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On Ayaan Hirsi Ali: First the facts, then the opinions please

Much has been said about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, both in the Netherlands and abroad, and in order to discuss her, it is wise to first be fully acquinted with facts. But once again, a writer from abroad, this time Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post, has written this column about Ms Hirsi Ali littered with factual mistakes, which – sadly – give a wrong impression about the Dutch view on Ms Hirsi Ali.. Based on fuzzy facts, Ms Applebaum next accuses the Dutch state of betraying Ayaan Hirsi Ali, abandoning her and leaving her to her own devices. At Slate.com, an obviously very angry Christopher Hitchens does the same. Yet the story from a Dutch perspective, Ms Applebaum and Mr Hitchens, is found below, and it migh be enlightening.

The best way to go about Ms Applebaum’s column is to dissect it, error by error and hear-say by hear-say — although I’m sure that most of the errors were the result of that one major mistake many writers make: thinking that one source of information is a good source of information. Wrong; ‘one source is no source’, ‘two sources is only half better’ and ‘three sources means that you may be onto something’. That is how I learned the trade of journalism on my academy anyway.

Anyway. As any good columnist, Ms Applebaum poses a central question, and then adds facts — bullet-point style — to lay the foundations to her answering of the central question, usually in the last paragraph. Ms Applebaum’s central question:

The test is this: Are prominent, articulate critics of radical Islam, critics who happen to be citizens of European countries or the United States, entitled to the same free speech rights enjoyed by other citizens of European countries and the United States?

Ms Applebaum then goes on to say that everybody should be able to speak his or her mind. That’s a fact. Then she describes how writer Salman Rushdie has been needing protection for 18 years, ever since the Iranian regime declared a fatwa directing Muslims all over the world to kill him after Rushdie allegedly insulted Mohammed in his book ‘The Satanic Verses’. Again, fact. True, Rushdie never meant to purposely insult Muslims or Islam, but the fatwa is without a doubt fact, too, and that is why Rushdie cannot move anywhere without being shadowed by security bodyguards in the pay of the British government. (Salman Rushdie is a British citizen.) So fact, so good.

But then Ms Applebaum gets to Ms Hirsi Ali, and that’s where the facts get – well, a little fuzzy. As Ms Applebaum writes:

Hirsi Ali has been under Dutch police protection since 2002, when her public comments about mistreatment of women in the Dutch Muslim community and references to herself as “secular” led to death threats in Holland.

It must first be noted that at the time, Ms Hirsi Ali’s fundamental mistake was that she made no clear distinction between Muslims and fundamentalists of the Wahabbi sect and other fundamentalist ilk. To Ms Hirsi Ali, apparently all Muslims mistreat their women and Islam in general is “backward”. Those remarks not only brought her fame and made her an immediate icon of right-wing politicians, it also kick-started the death threats from (obviously deranged) Muslim fundamentalists like Mohammed Bouyeri, the man who killed movie director Theo van Gogh. From then on, Ms Hirsi Ali was to be protected by Dutch security bodyguards, paid for by the Dutch state.

Then Ms Hirsi Ali refuses to see that the vast majority of Muslims are people who feel that the traditionalists of the Moroccans from the Atlas mountain range in southern Morocco are “backward”, that they feel that the Turks from eastern Turkey are “stupid backward peasants”, she refuses to acknowledge that by far most Muslims recognize that the forced circumcision of young girls and women is a non-Muslim tribal tradition, described nowhere in the Qu’ran and carried out mostly in rural areas of northeastern Africa. Yet she accuses Islam in general of instigating, yes even promoting all these things. It would be a bit like saying that all Jews want to blow up the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem because of the birth of a red cow. In Israel itself, those Jewish fanatics are seen as just that by most Jews: fanatics, much like fundamentalist imams who call for the total subjugation of women to men are frowned upon and even ridiculed by many Muslims in countries like Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. I could go on, but let’s not.

Does the above justify Ms Hirsi Ali getting death threats? Of course not. And that’s why she received protection from the Dutch state.

Then Ms Applebaum quotes Dutch writer Leon de Winter, who talks “openly about his country’s failure to integrate Muslim immigrants, attributing the problems to the Dutch ‘guilt complex'”. “As soon as we let people from the Third World come here to work in our rich country, we . . . somehow saw them as sacred victims,” Ms Applebaum quotes De Winter. Now Ms Applebaum is quoting someone who voices an opinion but she presents it as fact.

