A firestorm has erupted in the Netherlands over a government minister’s move to strip a Somali-born politician — and outspoken critic of radical Islam — of her Dutch citizenship.
The Dutch parliament passed two motions Wednesday ordering Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk to reconsider her move to revoke Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s citizenship. Both women are members of the right-wing VVD party. Verdonk, who has adopted a hawkish stance on immigration as she seeks her party’s top leadership for elections scheduled for next year, sent a letter to Hirsi Ali last week explaining that she might lose her Dutch citizenship because she had lied on her asylum application in 1992.
Hirsi Ali, who has become a darling of conservatives with her unabashed attacks on Muslims’ treatment of women, announced Tuesday that she was resigning from parliament and leaving the country. She is to take up a position at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., with which she has been in discussion for several months.
Earlier this month, Hirsi Ali received the American Jewish Committee’s Moral Courage Award at the organization’s 100th annual meeting.
“We are quite surprised” at Hirsi Ali’s situation, said Kenneth Bandler, an AJCommittee spokesman. “In the long run, this will do serious harm to the reputation of the Netherlands.”
Verdonk’s decision came after a television program reported last week on the application snafu.
At a press conference Tuesday, Hirsi Ali said that the move to revoke her citizenship was a disproportionately harsh punishment. The lawmaker claims that she previously admitted to failing to inform immigration officials that she had been granted refugee status elsewhere before coming to the Netherlands from her native Somalia.
Hirsi Ali said she had lied to protect herself from possible reprisals from her family, and noted that her party has known about this since she was chosen to run for parliament in 2002. “I am ending my membership of parliament. I will leave the Netherlands. Sad and relieved, I will pack my bags again. I will go on,” she told a news conference.
Since she first publicly criticized Islam on Dutch television in 2002, Hirsi Ali has received numerous death threats, prompting Dutch authorities to provide her with round-the-clock armed protection. The most chilling threat was found on the dead body of Theo Van Gogh, a filmmaker with whom she collaborated on a short film featuring veiled women discussing ill treatment of women in Muslim societies. Van Gogh was stabbed to death by a Dutch-Moroccan Islamic militant in November 2004, and a note threatening Hirsi Ali was pinned on his corpse. She went into hiding after the incident but eventually resumed her duties in parliament a few months later.
A court has ruled that she must leave her government-protected home by August because of the security threat she poses to her neighbors.
Although Hirsi Ali said she regretted leaving the country that had given her refuge and many opportunities, she also said that she had decided to move abroad even before the asylum flap, because her security situation was becoming increasingly unbearable.
“I am going away, but the questions remain: the questions about the future of Islam in our country, the suppression of women in Islamic culture and the integration of the many Muslims in the West,” she said.