Party in Holland appeared blinded by multiculturalism, overwhelmed by the imperative to be sensitive and respectful of immigrant culture, defending the moral relativists. When I said the position of Muslim women had to change—to change now— people were always telling me to wait, or calling me right wing. Was that what they told the mine workers in the nineteenth century when they fought for workers' rights?

Neelie was planning a trip to visit her son, who was living in San Francisco, and it was there that we actually met. I told her I was considering moving to the United States to pursue a PhD. We talked politics. She listened as I went on about the Enlightenment and John Stuart Mill and the cage of women's repression and then caught my eye with a decisive air and told me, "You're not a socialist. You are one of us."

Neelie said my dreams of academia were like a sinkhole; they would never go anywhere. No matter how wonderful a PhD thesis I wrote, it would disappear into a file drawer. It would never shift the lives of Muslim women by an inch. The most important thing I could do with my life was expose the reality of those women's lives to people in power and make sure that existing laws demanding equality between the sexes were applied. Mine was in a combat of action, not ideas. I should stand for Parliament, where I could truly have an effect on the emancipation of Muslim women and the integration of immigrants.

That night I thought about what Neelie had said. What was I trying to achieve? 

Three things: 

First, I wanted Holland to wake up and stop tolerating the oppression of Muslim women in its midst; the government must take action to protect them and punish their oppressors. 

Second, I wanted to spark a debate among Muslims about reforming aspects of Islam so that people could begin to question, and criticize, their own beliefs. This could happen only in the West, where Muslims may speak out; in no Muslim country can there be free discussion on such a subject.

Third, I wanted Muslim women to become more aware of just how bad, and how unacceptable, their suffering was. I wanted to help them develop the vocabulary of resistance. I was inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneering feminist thinker who told women they had the same ability to reason as men did and deserved the same rights. Even after she published A Vindication of the Rights of Women, it took more than a century before the suffragettes marched for the vote. I knew that freeing Muslim women from their mental cage would take time, too. I didn't expect immediate waves of organized support among Muslim women. People who are conditioned to meekness, almost to the point where they have no mind of their own, sadly have no ability to organize, or will to express their opinion.

When I worked at the Labor Party think tank, trying to talk about these issues, people always accused me of failing to back up my arguments with data. But hard numbers were completely unavailable. When I tried to find out about honor killings, for instance—how many girls were killed every year in Holland by their fathers and brothers because of their precious family honor—civil servants at the Ministry of Justice would tell me, "We don't register murders based on that category of motivation. It would stigmatize one group in society." The Dutch government registered the number of drug-related killings and traffic accidents every year, but not the number of honor killings, because no Dutch official wanted to recognize that this kind of murder happened on a regular basis.

Even Amnesty International didn't keep statistics on how many women around the world were victims of honor killings. They could tell you how many men were imprisoned and tortured, but they couldn't keep tabs on the number of women flogged in public for fornication, or executed for adultery. That wasn't their subject.

I decided that if I were to become a member of the Dutch Parliament, it would become my holy mission to have these statistics registered. I wanted someone, somewhere, to take note every time a man in Holland murdered his child simply because she had a boyfriend. I wanted someone to register domestic violence by ethnic background—and sexual abuse, and incest—and to investigate the number of excisions of little girls that took place every year on Dutch kitchen tables. Once these figures were clear, the facts alone would shock the country. With one stroke, they would eliminate the complacent attitude of moral relativists who claimed that all cultures are equal. The excuse that nobody knew would be removed.

If I were in Parliament, I could try to act on my beliefs, not just spout them. And Neelie was right: although the Labor Party had come to seem the right party for me, and although I was truly loyal to Paul Kalma and Job Cohen, many things about me had never fit with Labor's ideas. Social democracy is grounded in the rights of groups of people, not individuals. The Liberal Party may not have been as cuddly as Labor, but its philosophy was grounded in the values of personal freedom. My ideas felt comfortable there.

I was a one-issue politician, I decided. I am still. I am also convinced that this is the largest, most important issue that our society and our planet will face in this century. Every society that is still in the rigid grip of Islam oppresses women and also lags behind in development. Most of these societies are poor; many are full of conflict and war. Societies that respect the rights of women and their freedom are wealthy and peaceful.

I decided I would go wherever I had the most ability to effect change. If the Liberal Party was offering me a platform to stand on, then so be it.

I phoned Paul Kalma and told him I would be leaving both the Labor Party and my job. He told me he thought it was a huge pity that I was switching parties, but he said, "You'll be pursuing your ideals, and I support you.” He wished me luck.

Neelie Kroes and the Liberal Party leaders Frits Bolkestein and Gerrit Zalm wanted me to be given a high position on the Liberal list of candidates for the election. Dutch politics doesn't work on the basis of local constituencies. Everyone votes for one nationwide list of candidates, and seats in Parliament are portioned out to the top names on each list, depending on what proportion of the votes each list receives. Dutch political parties are all grounded in powerful local groups, which jostle for electable positions on the list.