Fact is that when corporations begged the Dutch state in the 1960s and 1970s to facilitate getting cheap labour from abroad, they got that cheap labour from the Atlas mountains in Morocco and the eastern part of Turkey. Successive Dutch governments assumed that these people would stay in the Netherlands for several years and then go back to their native countries, making it unnecessary for them to be forced to learn Dutch or adapt to Dutch culture. They were going back anyway, right? But international documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, other international treaties and side-treaties of the European Union gave those people various rights. Most had in the meantime raised children born here in the Netherlands, allowing them to stay here indefinitely. Still, no one bothered to look into how these people and their children were doing, much less how well (if at all) they were adapting to Dutch society.

But like so many Christians in small rural villages in the US Midwest, or Christians in small villages in the Dutch Bible-belt, those Muslims knew and know only one thing: the clergy have all the answers, as they preach the word of God, or Allah. It has always been like that and it always will be. Fundamentalist imams, scorned by the ever more liberal Muslims in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Pakistan, or kicked out of those countries by the present secular governments, have found a haven and a welcoming flock in Western European nations. So if there is one mistake the European governments made, then it is allowing these fearmongering, xenophobic, ultra-orthodox clergymen to preach in the mosques of suburbia.

True to form, Leon de Winter cherrypicks the ‘guilt complex’ from recent history, because yes, in the end and after all the mistakes and ignoring of a problem, a ‘guilt complex’ did build up when politicians from all ideologies realised — each starting from their own dogma: liberals, socialists, christians — their big mistake of hauling poorly educated people over here, no strings attached, and basically letting them sort themselves out. The fact that most of them hardly knew any Dutch, for starters, resulted in them cuddling up to each other so that they could at least communicate with people. To an American, this must surely sound familiar.

Then Ms Applebaum contends that:

many (Dutch) people simply want Ms Hirsi Ali and her ilk to go away forever, thereby keeping Holland out of the headlines and Amsterdam off terrorists’ hit lists. Unlike the British, who have gotten used to the idea that faraway events can affect them, the Dutch, at least in this century, are more insular. That helps explain why, in 2006, the Dutch government tried to revoke Hirsi Ali’s citizenship over an old immigration controversy, and why her neighbors went to court that year to have her evicted from her home (they claimed the security threat posed by her presence impinged upon their human rights). But although she did finally move to the United States, the argument continued in her absence. Last week, the Dutch government abruptly cut off her security funding, forcing her to return briefly to Holland.

I am afraid that this is a solid indication that Ms Applebaum does not know the whole story. The advent of Ms Hirsi Ali’s ideological predecessor (if he can be called that), Pim Fortuyn, spawned a new wave of popular right-wing politicians who rose to power in the same period when Ms Hirsi Ali rose to fame. One of those politicians was Rita Verdonk, who was promoted to be Immigration and Integration minister in the right-wing cabinet supported by the VVD, the party of both Mrs Verdonk and Ms Hirsi Ali. Mrs Verdonk soon realised that since the murder of Pim Fortuyn, there was a void to be filled on the right – and she decided to be the one to fill it. Soon she was taking ever more harsher positions vis-a-vis Muslims and foreigners.

Mrs Verdonk’s views on immigration can probably best be compared to a mixture of CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Newt Gingrich: rugged, uncompromising, unflinching. Mrs Verdonk especially became known for her “Rules Are Rules”-approach to immigration matters, adapting the strictest possible interpretation of newly drafted, restrictive immigration laws. Her strict adherence to the laws resonated; at times, polls showed her to be more popular than the leader of her own party, and that sparked the flame of ambition within Mrs Verdonk. She started assembling her own campaign team of advisors and cunning strategists, outside of her and Ms Hirsi Ali’s party, the VVD.

In the meantime the ‘Old Boys Network’ of the white male chauvinist VVD leadership was getting a tad worried over Ms Hirsi Ali’s “shocking” opinions, which she kept on voicing. The high- or lowpoint (depending on one’s view) was her filming of the short film ‘Submission’, directed by Theo van Gogh, which centered on Hirsi Ali’s views regarding the subjugation and mistreatment of women in Islam.

