Sunday, May 21, 2006

reflections on Ayaan Hirsi Ali


“Hirsi Ali is alles waar Nederland niet van houdt” [Hirsi Ali is everything the Netherlands does not like]
Corine Vloet, Opinie & Debat pg17, NRC Handelsbald 20 May 2006

The events and treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali has led to a lot of people, including me, questioning where the Netherlands – once known as a bastion of liberalism and tolerance— is heading. This columnist believes, however objectionable one may take the opinions and actions of Hirsi Ali to be, even more objectionable is the way Dutch culture and society seems to thrive on a recalcitrant attitude of ‘don’t rock the boat’—even when the boat is sinking.

“In the Netherlands [there is no merit] in someone starting a discussion where before there was no discussion; [instead] it is a threat. It seems to be a stubborn old-Dutch superstition: if something is not talked about, it does not exist either. Debate causes polarization, where there once only harmony and unanimity existed.”

Where did this attitude come from? Perhaps it is the well-respected and valued attitude toward individualism, and the protection against any threat to that individualism unleashed by discrimination.

“One of the things that is undisputed in the Netherlands is that you cannot discriminate—it is perhaps one of the biggest Dutch taboos. From a just and necessary ban on racism and discrimination—fed by feelings of guilt about the Second World War—there developed a deep-rooted, cultural-relativistic aversion toward every form of diversity. Everything and everyone is exactly as good as the rest, and not a bit better.”

So why has Hirsi Ali become the target of attacks and hatred, or perhaps even ridicule in the eyes of so many in the Netherlands? Why is the Netherlands’ own version of Salman Rushdie not revered and respected, but feared and ‘chased away’?

“ [worse] than all her controversial opinions together was her uniqueness…She is something that we in the Netherlands do not like to see: a self-assured, intelligent, attractive, cosmopolitan, inspired, obstinate, strong, internationally successful and independent woman. And then also as black as soot!

[…] The Netherlands would have found Hirsi Ali to be a bit more acceptable if she were somewhat uglier, somewhat more stupid and somewhat more unfortunate […]"

And how much does the fact that she is a woman play in the repeated attempts to disgrace and discredit her? And what does that attitude say about Dutch society and culture in general?

“[She] focused on the improvement of the position of women. But—and this is one of the reasons that her ideas did not find more echoes— in the Netherlands we do not consider women to be that important. How else can you explain the great gaps, compared to other western countries, in the realm of labour participation, child care, income disparity, and the percentage of women in leadership positions? Year after year it is reported in reports and research, without the government ever drawing any links to those consequences. Women are not an issue to score points in the Netherlands. ”

And this betrayal of the very values that the Netherlands prides itself on does not stop there. The ideals, norms and values that have been repeatedly propogandised by the current government have all been embraced by Hirsi Ali, yet never been recognized.

“More crucially, it appears that all the pretence about the role of ideals and values in our society has been modestly underestimated by the idealistic new-comer as Hirsi Ali. From her first publication she has written with the passion of a convert about democratic principles, western values and the ideals of the Enlightenment. In this she was consistent to the bone. Who else would, in the name of freedom of expression, have pleaded for Mohamed Fahmi B., member of the Hofstad-group (terrorist cell), who she believes is unjustly sitting in jail. ‘Application of the law should not lead to the hollowing of [the] open society’, Hirsi Ali said about his case. That he would probably rather see her, together with that open society, burn in hell, does not matter.

“It is a shame that […] Dutch ideals and principles have fared badly. Dutch values follow the road with the leas resistance. They can be maintained as long as nothing is at risk. As soon as someone makes a noisy protest, they melt like snow in the sun. We would rather like to keep ourselves to ad hominem arguments[1].”

And it is these ad hominem arguments, the labeling and singling out of people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali as ‘provocative’, ‘discriminatory’, or even ‘racist’, that silence debate, and thereby sweep problems under the rug. Disappointing yet insightful conclusion.

DIXIT Hirsi Ali
Opinie & Debat pg17, NRC Handelsbald 20 May 2006

Some things that Hirsi Ali have said or written in the past.

  • On joining the VVD party (Opinie, NRC Handelsbald, 31 October 2002)

"I realised that I will hereby get the chance to move issues [about abused allochtonous women, their subjugation due to social-cultural factors] from the circles of the social work and debate-houses and place them on the political agenda--where they always should be. And in fact it is about the fundamentals of our state according to the rule of law, and therefore about the question in what country we want to live in and about the quality of all of our existences. [...] I have of course considered whether the VVD is able to deal with these issues and offer room to mention these issues by name--however sensitive that may be--with conviction. THe answer is: yes."