I was a rank outsider. If I wanted to be elected to Parliament, I would have to make my case to the Party barons. But Neelie and Zalm wanted my participation in the election to remain confidential until the Liberal Party Congress on November 30. For a week, I traveled around Holland as unobtrusively as possible, shuttling from one local Liberal potentate to another.

The Party barons were mostly hostile at first, although some were curious about me. One elderly man said, "You're from Africa, and you've been threatened because of remarks you made about Islam, and you're a woman, and a member of the Labor Party—and now you want to be with us Liberals? We're entrepreneurs. What do you know about business? Are you even interested in us?"

I answered, "That depends who 'us' is." I said that I wanted to address the issues of immigrant women, especially Muslims, and explained how I thought that affected business. Businessmen had a strong motive to free Muslim women to participate fully in society. If girls and women are uneducated, oppressed, and psychologically demeaned, then their children are all stunted by their ignorance. If women are well educated and nurtured, they and their children make up a self-reliant, responsible citizenry and a productive workforce. I also talked about integration and social welfare. I said, "You know the history of Liberal ideas. The oppression of women in Holland is against the philosophy of your party. To uphold the values of your party you should support my membership of it, because I stand for your values."

Those meetings were honest grillings. Some of the Party leaders thought I was brazen; a few were flat-out hostile. Most told me, "Your cause is brave, and just, but you don't belong in our party." One woman, the baron of the Liberals in Leiden, grilled me for an hour and then said, "I think I'm going to love you very much. You have a certain authenticity about you, and that is very much a part of our party."

To everyone who asked me, I made it clear that when I first arrived in Holland, I changed my story on my asylum application: I gave another name and didn't tell the whole truth. I said this on TV and in radio and newspaper interviews and told the WD leadership about it when they asked me if I had anything in my past that might prevent me from functioning properly as a politician. It simply was never an issue.

In the end, Gerrit Zalm got enough support from the Party barons to put me on the WD list as number sixteen. That meant I was almost certain to be elected.

That week, on the BBC, I listened to the news of riots that had erupted in Nigeria. A young woman journalist assigned to cover the Miss World competition there had written, "Muslims thought it was immoral to bring ninety-two women to Nigeria to ask them to revel in vanity. What would the Prophet Muhammad think? ... He would probably have chosen a wife from one of them."

More than two hundred people were killed in the riots that broke out. The office of her newspaper was burned down, and the reporter was forced to leave the country. Now I listened to a snotty British woman who had organized the pageant. Instead of blaming the violence on the men who were burning down houses and murdering people, she blamed the young reporter for making "unfortunate remarks."

I was incensed by this excusing of fanaticism. That journalist had written nothing wrong. She was right: the Prophet married most of his wives because they caught his eye in one way or another. As a gesture of solidarity with that young journalist, I decided that when I got the chance, I would say publicly what I thought the Prophet Muhammad was really about.

That moment came just a few days later, when Arjan Visser, a Dutch journalist from Trouw, asked me to participate in a series of interviews he was doing, using the Ten Commandments as a framework to talk about the place of religion in people's lives. In the interview I told him what I thought was the real nature of the Prophet. In the next few weeks, the interview didn't run, and I forgot about it.

On November 30, the day of the Liberal Party Congress, I walked into a huge room full of security people. There was a wide bank of cameras going flash flash flash at me. I was supposed to stand with the other candidates on a platform with a microphone, where each of us would introduce ourselves, one by one. But I shivered and froze at the doorway. I couldn't move. In front of me were all those cameras and behind me the bodyguards. I felt hunted, trapped. I was shaking. Very softly, Gerrit Zalm told me to be calm, to breathe, and not to worry.

One after the other, the candidates made their speeches, during which the room was only moderately attentive. Candidate fourteen, candidate fifteen. It was my turn. I had prepared a small speech with the help of Neelie and her husband, the politician Bram Peper, but I got frightened again, because when I stood up everybody in the audience stopped talking. Hundreds of people fell silent, and then the camera shutters all started up again. I froze on the steps to the dais. Frits Huffnagel, who was introducing the candidates, could see that I was shaking; he gave me his hand and said, "Easy."

Somehow I managed to control myself and read my speech. Afterward, walking down, I was swamped by the media. The camera people even followed me into the ladies' room. One Liberal MP, the former Olympic swimmer Erika Terpstra, decided to protect me; she put her body around me and pushed people away.

From that time on I could no longer have a normal relationship with journalists. I could not simply say what I thought, like an ordinary person. I was now a politician: the media, rather than a source of information, was an instrument I must learn to use. Professional PR people who dealt with press for the Liberal Party now screened my calls and requests for interviews from journalists. They gave me a short bio of each journalist and told me what each was likely to ask. I received a quick education in Liberal Party priorities: the election program, agriculture, housing taxes, and so on. Because I was a Liberal Party candidate, it was normal that what I said to the media should roughly correspond to the Party platform.

Most of the media thought switching political parties made me an opportunist, and they were watching to see if I screwed up. My first interview was supposed to be a human interest story, but I was asked if I still wanted to ban denominational, religious schools. It was the most sensitive issue in the Netherlands right then. If they won the elections, the Liberals were planning to govern with the Christian Democratic Party, and for the Christian Democrats, faith-based schools were a holy cow. I said I was opposed to this form of schooling. I explained how bad Muslim schools are for education. This set off a small storm about how I wasn't toeing the Liberal Party line, and how I wouldn't make it to the elections.

