Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, continued

What a turn of events!

Just watched an emotional press conference delivered by Ayaan Hirsi Ali(AHA). She has decided to step down as parliamentarian, and has also given more details to her decision to leave the Netherlands. She also reacted with great disbelief to the “dis-proportionate” decision that was made last night that her Dutch citizenship will be revoked. She spoke, at moments looking as if she was holding back tears, but her voice stayed strong and committed. There was loud applause after she finished. My favourite, and a powerful statement (which is not in the script):

I am leaving, but the questions remain. The questions about the future of Islam in our country, about the oppression of women in the Islamic culture and about integration of the many Muslims in the West. It is self-delusion to think that that everything will be the same as before. Because the world changed after 9/11 .

Her speech can be found here in English. Dutch version here.

About lying to obtain asylum status: she argues that it was out of desperation, and that she was forced to do it under the circumstances. Asylum seekers often do fabricate stories to back up their claim, in order not to be sent back. Whether that is moral or responsible has to be judged against the desperation and situation. And besides, she has, publicly in the national and international press in many occasions admitted that she had not told the whole truth. Why persecute her now for something that she admitted several years ago?

(Picture: NOS live)

About the real circumstances surrounding her asylum: contrary to what the Zembla extravaganza tried to make the audience believe, AHA claims that she was indeed married off by her father, who “is not a man who takes no for an answer”, and that there is “nothing more and nothing less”. I mean let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Would you like to be in such a situation? Would you not try to escape if you had the opportunity, rather than be forced into a lifetime of unhappiness and restraint?

Further, there’s the issue that she was recently forced in a court decision to move out of her house in Den Haag. Her neighbours had complained that the security measures were being a burden, so filed a lawsuit, which the court decided against her favour. Like she said, wherever she goes now and even if she wins an appeal that the Minister of Justice Donner is filing on her behalf, she’ll probably have to move again. It has just become too unsafe for her (and others who are vocal and unafraid of raising debate) to stay…anywhere. If trying to raise debate and issues that have for a long time been swept under the carpet of multiculturalism and ‘let-them-be-ism’ (a phenomenon that just doesn’t happen here in the Netheralnds, but also elsewhere in Europe and the ‘west’ in general) is considered provocative and dangerous, then debate is dead, and so are the values democracy. Before you know it outbreaks of violence and lawlessness in the banlieus of France last year will spread.

About the citizenship issue. Let’s review of the twist in the events:

  • One day later, on Friday 12 May 2006, Verdonk changes her position 180 degrees and says that there should be an investigation. This, btw, is from a minister who is also running for leadership of the self-proclaimed ‘liberal’ VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) which takes a hard stance towards immigration.
  • Monday 15 May 2006, effectively less than 48hrs after the investigation into AHA’s citizenship status, Minister Verdonk decides that she does not have Dutch nationality. Now that's quick! What happened to a proper investigation, taking all the facts into account? What happened to respecting personal privacy?

AHA is of course preparing to challenge the decision. And a number of legal experts and supporters of AHA are also preparing to take legal action against the Minister, who already knew at the time that the naturalisation process was underway that AHA had not revealed the truth about her identity.

In the press conference today, Gerrit Zalm (Minister of Finance and Vice-Prime Minister), in his personal capacity, said he was astounded by the speed at which the decision was made. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) is infamous for its backlog of pending decisions. (Once a friend of mine waited over 6months to get his residence permit. By the time he got it his 1yr employment here was almost over). But the case surrounding AHA was decided within a matter of less than 48hrs. Are we seeing a new IND, that is efficient and fast? Zalm even joked that if this is the new IND, then perhaps the renewed application will be handled as speedily as before. He did make another point: how come for three years nobody made an issue out of the fact that AHA had lied about her identity, and all of a sudden because of some journalistic hype it has all become ‘news’? It’s not ‘news’, it’s media frenzy blown out of proportion about things that for many years were already known in public!

To me the whole affair just stinks of hypocrisy. We're talking about a parliamentarian who was voted into office, who has lived in the Netherlands for more than 15 years, who has contributed much to public debate and society. She has gone through so much, sacrificed much of her freedom and lived in fear and hiding for standing up for her views.