  • After the murder of director Theo van Gogh (Opinie, NRC Handelsbald, 3 November 2004)

"I feel guilty that I went to Theo with the script of 'Submission'. And that as a result he is dead. Rationally I know that only the perpetrator is guilty of his death. Emotionally that is very confusing. Theo and I have talked about the possible consequences for us both in depth. He said: "The moment that these considerations prevent you from expressing your opinion, then there is no freedom of expression, right? That is [lit. precisely what the Islamists want.]"

  • On the urgent need to combat extremism. (Opinie, NRC Handelsbald, 9 March 2006)

In the first instance are us women in no way organised or united. Women in wealthy countries, that have forced the equality before the law, are obligated to themselves to seize arms and come to the aid of our [comrades in gender].

Only our indignation and political pressure can lead to changes.
In the second instance there are forces of reaction.
Radical Islamites are busy with the rennaisonace and propogation of a cruel and reactionary set of laws [...]
In the third instance cultural-relativism undermines our moral indignation by defending the position that human rights is a western invention [...]

“De Meesterproef van Rita Verdonk” [The principal test of Rita Verdonk]
Marc Chavannes, Opinie& Debat pg16, NRC Handelsblad, 20 May 2006

The failings of Minister for Immigration Rita Verdonk as a minister in the past week are all too obvious. Not only did she turn back on her statements concerning the Hirsi Ali affair, she supposedly also lied to the public and in parliament about her knowledge of the fact that Hirsi Ali’s name were false. In a matter of days the fate of a respected, though controversial, politician was decided—and Verdonk was the one responsible for breaking the news that Hirsi Ali never received Dutch citizenship.

“An overview: a minister who behaved and reasoned like a headless chicken, a Parliament that drowned in a full-day of emotion-driven TV, a Prime Minister and a Vice Prime Minister who ‘after the great calamity’ were busy with what in Hirsi Ali’s future place of residence is called ‘covering their asses’, this all covered with a sauce of amateuristic lawyer-ism.”

No-nonsense, no deliberations with other ministers or members of the cabinet. Just did it. And the results of her actions dropped a bomb on her own political career, as well as shattered the reputation of the Netherlands worldwide.

“As a jurist Verdonk failed, due to the fact that she read the verdict of the Supreme Court like a computer translation programme: word in, word out. In no way did she seem to realise that the application of the law strives toward reasonableness and fairness. Even the decision that she repeated [to the extent that it drove one insane], offers the room [for discretion], some say: the duty.” There was no doubt about the identity of the woman that was known as Hirsi Ali in reality. Her place of origin was known, her family was contactable. If Hirsi Ali could prove that she had called her self in this way, or that using the name of her mother was normal for her, then there is no big deal. There was also little motive to suspect that she was an agent of an enemy state—another reason for the identification request.

As minister and jurist Verdonk behaved like an intern by swaying that decision around without giving consideration tot the fact that she knows that the final say rests not on the judge, but on the lawmaker. If she decides that [she is not persuaded] by a recent verdict of the Supreme Court, she can present an amendment to the law and ask the Parliament to handle them with urgency. The lawmaker has the final say.”

UPDATE 1 juni 2006

“Na Ayaan” [After Ayaan]
Stephan Sanders, pg96 Vrij Nederland, 27 mei 2006

Poor Ayaan, chased out of the Netherlands because she belonged in the “minority of the minorities”:

”The xenophobe right [wing] don’t want anything to do with her because she so explicitly was not from here; with the ‘allochthone Netherlands’ because she behaved […] as if she were from here; and the greater part of the Netherlands left [wing] didn’t want her, because she actually should belong in the left, but didn’t happen. In this way the different parties [factions], which had little in common, could find one another in their rejection of Hirsi Ali. With this unholy undertaking I have also felt an element of resentment that shall not be missed—[also] one of the most dangerous grounds to base politics on.”

Was Ayaan misunderstood, even though her opinions and the way she expressed them sounded distasteful in many people’s ears?

“[…] Hirsi Ali was herself exceptionally free from holding grudges. No, she never did talk about ‘Muslims as retarded people […]m she caked Islam retarded, never the Islamites. Whoever does not understand that difference should think about Communism as a criminal system, without thereby saying that all Communists are criminals.”

[1] This is said when you reply to an argument by attacking the person presenting the argument rather than the argument itself.

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