Fighting Words

Dutch Courage

Holland’s latest insult to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In the two weeks since I wrote about the increasing isolation of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian, her isolation has markedly increased. Dutch courts have already required her to vacate her home as a result of her neighbors’ petition to have her evicted, and she was on the verge of resigning her seat in the Dutch parliament and of requesting the right of residence in the United States. But this was not enough to satisfy her critics. A leftist news team in the Netherlands has broadcast an item about the way in which she had initially entered the country, and now the immigration minister has proposed stripping her of citizenship (and thus of her seat in parliament) as a result of the irregularities involved.

The Hague is a much less surreal place than Prague, but there are elements of this proceeding that might have made Franz Kafka smile. Unlike Joseph K, Hirsi Ali is very well aware of the evidence against her; indeed, she is the author of it. She has several times explained, in public and in print, that, among other things, she changed her name to get political asylum in the Netherlands. This was partly to prevent her family—her father being a well-known Somali politician—from discovering her whereabouts after she had fled an arranged marriage to a distant relative. The minister in the present case—a former prison warden named Rita Verdonk—comes off less as a Kafka figure than as a cross between Nurse Ratched and Capt. Renault in Casablanca, who was “shocked, shocked” to find out what was going on at Rick’s Cafe. A prisoner of her own rectitude, she has decided that now is the time to display zero tolerance for refugees who falsify their biographies. She has also decided that someone who was quietly leaving anyway must also be kicked out. It reminds me of those cults and sects from which it is impossible to resign, because if you say you want to quit, you will instead be expelled.

Writing in the New York Times last Friday, Ian Buruma said that Ayaan Hirsi Ali ought to have spoken out more for those who had been denied asylum in the Netherlands. (He is the author of a forthcoming book about the murder of Theo van Gogh, who was Hirsi Ali’s partner in the making of a film about the maltreatment of women in the Muslim ghettos of Dutch cities.) This point doesn’t seem to me to carry much weight. If she had become the spokeswoman for other refugees, her own story of making a partially false application could (and would) have been used against her even more. Instead, she pointed out that many perfectly legal immigrants to Holland were trying to import dictatorship rather than flee from it, and for this she attracted lethal hatred. If it had not been this charge, it would have been something else. She has already been made the object of a murder campaign, put under virtual house arrest in the name of her own “protection,” evicted from her home, and accused of all manner of incitement. I hardly think that her numberless enemies would have left it at that. And they have now chosen to invoke the full and literal letter of the law, with exactly the same consistency with which they used to overlook it.

In point of fact, as was said several times in heated debate in the Dutch parliament, the discovery of a false statement on an immigration form (even when the proof is not provided by the person concerned, as in this case) is not automatic grounds for the removal of citizenship. The minister has discretion in the matter. Perhaps the fact that Verdonk and Hirsi Ali are members of the same party has something to do with it: Verdonk is thereby avoiding any insinuation of favoritism toward a colleague. But all this pedantry and bureaucratic legalism cannot obscure the main point, which is that an elected politician with an important and individual message has been hounded to the point where she feels that she must resign and told that whether she resigns or not, she will be dismissed. The Dutch voters who elected and re-elected her are mere spectators to the process.

Once again to mention her excellent new book The Caged Virgin, this is an author and a politician who has made the transition from early Islamic fanaticism (she initially endorsed the fatwa against Salman Rushdie) to a full-out acceptance and advocacy of secularism and of Enlightenment ideals. Hirsi Ali calls for a pluralist democracy where all opinion is protected but where the law does not—in the name of some pseudo-tolerance—permit genital mutilation, “honor” killing, and forced marriage. One might have expected a more robust defense of this position from the Dutch, and indeed the international left, but instead there has been a response of extraordinary and sullen ungenerousness, as if a lone woman defying taboo and standing up to violence has in some way let down the side and become a menace to multiculturalism.

It will be delightful to have Ayaan Hirsi Ali in Washington. But the American Enterprise Institute, which has offered her a perch, is not the place where she is most needed. In Holland, every day, extremist imams preach intolerance and cruelty, and, when they are criticized, invoke the help of foreign embassies to bring pressure on the Dutch authorities. They face no risk of expulsion. In my youth, the action of lighting one person’s cigarette with another was called—don’t ask me why—a “Dutch f***.” I once heard a young lady, offered a light in those terms, respond loftily by saying, “Doesn’t say much for the Low Countries, does it?” No, it didn’t, and neither does this mean and petty harassment of a woman who has also redefined that old expression “Dutch courage.”