Ayan Hirsi: Secrets and lies that doomed a radical liberal

Ayaan Hirsi Ali championed the rights of Islamic women

and warned of the dangers to Holland from refugees.

Now she must leave the country after being accused of

lying her way in, writes Jason Burke in Rotterdam Jason Burke in Rotterdam

Sunday May 21, 2006

The Observer http://ift.tt/1AJL4I2 afternoon and the grubby 1950s glass and concrete

alleyways of Rotterdam’s centre are full of teenagers.

Black, white, dreadlocked, shaved, speaking Dutch,

Chinese, or a French-Arabic-Dutch mixture, all of them

wear jeans, T-shirts, and cheap leather bomber jackets

for boys, sequined belts for the girls. One or two

wear headscarves with their make-up and bangles. On a

bench is a stack of newspapers, the front page

recounting the latest twist in the saga of Ayaan Hirsi

Ali. ‘The rise, the fall and then the rise again,’

comments the seller sourly. ‘I hope this time she goes

for good.’

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born in Somalia in 1969, raised in

Kenya and Saudi Arabia, in Holland since 1992, is to

move on, once more a refugee of a sort.Her spokesman, Ingrid Pouw, yesterday finally put an

end to a week of rabid speculation, telling The

Observer that the 36-year-old MP will leave her

adopted country at the end of August to take up a

position at a conservative think-tank in Washington

DC. After announcing her retirement from Dutch

political life at a press conference last week, Hirsi

Ali went straight to a meeting with the US ambassador

to arrange for fast-track visas or even US residency

documents, Pouw said.Yesterday the dust was far from settling on the Hirsi

Ali affair. A TV programme highlighting lies Hirsi Ali

told on her asylum application and the subsequent

decision by hardline immigration minister Rita Verdonk

to strip her of her Dutch citizenship, has triggered a

political crisis in Holland. Elsewhere in Europe, the

shockwaves created by the controversy are spreading

too, with some claiming that another voice against

repression had been silenced by force and others

welcoming the end of a campaign seen as provocative

and negative.Once more, Hirsi Ali had succeeded in forcing the most

difficult, uncomfortable issues of immigration,

integration, religion and culture to the forefront of

debate in a fiercely uncompromising way.Hirsi Ali fled Somalia with her family to Saudi Arabia

when her father’s political activities brought him

into conflict with the Somali government, and then on

to Kenya.In 1992, fleeing an arranged marriage, she arrived in

Holland where she worked first as a cleaner and then

as a translator at a refugee centre in Rotterdam – an

experience that marked her deeply, according to one

friend interviewed by The Observer. A victim herself

of female circumcision, Hirsi Ali was shocked by the

male repression of immigrant women living in one of

the most developed and tolerant societies in the

world.She studied political science at Leiden University and

found a position in a leftwing think-tank. With such

credentials, as well as her striking looks, she was

well placed when the attacks of 11 September 2001

focused global attention on Islamic radicalism. Her

self-appointed mission was to make the Dutch and

Europeans aware of ‘the repressive nature of Islam’

and of the dangers of mass immigration, which led to

an invitation from the Dutch Liberal party to join

them and, very rapidly, to a seat in parliament.Despite the Liberals’ right-wing economics and

uncompromising anti-immigration stance, Hirsi Ali

pronounced the party her political home.Yet, though increasingly known in Holland, it was only

in 2004 that she became an international figure when

film-maker Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death by a

radical Islamist after he made a film with Hirsi Ali

called Submission, using quotes from the Koran

projected over a semi-naked woman to highlight

domestic violence in Muslim societies. After the

murder, Hirsi Ali went into hiding, surrounded by

bodyguards.But though she continued with her public,

parliamentary and international engagements, the

stress of constant death-threats and increasing

criticism of her trenchant statements, began to tell.

When, earlier this year, a court decided that she

would have to leave her home in The Hague because she

was endangering her neighbours, Hirsi Ali, friends

said, started thinking about moving overseas. And then

a new documentary was broadcast on Dutch TV. It was

made by Gus van Dongen, an experienced TV journalist.

He travelled to Somalia and Kenya to interview members

of Hirsi Ali’s family.’There was no agenda,’ van Dongen said last week. ‘She

is a politician who had made much of her background,

telling one story. We set out to check those facts.

That is all.’The TV programme, broadcast 10 days ago, highlighted

the fact that Hirsi Ali had falsified her original

asylum application in Holland, saying that she had not

come from war-torn Somalia as she claimed, but from

Kenya, where she had lived peacefully for 10 years.

