A Bombthrower's Life

Ayaan Hirsi Ali moved to the United States last September when she was invited to join the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. Last week her controversial memoir, "Infidel," was published here. With armed guards just outside her office, she sat down with NEWSWEEK's Eve Conant to discuss the Muslim extremists who have threatened to kill her, life in America and whether she's a "colonial feminist":

HIRSI ALI: No. There is no official state fatwa , like the one Salman Rushdie had. There are simply individuals who think that by killing me they will go right to heaven. I can't live my life looking over my shoulder all the time and thinking, "Oh, my God, am I going to be killed now?"

The bodyguards [outside] are armed, yes, but I'm not allowed to go into too much detail. The Dutch government is responsible for the armed guards--they pay for them. The Americans provide intelligence gathering. I'm so, so sorry I can't tell you more; you can try talking to the two guys outside, but they won't tell you anything.

Not threatened, but I've been recognized by some Muslim individuals who let me know they are not pleased with what I'm doing. That also happened in Europe, just people walking up to you and telling you, "Oh, you're that woman, I can't stand you." I just say, "OK, look, I'm eating now, please leave me alone."

I consider myself a liberal, a classic liberal. The state should provide opportunity but not coddle you. I'm an atheist, but I'm not proselytizing atheism. I'm for equal opportunity for women and for gays. Some of my colleagues here don't agree with me on all issues, but that's good because you can sharpen your own thoughts that way. We agree to disagree.

Yes I have, but I also don't really know what that means. Look--what am I saying about Muslim women? Allow a Muslim girl to finish school, let a Muslim woman be financially independent and let her control her own body. Is that colonial feminism? Then fine, I'm a colonial feminist.

Let me tell you, I'm not wearing Prada today [ laughs ]. There are some 150 million women [of different religious backgrounds] who have undergone genital mutilation. When I was living in Africa I was not aware that this was a bad thing, because it happened to all the girls around me. And my arranged marriage: I wanted out of it, but I didn't blame it on Islam. What I tried to do in my book is explain the context in which these things took place. At that time Islam was absolutely not relevant as a source of pain to me. The real moment, for me, was after the 11th of September. I started to download bin Laden's propaganda and compare it to what was written in the Qur'an, just to check if it was really there. It was, and I was really disappointed and deeply disturbed.

Yes, I'm happy here. The only thing that bothers me is when you go to a restaurant they put ice in your water.