One of the growing constituencies for the right-wing VVD, a proponent of free trade and lower corporate taxes for entrepreneurs, consisted of immigrant small business owners, among them many Muslims (mostly Turks) in the cities. However, most of these people were moving away from the party in droves ever since the VVD embraced Ms Hirsi Ali, insulted as they were by her interpretation of their faith.

The growing unease among the VVD party nomenclatura with Ms Hirsi Ali and Mrs Verdonk’s popularity on the immigration front came together like two drops of quicksilver when a television programme revealed that Ms Hirsi Ali lied to Dutch immigration authorities during her asylum application procedure in the early 1990s. Mrs Verdonk as minister applied her same “Rules Are Rules”-approach, and in this case the rules — introduced by herself as minister — held that any immigrant who was given a passport based on lies, would see that passport revoked.

A controversy ensued and when Ms Hirsi Ali at virtually the same time said that she had accepted an invitation from the American Enterprise Institute to move to the United States and work for that think tank, many of her own supporters (who had stood behind her for her views on Islam) almost overnight switched allegiance to Mrs Verdonk, accusing “illegal immigrant Hirsi Magan” of being an opportunistic asylum seeker. (A sidenote: by far most supporters of Ms Hirsi Ali also supported Mrs Verdonk anyway due to both women having largely the same views on Islam.)

Ms Applebaum’s statement that “the Dutch government abruptly cut off her security funding, forcing her to return briefly to Holland” implies that the Dutch government pulled a nasty trick on Ms Hirsi Ali. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When Ms Hirsi Ali, while still Member of Parliament, revealed that she was moving to the United States, the Dutch government immediately engaged with the US government to determine how the security of Ms Hirsi Ali could be taken care of. In the US, members of the Dutch DKDB government security unit — comparable to the American Secret Service which guards US heads of state — took over Ms Hirsi Ali’s protection, but just like the US government, the Dutch state is in essence of the opinion that it is not responsible for the protection of citizens (which Ms Hirsi Ali now is) when that citizen is in another country. So until a final agreement was ironed out between the two governments, the Dutch state would continue to pay for Ms Hirsi Ali’s security.

However, it soon became clear that the US government had no intention to dole out taxpayer dollars for Ms Hirsi Ali’s protection, especially not since she is not a US citizen. And unlike Dutch multinationals Heineken and Royal Dutch Shell, which pay for the bodyguards protecting their respective employees, the American Enteprise Institute — Ms Hirsi Ali’s current employer — apparently likes to show her around, but paying for her security detail seems a bridge too far. The AEI even released a statement in which it bluntly said that it is not responsible for Ms Hirsi Ali’s personal security. That sounds a lot like the kind of ‘loyalty’ she got from the Old White Boys at her old VVD party.

Then Ms Applebaum continues by saying:

To put it bluntly, many in Holland find her too loud, too public in her condemnation of radical Islam.

If only that were true! Many in Holland would celebrate, no – cheer her if she made just that distinction. In fact, I’m sure a lot of Muslims would have supported her from day one. But instead, and as earlier said, instead of setting the fundamentalists apart and pointing the finger at them, she dubbed all of Islam and so (by proxy) all Muslims “backward”. Imagine having 100 Americans in a room, a Frenchman enters, he listens to two dumb cheerleaders talk about Britney Spears’ latest album, and the Frenchman turns around and shouts that “all Americans are stupid”. Moments earlier, the other 98 Americans in the room would have agreed if he had called the two cheerleaders stupid; but now, the Americans roll their eyes and stand united with the two dumb blondes against the Frenchy.

I don’t see how I could explain this any other way.

I personally know of a lot of Muslims who have in the past years told me that they hate Ms Hirsi Ali because she lumped them in with the deranged fundamentalists, not because of the exceptions she took with some of the language in the Qu’ran, and more specifically the hadiths (which are basically more like sideletters to the Qu’ran, interpretations by sometimes some truly fundamentalist idiots. Sideletters, because it is expressly forbidden to change even one character in the Qu’ran itself). Or the other way around: Ms Hirsi Ali looked at the fundamentalists and somehow took them to represent all of Islam, thereby insulting the faith in the eyes of many Muslims. Either way, if a Muslim is somewhere quoted as saying that he or she has been “insulted” by Ms Hirsi Ali’s words, be sure to ask that Muslim “insulted in what way?” That little yet very important extra is almost always left out in news reports.