Stripping her of her Dutch citizenship is like admitting that parliament and all those ministers were so blind all these years. A requirement to be a member of parliament is Dutch citizenship (Art 4 of the Constitution). But now the Minister has decided that AHA can be considered never to have received that citizenship. So is she saying that for all those years we had a sham-politician in parliament? A ghost politician who gained 30000 votes! To do something like this does not reflect well on the decision makers then and now. Why not grant her naturalisation (again) solely based on her contribution alone, and forget about the past (a past that she has n.b. admitted several times as wrong )? At least do it out of a sense of humanity.

There are of course strong arugments that all should be treated before the law...but the law also describes that different situations and circumstances be taken into account when decision are made. Law cannot just be blindly applied as if it's one-size-fits-all. AHA is a different case, a different person. What happened to the humanitarian consideration? This coming from a country which prides itself as tolerant and liberal, welcoming of immigrants and asylum seekers really hurts.

I leave you with what her thoughts on leaving… or as I see it being forced to leave.

I am therefore preparing to leave Holland. But the questions for our society remain. The future of Islam in our country; the subjugation of women in Islamic culture; the integration of the many Muslims in the West: it is self-deceit to imagine that these issues will disappear.

I will continue to ask uncomfortable questions, despite the obvious resistance that they elicit. I feel that I should help other people to live in freedom, as many people have helped me. I personally have gone through a long and sometimes painful process of personal growth in this country. It began with learning to tell the truth to myself, and then the truth about myself: I strive now to also tell the truth about society as I see it.

That transition from becoming a member of a clan to becoming a citizen in an open society is what public service has come to mean for me. Only clear thinking and strong action can lead to real change, and free many people within our society from the mental cage of submission. The idea that I can contribute to their freedom, whether in the Netherlands or in another country, gives me deep satisfaction.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as of today, I resign from Parliament. I regret that I will be leaving the Netherlands, the country which has given me so many opportunities and enriched my life, but I am glad that I will be able to continue my work. I will go on.

Now there’s a brave woman with a cause.


"Why this sudden impetus, you knew this for years. What drove you to act in such a harsh and such a reckless manner? It's not the battle for to be the leader (lijsttrekker) of the VVD, I hope?"
Minister Verdonk has made it clear that she would like to be the party leader of the VVD, and also the next prime minister. Her campaign is based on the slogan "daadkracht" (strength) and the promise to "shake the Netherlands up a bit"
She's really achieving her aim...
  • It appears that the IND already conducted an investigation into AHA's past, and nothing came of it in 2002. Which is more the reason to ask why now, why her?

  • Since she is now legally obliged to move house, you can support AHA here, by registering as her neighbour. It was set up by a residence in the Archipelbuurt of Den Haag where she lives.

  • Trouw published an article reviewing AHA's life and contributions, suggesting that perhaps the VVD is grown tired of her...or that she has outgrown the VVD:

“She made many enemies, within the [parliamentarian] faction and without. That had to do with jealousy; everywhere she went there were cameras. But it also had to do with her opinions on for example the ‘special education’ [bijzonder onderwijs], which she is again, because this makes it possible for the establishment of Islamic schools. And her opinions on honour crimes, shelters for victims of abuse, domestic violence, the separation of religion and state, and the closing of radical mosques”.

"She initiated and denounced, but as a debater came across as less vocal. [...] She let herself be known as an activistic politician, a kind that you would sooner see at the Socialist Party [Socialistische Partij] or the Green Left [GroenLinks], and rather than with the well-behaved VVD'ers. She was strongly internationally orientated, with which she also indicated that the Dutch parliament was a little bit too small for her."


“The VVD could not get along well with a person with the calibre of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Her charisma and assertiveness are characteristics which liberals, certainly the backbenchers, were uncomfortable with. […] Under the leadership of the former faction-leader Van Aartsen, under the influence of Hirsi Ali, the party transformed from a classical liberal party into an emancipation movement. Now that Van Aartsen is gone and that Hirsi Ali is going overseas the party will undoubtedly, in one way or another, return to its roots.”


