Hirsi Ali
Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch parliamentarian, smiles as she speaks at the European Parliament in Brussels February 14, 2008. Reuters/Francois Lenoir

Controversial speaker and Somali-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali has cancelled her speaking tour in Australia and New Zealand, citing security concerns. The anti-Islam speaker had been scheduled to express her views at events in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland this week.

Dubbed “Hero of Heresy,” Hirsi Ali reportedly lives with security protection 24/7 because of her statements regarding radical Islamists. She was set to appear as a panellist on ABC programme "Q&A" on Monday. Her appearance has now been cancelled.

Hirsi Ali's visit to Australia received criticism as well, with nearly 400 people signing an online petition to stop her from visiting the country. "Against a backdrop of increasing global Islamophobia, Hirsi-Ali's divisive rhetoric simply serves to increase hostility and hatred towards Muslims," the petition said, adding that there will be many protests during her events.

However, Hirsi Ali has been fearless about her views on Islam and its alleged problems. “I believe the religion of Islam itself is indeed capable of reformation, if only to distinguish it more clearly from the political ideology of Islamism,” she said in one of her papers published by Hoover.

Meanwhile, her tour organiser Think Inc issued a statement on its official website. “Ayaan Hirsi Ali regrets that, for a number of reasons including security concerns, she must cancel her upcoming appearances in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Auckland. She wishes the event organisers, Think Inc., success in their future endeavours and hopes to be able to return to Australia (and New Zealand) in the not too distant future.”

Around two thousand tickets were sold for the events in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland. The organisers say that they will start issuing refunds “within 7-21 days.” Hirsi Ali has been at the centre of widespread criticism, receiving death threats from various Islamic groups. Born to a Muslim family in Somalia, she renounced her religion and was granted political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992. She was elected an MP in 2003.

Hirsi Ali moved to the United States after her life fell in danger because of the short film “Submission,” which she made. The film juxtaposes images of violence against women alongside verses from the Koran. Her film collaborator, Theo van Gogh, was killed by a radical Islamist in 2004.