The Dutch Immigration Minister decided last week to revoke the citizenship of the Somali-born legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali because she lied on her Dutch asylum application in 1992. The legislator then announced plans to resign her seat in parliament, leave The Netherlands, and take a job with a private conservative research organization in Washington.
What brought Hirsi Ali to international attention was the documentary she made with Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh that criticized the treatment of women under Islam. She had been living with 24-hour police protection since his murder by a Moroccan-born Dutch citizen.
But Frank Hendrickx of The Netherlands Press Agency told Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club that the saga of the Somali-born woman became entangled with many other issues such as immigration, assimilation, women’s rights, Islam and the role of Muslim communities in Europe.
Pakistani journalist and former Pakistani Ambassador to Britain, Akbar Ahmed, says Hirsi Ali was controversial among conservative Muslims because of her role as screenwriter for the van Gogh film, which criticized the treatment of women in Islam as well as for her claim that the 9/11 terrorist attacks had their origins in Islam. Similarly, many members of the Dutch population saw her as a “troublemaker,” while others supported her as a champion of women’s rights and reform in Islam.
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy notes that Hirsi Ali managed to unveil the hypocrisy in The Netherlands, a country that enjoys a reputation as one of the most tolerant societies in Europe but that also has strains of racism. On the other hand, Ms. Eltahawy says many Muslims in Europe have been extremely “reluctant to meet their host societies half way,” which has fueled resentment toward them.
Matthias Rueb, Washington bureau chief of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, calls Hirsi Ali the “poster child” not only for what a Muslim immigrant can achieve in a Western democracy but also for the “conservative wing of Dutch society” because of her criticism of both radical Islamists and the religion of Islam. Mr. Rueb notes that for years it was “well-known” that Hirsi Ali had lied about her name on her asylum application and about the way she had come to The Netherlands, but no punitive action was taken. This is partly because it was tacitly acknowledged that Hirsi Ali lied to protect herself against retribution from a traditional society that wanted her to follow a path that would have stunted her personal and professional growth - and that certainly would have prevented her from legally seeking refuge in The Netherlands.
However, most media analysts concur that a confluence of factors brought Hirsi Ali’s perjury case to the fore. Not only did Dutch anger about the Theo van Gogh murder by a Muslim extremist mushroom into prejudice against Muslim immigrants in general, but also the Dutch Immigration Minister, who was reportedly positioning herself as a candidate for prime minister, may have wanted to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment by cracking down on Hirsi Ali. Hence Mr. Rueb believes that political opportunism and prejudice, more than the lie itself, were likely the real reasons behind the move to revoke Hirsi Ali’s Dutch citizenship.
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