Ayaan Hirsi Ali stands at the nexus of forces shaping the 21st century—and it's a very dangerous place to be. The Somali-born author, who repudiated traditional Islam in her best-selling memoir, "Infidel," fled her adopted Netherlands for America this year in the face of threats from radical Muslims, thereby becoming, as Salman Rushdie and Sam Harris wrote in the Los Angeles Times, the first political refugee from Western Europe since the Holocaust. She also lost her Dutch bodyguards. Now Harris, author of "The End of Faith," is raising money to (putting it bluntly) keep Ali alive. It's an issue that unites Harris with evangelist Rick Warren, who offered to help after Harris e-mailed him. (The two debated religion in NEWSWEEK this year.) "Rick," Harris jokes, "may yet convince me that Christians are more moral and socially engaged than atheists."
It's a matter of life and death to Ali, who has needed protection since Theo van Gogh—her collaborator on a documentary about the repression of women under Islam—was murdered in 2004. Reached in Paris last week, Ali said she was "deeply grateful" to Harris and others who have come to her defense. (The cost of her protection is secret, but it's believed to exceed $2 million a year.) She's working on a new book, "Shortcut to Enlightenment," in which the Prophet Muhammad comes back to tour New York City and debate modern (although dead) philosophers John Stuart Mill and Friedrich von Hayek—not a subject likely to calm Islamist anger. She awaits the day, she says, "when there are no longer people who believe they can get to heaven by killing me"—or when her dissent from Islam has gathered enough adherents "that it won't pay to kill one or two of us." Until then, says Harris, those who believe in freedom of thought have an obligation to try to keep her alive.