Ayaan Hirsi Ali restyles herself with launch of children's book

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch writer, feminist and former MP has written her first book for children, a work of fiction that risks unleashing a fresh storm of anger from her critics. Adan and Eva tells the story of a friendship between a Jewish girl, whose parents are driven by money, and a Muslim boy who is beaten by his father.

Ms Hirsi Ali, one of the world's most outspoken critics of radical Islam, has lived under the shadow of a fatwa since the 2004 murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, with whom she made a film about Islam's treatment of women. She is bracing for another furore. "Everything I have ever said or written has been met with hostility and rejection by the vast majority of the Islamic community," she shrugs. "I don't expect it to be any different this time."

A letter targeting her by name was pinned to Van Gogh's body with the knife used to kill him. She fled to the United States.

Although ostensibly aimed at children, Adan and Eva, published in the Netherlands today is far from a breezy bedtime read. Eva is alienated by her wealthy, ostentatious parents while Adan, from an immigrant suburb of Amsterdam, is terrorised by his Moroccan father. The youngsters gradually overcome their preconceptions of what it means to be Jewish and Muslim but all hell breaks loose when their families find out about their friendship.

"There is a scene in which Adan is hit and kicked out by his father, which I know will provoke anger in a community where it is common to hit children," Ms Hirsi Ali admits. "But sometimes you need to be provocative to trigger open discussions, something which is simply not happening right now."

But she insists she is depicting a true picture: "I lived in Holland for 14 years and I know these neighbourhoods from which Adan and Eva come inside out These communities are divided and they do harbour prejudices."

The book, co-written with children's author Anna Gray, is likely to generate more hate mail for Ms Hirsi Ali, at a time when she is struggling to raise millions of dollars for protection. The Dutch government stopped footing her security bills last year after she moved to Washington DC to work for a conservative think-tank.

Ms Hirsi Ali had previously set out her challenge to Islamic teaching on women in The Caged Virgin. She hopes her attempt at children's fiction, to be published in English later this year, will motivate other authors. "I know mine is not an easy read but children's lives are not easy. We can play a big role in encouraging them to be more open towards one another and grow up to be different from their parents."

"We often overlook the importance of getting children to learn about other cultures. So they don't end up sitting in a classroom, not talking to their neighbours because they have different backgrounds. It was books that cured me of my prejudices."