The fact that she had lied was well-known, retorted

Hirsi Ali, making the point that was she was fleeing a

forced marriage. Not so, said van Dongen, using

testimony from her brother and husband to allege that

the marriage was not made under compulsion. Nor van

Dongen said, was Hirsi Ali raised in a strict Muslim

family.An old story, said Hirsi Ali.But not as far as Rita Verdonk, the Dutch ‘iron lady’

and minister of immigration, was concerned. Though a

member of the Liberal party too, she launched an

investigation and within days decided that Hirsi Ali

should be stripped of her passport. The result was a

huge row in parliament, splitting the Liberal party

and the rest of the ruling right-wing coalition. This

weekend Verdonk has promised to reconsider. But few

think she will change her stance.The affair has attracted international attention –

most of it misinformed according to Bas Heijne, a

newspaper columnist. ‘This is being completely

misjudged overseas,’ said Heijne. ‘It’s all about

domestic politics. The neo-conservative wave that

swept Holland in recent years is running out of steam

and turning in on itself. One of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s

problems is that she had no real political base,

either in immigrant communities or in the native Dutch

population.’But others, in Holland and overseas, see the battle as

representative of far deeper issues. Robert Zoellick,

number two at the US State Department, welcomed her

decision last week – in part a tacit condemnation of

‘wishy washy’ Europeans who refuse to take a firm

stance against radical islam.Such transatlantic criticism appears increasingly

inappropriate. On Thursday last week, the French

national assembly passed a hardline package of

immigration measures which will have a major impact in

coming years. In Holland, stricter laws have resulted

in a drop from 43, 500 asylum applications in 2000 to

12,300 last year. ‘It’s getting much harder for

refugees to get into Europe. All the ministers are

watching and copying each other,’ said Annemiek Bots,

of the Dutch Refugee Council.But the real issue raised by Hirsi Ali is not so much

immigration as integration – and free speech. For Gijs

van Westelaken, who made Submission with Van Gogh and

Ali, the activist has challenged ‘the complacency’ of

a society that would ‘do anything’ not to address the

difficult issue of how to integrate nearly 1.7 million

immigrants, one in 10 of the population, of whom

around two-thirds are Muslim. ‘Theo van Gogh was

silenced. Now Hirsi Ali has been silenced too,’ he

said. Yet there is little chance that she will abandon

her campaigning, he said. ‘It’s a mission, it’s what

makes her tick.’In Rotterdam the jury is still out on Hirsi Ali. The

port city is one of Holland’s most cosmopolitan with

more than 30 per cent of electors of foreign origin.

Recent elections saw a 25 per cent cut in seats on the

city council for the right-wing party linked to the

Liberals. In the Rotterdam Immigrants’ Association

offices, Mohammed Bibi, the director, praised the fact

that Hirsi Ali had ‘started a discussion’. ‘But she

did it in a very rude way and she related everything –

violence, female circumcision, repression – to

religion where actually it is cultural,’ he said.Burak, 25, a taxi driver from Turkey, said the only

good Hirsi Ali had done was to stimulate debate.

‘Islam is a religion of peace … People are

terrorists not because of their religion but because

of their hate,’ he said. Burak was unsure, however, if

he would stay in the Netherlands. ‘It is OK in Holland

but is getting bad to be a Muslim now.’In her own words …On immigration: ‘I am not against migration. It is

pragmatic to restrict migration, while encouraging

integration and fighting discrimination.’On religion: ‘I do not believe in God, angels and the

hereafter.’On 9/11: Referring to hijacker Mohammed Atta’s letter

to his accomplices telling them to pray for martyrdom,

she said: ‘If I were a male under the same

circumstances, I could have been there. It was exactly

what I used to believe.’On Islam: ‘When a Life of Brian comes out with

Muhammad in the lead role, directed by an Arab

equivalent of van Gogh, it will be a huge step.’On the lessons she learned from an Iranian-trained

Shia fundamentalist: ‘I had never seen an Israeli, but

we hated them because it was “Muslim” to hate them.’On herself: ‘I have no real social life. It’s like

having a body with no bottom [a Somali expression]…

who on earth can I saddle with a relationship? It’s

not off limits, and technically it can all happen. But

is it, as we say in Dutch, verstandig? Sensible? It

doesn’t seem sensible now.’


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