Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Affair: Final Act

To follow up on the last chapter of the Ayaan Hirsi Ali affair: she finally got her Dutch citizenship back, but not without a foul stench in the air.

Reminder: The whole case erupted because a (sensationalist) investigative journalist programme ‘exposed’ the fact that the prominent Somali-born Member of Parliament had ‘lied’ about her name and date of birth when she first came to the Netherlands. Minister Verdonk for Integration first says there’s no need to worry, then promptly starts an investigation and within 48 hours it was decided that Ayaan is to be considered never having received Dutch citizenship. Ayaan then forfeits her right to be MP, because to be an MP you must be Dutch.

Now Minister Verdonk decided that Ayaan DID obtain her citizenship after all, and this is despite the fact that she argues her decision previously to revoke Ayaan’s status was correct.

In a letter by Minister Verdonk, Ayaan could use the name Hirsi Ali because according to Islamic tradition, Ayaan’s father’s father received the name at birth, and only acquired the (real) name Magan later on. Verdonk goes to great lengths about why this is acceptable, and backs this up with evidence that leaves a “reliable impression”. With regards to the incorrect details about Ayaan’s year of birth (1969, instead of 1967 as was given), Verdonk makes a sweeping conclusion in this respect: once the name is identified, then the exact date of birth is of no relevance. The date of birth is on its own not enough reason to doubt the identity of the person concerned. Thus Ayaan did get her citizenship in 1997.

So what was all the fuss about? Why did Verdonk say in May that Ayaan should be considered not having ever received Dutch citizenship—as a result of which Verdonk effectively forced a standing MP out of office? Perhaps, as many pundits have suggested, Verdonk saw the ‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali card’ as an opportunity to bolster her own ‘tough’ image in the candidacy for her party leader election (which she lost).

At the end of the letter she adds staunchly, in her own defence:

“I conclude that without the procedures I followed through, the facts that
were decisive for the conclusion that I have just reached would not have

In an ‘Overview of Facts’ [Feitenrelaas] released by the Ministry of Justice, it was perfectly clear that the Immigration Service as well as the Security Service (AIVD) were both well aware of the fact that AHA’s name was different—this as far back as 2002. In September of that year, AHA revealed in a TV (Barend en Van Dorp) interview that she gave incorrect information on her asylum application. When this was brought to the attention of the VVD party, the party top did not consider it an issue. And further no other investigation was conducted into the matter.

A reserved Ayaan writes in a statement taking all the blame that had been pointed toward Minister Verdonk. She should not have said she ‘lied’—for that was the spark that unleashed the political wildfire— but instead she should have gone into great lengths and unearthed documentary evidence of her clang history, and that she should dusted off ancient Somali tradition and codes of conduct on names to clarify that under Somali tradition Ali, the name of her grandfather, can also be used, and she chose to do that when applying for naturalisation:

“My announcement that I lied about my identity does not reflect reality.
Here it is more about facts that the minister [Verdonk] could not know about and
I have complete understanding for [the way] she behaved as she did. I regret
that with my announcement had put her on in the wrong. I shall continue through
life as Ayaan Hirsi Ali.”

All of a sudden the wrong doer becomes the righteous judge simply performing her task, while the victim becomes the scapegoat for her ‘slip of the tongue’. Let’s not forget who was the one who reversed her decision and remarks again, and again, and again. Sounds like someone forced Ayaan to write, or at least make, the statement!

An opinion in the NRC Handelsblad about this shady Hagueian deal:

“[…] It is the worst possible example of Hagueian comprise: all
involved parties are of the opinion that everyone’s position has been justified.
But outside the circle of consensus it is clear that the solution is

Attached to the chosen solution lies above all a
dubious [concession]. Hirsi Ali is only able to keep her passport on the
condition that she sign a declaration in which she takes the all blame for the
situation that existed upon herself. She signed thus a [vent] for Minister
Verdonk [that was] compiled by Den Haag. […] No value can be attached to a
declaration that is laid down under such pressure. The declaration proves only
that Verdonk does not know where the exercise of power becomes abuse of

As I understand it vaguely (since I’m still away from the country) heated debates took place in Parliament after Verdonk’s decision was announced. A motion of non-confidence against the Minsiter was served in Parliament, but subsequently rejected. The coalition party D66 was one of the parties that served the motion. And to my surprise, two days after the end of the Ayaan Affair, the coalition government collapsed as three ministers from the fringe D66 party tendered their resignation. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

No coincidence, as Alexander Pechtold, leader of D66 explains:

“[our confidence] in the Minster for Integration was gone after it
became clear, through the ‘openness’ of the Prime-Minister, how the declaration
of Ms Hirsi Ali came to be. ”

So more evidence that Ayaan was forced to release the statement under pressure! What severe consequences this has for Dutch politics: dump the weak and save the indignant.

“There was something wrong in the relationship between government and
citizen, in this case Ms Hirsi Ali, because in a vulnerable situation she had no
choice. In such a situation a government may never make abuse of it. This does
not fit in a state governed by the rule of law.”

More like ‘rule of woman’, in this case Verdonk, to me.

“[Verdonk’s letter] does nothing other than affirm a fact.”

And yet this affirmation seems enough to satisfy the majority of Parliament. Does nobody smell anything fishy at all? And it appears Prime-Minister Balkenende was satisfied with the ‘self-blame statement’ of Ayaan too.

An equally indignated Femke Halsema, leader of the GroenLinks (GreenLeft), said this in the Parliamentary debates:

“I am ashamed that we were forced to defend
one of us […] due to the arbitraryand political egomania of one minister. I am
ashamed towards Ayaan Hirsi Ali,who for six weeks already was the object of
suffering. I am also ashamed, andespecially towards all people in similar
situations who have vested their hopein us. And I am ashamed ultimately also
towards the Dutch citizens, because theprevention of loosing face of one
minister weighs heavier than right

Update 8 July 2006

Picture-diary of the fall of cabinet Balkenede II

Chronology of debate in Parliament on 29 June, a night De Volkrant has labelled "Night of Ayaan"

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