From the moment that AYAAN HIRSI ALI fled to the Netherlands to seek political asylum in 1992, she has been a lightning rod for controversy and a conduit for conversation about Islam in the modern world. The daughter of a Somali politician and opposition leader, Ali spent her childhood deeply immersed in the culture of Islam and embraced its values without reservation.

At the age of 23, Hirsi Ali was expected by her family to marry a distant cousin who lived in Canada. She fled, instead, to the Netherlands where she was granted political asylum. In time, she began working as a translator at a refugee center in Rotterdam. The cumulative effect of the stories she heard working with women along with her new access to a wide range of books began to challenge her faith. This journey continued as she entered the Dutch higher education system, eventually earning a post-graduate degree in political science in 2000.

The events of September 11, 2001, had a tectonic effect on her beliefs as she was unable to reconcile her lingering belief that Islam could be a vehicle for peace with the violence of the attacks”. In 2002, she renounced Islam and became an atheist. As she emerged in the Netherlands as an outspoken opponent of Islamic culture, she became a prominent voice in the conversations on Islamic immigration and assimilation to the West.  At the same time, she became the target of numerous death threats. 

These calls for violence against her reached a climax in 2004 when she collaborated with Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh on Submission, a film composed of monologues written by Hirsi Ali that exposed the plight of women under Islam. In November of 2002, van Gogh was murdered in public and a letter addressed to Hirsi Ali was left pinned to his body calling for jihad against the West and, more specifically, for Hirsi Ali’s death.

Having been elected to the Dutch parliament in 2003, Hirsi Ali spent the next several years in hiding and enmeshed in controversy regarding her citizenship. In 2006, after her citizenship had been revoked and then reinstated, Hirsi Ali moved to the United States and began working with the American Enterprise Institute.

Ali’s autobiography, Infidel, was published in 2007 followed by 2010’s Nomad: From Islam to America – A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations.

Today, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a widely recognized international speaker who continues to advocate on behalf of women’s rights and an outspoken proponent of the idea that spread of Islam poses an existential danger to Western liberal values. Though the threats against her life persist, she continues to defend the rights of Muslim girls and women through the AHA Foundation, of which she is the founder and president, as well as her public presentations.

Read the whole Ray and Mary Giles Symposium on Citizenship and Public Service brochure here.

Ray & Mary Giles

Ray Giles dedicated his life to public service and to the state of Oklahoma. During a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, Giles was awarded three Battle Stars, the Purple Heart, and the Air Medal for his service in Europe. He returned to Caddo County in 1945 and assumed the role of wheat farmer. Giles became active in local politics, serving on the State Board of Agriculture and ultimately as an Oklahoma State Senator, a position he held from 1976 to 1992. 


On the bustling floor of the Oklahoma State Senate, Giles was an icon. Year after year, the senator from District 23 voted his conscience, represented the agenda of the farmer, and supported the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. 


Like her husband, Mary Martin Giles was dedicated to public causes, particularly education. She attended the Oklahoma College for Women in the early 1940s. She taught in Carnegie schools for five years and was a member of the Grady County Mineral Owners Association as well as her church. She was passionate about farming and issues related to farming. 


Ray Giles passed away in 1995, followed by Mary in 1998. Their legacy of service and commitment to family, education, and agriculture in Oklahoma lives on through the Ray and Mary Giles Lectureship at USAO.