Gerrit Zalm, the Liberal Party leader, was stalwart throughout my candidacy and my political career. As a professional politician, he was polished and effective, a real example, and on a human level he proved himself to be clear-minded and direct. He didn't support me just because I could attract publicity for the Liberals and help them get elected; he never showed any sign of wanting to tidy me into some corner once the election was done, and he has stuck his neck out for me again and again. Throughout my political career, Zalm consistently led battles in support of my causes, from domestic violence to excision.

After that first interview, Zalm didn't flinch for a moment. He didn't say "This young woman has only just arrived in Holland and she doesn't understand the importance of these institutions to our society." He said, "I'm a Liberal, and there are good arguments for abolishing faith-based schools. But we can't do that right away, because we have to form a government with the Christian Democrats."

For me, the most sensitive issue was general amnesty for asylum seekers who had overstayed their legal residency in Holland. I wanted that amnesty. When I was with the Labor Party think tank, the Labor caucus in Parliament opposed it—but the Liberals opposed it even more. When interviewers asked me about it, I was clear about my views. I told Gerrit Zalm, “You know, I can't agree with everything the Liberals say." Zalm told me that was perfectly fine. I should just be myself. So long as I stuck to my own portfolio, which was integration, and so long as I voted with the Party once I was in Parliament, I could say what I thought.

During two months of campaigning, I went from one TV station to the next, from one speech to another. I sold tangerines in the market in Leiden; I shook hands on street corners. I met many citizens who surprised me with their apparently unconditional support for my ideas, and lots of Labor Party voters who said, "We deplore your choice of party, but your issue is so important that we will vote for you wherever you are." I met Frits Bolkestein, the aging lion of the Liberal Party; he was formal, but at the same time very kindly, paternal, and genuine. He took my ideas seriously and offered me good advice, and he insisted that I call on him whenever I needed help. I developed enormous respect for him.

Of course, I also encountered hostile reactions in campaigning. People called me names, even spat at me; I received more threats. The most remarkable people, to me, were those who apparently approved of everything I said but nonetheless wouldn't dream of voting for the Liberal Party. It reminded me of Somalia: they wouldn't vote outside their clan.

Now that I was a national politician receiving death threats, I was under the protection of the Royal and Diplomatic Protection Service, the DKDB. Everywhere I went I was under heavy guard, in a convoy of cars and armed men. They frightened me a little, at first, these strange men with their radios and weapons. Some of them stood very close and wanted to know every detail of what I was going to do a day in advance. I couldn't deviate from the schedule; every location had to be checked ahead of time. It was awkward going about my daily life under such scrutiny. The guards had to walk around me through the aisles of supermarkets when I went out for groceries. One afternoon, trying to buy pots and pans, I felt like an idiot, as if I ought to try to impress these men with my selection.

Sometimes the DKDB would inform me about a particular threat against my life. Mostly, though, they didn't. They felt it wasn't in my interest for me to obsess about the danger I was in. They were there to protect me; that was all I needed to know. In a way I agreed with them. Thinking about death threats all the time is no way to live.

Neelie Kroes found me a place to stay in The Hague, a lovely apartment that belonged to a friend of hers. But after I'd lived there two weeks, the local newspaper got wind of it from people in the neighborhood and published my address. At around lunchtime that day one of my bodyguards told me, "I'm sorry, but you won't be going back to the apartment. For tonight, we'll take you to a hotel, but you'll have to look for somewhere else to live." I didn't even get to go back to pack; they sent police officers to go through my drawers and pack my clothes and books.

Neelie went through her inexhaustible mental Rolodex and arranged for me to live for a few weeks in an apartment at the top of the phone company building in The Hague, where the director of the phone company could sleep when he was working late. I couldn't stay there for long, though. After two months, it was agreed that I could rent one of the houses on the phone company's grounds for up to a year, until I found a place of my own. It was wonderful, with a fireplace and gardens, and the rent was affordable; I thought that at last I would be able to settle down again. I planned to move in during the last weekend in January.

January 22 was the election. The Liberal Party rented a hall in Utrecht with a big screen; everyone congratulated each other in front of the cameras as the results came in. In reality, however, the Party's gains were quite modest. The Christian Democrats and Labor were the big winners and seemed likely to form a coalition government together. (Governments in Holland are always coalitions.) The Liberals won only 18 percent of the vote—not enough, in principle, to claim the right to govern. Still, we had twenty-seven seats in Parliament, which meant that, as number sixteen, I had been elected.

In Holland, voters for each list may, if they wish, indicate a preference for particular candidates. This makes for a complicated calculation, because if many voters indicate their support for a candidate, that person can move up on the electoral list. I was sixteenth on the list, but sixth in terms of voters' individual preference—a high score for a newcomer. To be precise, 37,058 Liberal voters picked me to represent them. I felt a rush of strength at this support for my ideas. My combat was legitimate. I could make a difference. I felt the weight of real responsibility.






Keith Hunt