In a recent Slate piece, journalist Christopher Hitchens recounts his first meeting with the controversial Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, noting in particular her “arresting and hypnotizing beauty.” Not surprisingly Ms. Hirsi Ali’s supermodel looks combined with a goodly amount of brains have captivated many Europeans. That love affair, however, ended abruptly this week when the Dutch immigration minister announced that Hirsi Ali would lose her Dutch citizenship. The news arrived just before the MP resigned her seat in the lower house of parliament. Her reason? Apparently the former MP is not all she’s cracked up to be.
In the U.S., Hirsi Ali is perhaps best known as the scriptwriter of the 11-minute film Submission, the stimulus for Theo van Gogh’s brutal murder by the Dutch Moroccan jihadist Mohammed Bouyeri. (A note left impaled into van Gogh’s corpse warned that the same fate awaited Hirsi Ali.) In Holland, however, she is the former Labor Party and now former Liberal Party MP known for criticizing her adopted country’s unthinking embrace of multiculturalism and its unwillingness to check the excesses of Islamic fundamentalists. Because of her outspokenness she has been under 24-hour police protection for most of the past five years. Not that this has deterred her from speaking out. “I’m not intimidated by the threats and the attempts to make me shut my mouth, because living in a rich western European country like this one, I have protection that I otherwise would not have in Somalia or in Africa or in any other Islamic country,” she told the BBC. (It goes without saying that had Theo van Gogh received the same protection, he too would be alive today.)
In his Slate column, Hitchens implies that Hirsi Ali is resigning her seat and leaving Holland because she is disrespected there, and cites as one example the fact that she was forced to give up her apartment when neighbors complained about the danger her presence posed to their security. A legitimate, if shallow concern. However, it now seems that Hirsi Ali’s exile may not be entirely voluntary.
Last week a documentary film on Dutch television accused Hirsi Ali of fabricating a good deal of the information on her 1992 asylum application. Hirsi Ali claimed she was seeking to escape war-torn Somalia and an arranged marriage to a Canadian Muslim relative, a charge some family members deny. She later claimed that she lied about her name, age and country of origin to protect herself from vengeful family members. In fact, Hirsi Ali had not lived in “war-torn” Somalia for at least 11 years before filing her asylum application, and had instead enjoyed an upper middle class existence in Kenya. She admitted as much to the BBC in 2002: “Yes, I did lie to get asylum in Holland. I invented a story that would be consistent with the conditions for asylum.” In fact, she made up the story because Somalis were then being granted asylum in large numbers due to the famine and civil war there.
Why such surprise at a dishonest politician? Perhaps because Hirsi Ali, an outspoken proponent of freedom of speech, is a hero and role model to hundreds of thousands of Europeans, and in particular Muslim women who are afraid to speak out for themselves. Indeed, Hirsi Ali is more than a politician; she is a noted screenwriter and nonfiction author, three professions where one is only as good as his word (unless one is a fiction writer, which Hirsi Ali isn’t. Yet).
Her lies raise another troubling question, one with overtones to the infamous Vietnam War college deferment dodge. How many truly deserving asylum seekers did Hirsi Ali jump ahead of in line?
After the extent of her lies became known Immigration Minister “Iron” Rita Verdonk vowed to strip Hirsi Ali of her Dutch citizenship, but caving into political and media pressure she is now reconsidering. (Perhaps “Jello” Rita would be a more fitting nickname.) Nor is every one sad to see her go. Former VVD minister Hans Wiegel told Expatica that her departure “would not be a loss to the VVD and not be a loss to the [Dutch parliament].” Half of the Dutch people seem to agree. A poll this week reported that 49 percent of Dutch favored stripping Hirsi Ali of her citizenship.
Hirsi Ali is expected to announce soon that she has accepted a plum job at the American Enterprise Institute. Doubtless she has some moving and important stories to tell, about undergoing forced female circumcision as a young girl, of her abandonment of her Islamic religion, and how she had been disappointed to learn that Islamic intolerance had preceded her to Europe. Yet I suspect that Hirsi Ali, a feminist and an atheist who defends homosexuality and euthanasia and reportedly once worked as an interpreter in an abortion clinic, will be as comfortable at AEI as a longtailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. That’s not to say she won’t be welcomed. She’ll certainly keep the fact-checkers from being bored.
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