  • The Guardian has poignantly pointed out that perhaps AHA was used to a "useful political cover for the VVD party[...] to deny accusations of racism". If so, maybe they decided she had become more a liability than gain.
  • The Wall Street Journal writes that the country is suffering from "Dutch Disease"(don't have the original article, so this is just a reference):

"For centuries the Netherlands has been known as a safe haven for dissidents, today is the day when the Dutch dissident [AHA] who has to look for a safe haven" [translation mine]
  • German paper, Die Welt, writes about this "affair" (in inverted commas):
"This recent asylum does not put the 36 year old to shame, in its stead it is the Netherlands, which could not--or does not want to-- protect an independent voice" [translation mine]

UPDATE 17 May 2006

"You can not equate lying in an asylum request with fraud. It is completely different from lying in the tax[declaration] or something like that. You don't want to be found by people from your home country, that's what it's a about."
The professor also believes that the contributions of AHA to the country should qualify her for naturalisation immediately:
"Hirsi Ali is legally speaking stateless [due to the] letter of Verdonk, in which Verdonk states that Hirsi Ali never received Netherlander-citizenship. The loss of nationality is the loss of human rights, certainly in her case."

  • Minister Verdonk has on several occasions said that the Hirsi Ali affair has nothing to do with her intention to become faction-leader of the VVD. Before the whole issue broke loose, she was enjoying the so-called 'Rita-effect' and actually pulled support for the party based on her 'no-nonsense', 'direct-and-clear' (recht door zee) approach, despite the fact she doesn't really have a coherent political agenda or plans. The handling of the Hirsi Ali affair only showed how "stubborn' Verdonk is, and won her criticism from all factions of the parliament, as well as from the majority of members in her own VVD party.

"One might have imagined that the Netherlands, as a bastion of liberal values, would guarantee that right. Ms Hirsi Ali is a full citizen of the country and, until yesterday, was an elected member of the Dutch Parliament. She is entitled to expect the same kind of protection that Salman Rushdie once had in the years after the publication of Satanic Verses. Instead, she finds herself today abandoned by her political colleagues and forced into exile."

A good comparison. Last night in the programme NOVA, writer and friend of AHA Paul Scheffer argued that the 'poldermodel' of consensus making and maintaining that is dominant in Dutch politics and society has a centralising effect. It provides stability and certainty, but on the other hand also has a restraining effect, in which 'other' voices and perspectives are effectively silenced. So AHA's struggles and opinions, however true or current they are, cannot gain much momentum in the country, and as a result she is marginalised.

This is a sad day in the history of liberal democracy, a stain on the reputation of a once-tolerant country and a setback for the reputation of Islam itself, cementing the impression that is simply not open to criticism. In particular, it lets down Muslim women, who are still being subjected to forced marriages. The debate about its role in Western society is one of the most urgent and complex that confronts us today — only this week, the Government launched an attempt to find a frame of traditional British values that could encompass young Muslim opinion. At the very least, therefore, we should be free to hear all strands of opinion, however challenging they may be.

Of course The Times could not hold back the stiff-upper-lip attitude of how the British seems better than the rest.

Ms Hirsi Ali’s penetrating analysis of religion and society in Muslim countries should be answered, not ignored. This is not just a matter of a novel satirising the Prophet, or a few insulting cartoons; hers is a sustained and clear-sighted critique of Islam, from someone who has experienced its restrictions and believes that there is a reasonable case to be made against it. A country that turns its back on those views reveals itself, not only as illiberal, but one that has lost confidence in the resilience of its own democracy."

Has the Netherlands really lost its international standing and identity as the champion of liberal values and tolerance?

  • A Financial Times interview with AHA last year, with more on her life and opinions and how they became formed. This sentence by AHA probably ties in well with what is going on now, and her decision to leave

    “I feel more and more at home in New York. You see people of all colours. So many people of colour are successful there. You realise that it is nothing genetic.”

    ...“I feel safer outside Holland,” she says. “Different people, different languages. A false sense of security, I’m sure.”

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