And it’s not as if they, the non-fundamentalists, are getting a lot of help anyway. I mean, Theo van Gogh called Muslims backward, murderous beasts and then Mohammed Bouyeri went out and proved Van Gogh’s point.

Ms Applebaum also points out that:

once again, the Dutch will be confronted with the facts that Hirsi Ali remains a Dutch citizen; that the threat to her life comes at least in part from groups based in Holland; that she lives abroad because the Dutch political situation forced her to; and that when she speaks out, she does so in defense of what she believes to be Dutch values.

If Ms Hirsi Ali is still calling all Muslims “backward”, if she still does not want to differentiate, then she has never truly understood Dutch values. The one major value is that one does not engage in generalisations. One reason why the Dutch have for centuries been able to keep a religious peace is because the Dutch understood that religious strife stands in the way of making money, and calling an entire ethnic or religious minority “backward” does not help. It is better to take out the bad apples and denominate them as such.

As for free speech in the Netherlands somehow being threatened, Ms Applebaum says:

Whether or not the Dutch like it — and I’m sure most of them don’t — revoking her (Ms Hirsi Ali’s) police protection will send a clear message to the world: that the Dutch are no longer willing to protect their own traditions of free speech.

Ms Applebaum need not be worried. So far, calling all Muslims “backward” and various other names has resulted in more and more Dutch people being added every day to the swelling group of people that believes that every person with black curly hair and brown eyes is by definition evil and should at the very least be thrown out of the country, castrated, or shot altogether. One only has to go to ‘mainstream blogs’ or simply the internet reaction forms of the largest Dutch newspaper to find hundreds, if not thousands of Dutch people who exercise their freedom of speech to blurt out their bile.

It has also laid the foundations for people like Dutch right-winger Geert Wilders, who has called for a ban on the Qu’ran, and so effectively a ban on Muslims. Yes, Wilders has been threatened with death too, but there is no need for Ms Applebaum or Mr Hitchens to fear anything regarding free speech in the Netherlands as we seem to almost drown in the stuff; Mr Wilders can already count on approximately 1/6th of the seats in Parliament according to polls, and his numbers are growing. For the record: I am not saying that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the cause of all this, but a much more pronounced distinction between the audiences she was targeting would certainly have helped.

Oh and Mr Hitchens wrote, in his intro wrote about the Netherlands that it:

overcame Catholic-Protestant fratricide with a unique form of coexistence, put up a spirited resistance to Nazi occupation, evolved a constitutional form of monarchy, and managed to make a fairly generous settlement with its former colonies and their inhabitants.

The Dutch overcame the divide between the two religions basically out of the understanding that if one wants to make money, one needs to have stability as unrest is bad for business.

The Dutch did not exactly put up a “spirited resistance to Nazi occupation”. The Dutch armed forces surrendered after 4 days in 1940 and it is one of the few countries in Western Europe where most of the Jewish population was deported and gassed – not least because so many non-Jews pointed their fingers at the right front doors in the darkness of night. (Read Anne Frank’s diary for an all too often repeated example.)

Yes, the Dutch evolved a constitutional form of monarchy – but a LOT later than did the British and contrary to the Brits, we silly Dutch still allow the Queen her so-called ‘Secret of the Palace’, where she has a lot of freedom and power to determine which party actually gets to join up to form a coalition government. And I don’t actually know what the rules are in Great Britain, but in the Netherlands no politician is allowed to speak about what he or she discussed with a member of the Royal Family.

And as for our colonies, well… It may serve you to know, Mr Hitchens, that the US had to threaten economic sanctions in the late 1940s to get the Dutch to let go of Indonesia, where they employed the services of a small minority (the Moluccans) to help repress the majority, much like the Brits employed the Sikh to repress many Indians. And in the 1960s the Dutch almost went to war over Dutch New Guinea, which they again had to let go after the US government again threatened action.

UPDATE: As everybody will know by now, members of the Danish People’s Party have offered Ms Hirsi Ali refuge in the city of Odensee. Having dug up some mud and bile about that party, it looks like it’s yet another group of waning populist xenophobes that wants to make headlines. I wish Ayaan a lot of success should she accept the offer.