Paradise lost in the Netherlands

Maybe America can provide Ayaan Hirsi Ali the true freedom she yearns for.

If there's anything in Europe today that's more alarming than the number of European Muslims who hold radically undemocratic views (40 percent of British Muslims would like to see Britain under sharia law), it's the feckless way in which government officials tend to respond to those views. Particularly if they include explosions of public complaints and protests.

More often than not, most officials choose appeasement over standing up for democratic values. The exceptions are rare. One of them is Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen - who, faced with the Muhammad cartoon riots, strongly reaffirmed Denmark's commitment to freedom of speech. Another is the Netherlands' Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Muslim turned outspoken critic of Islam. Ms. Hirsi Ali, who has been confronted with a relatively sudden and stunning challenge by her country's minister of immigration to her Dutch citizenship, resigned this week from her seat in the Dutch parliament.

Hirsi Ali's name became familiar to many people outside the Netherlands in November 2004, when Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered in an Amsterdam street in retribution for his film "Submission: Part One," a blunt critique of Islam's treatment of women. Hirsi Ali, who wrote the film's script, was herself threatened with murder in a note from Mr. van Gogh's killer.

Hirsi Ali knows a good deal about her film's subject: As a young girl in Somalia, she was a devout Muslim who wore full hijab. Later, however, experiencing Western freedoms as a refugee in the Netherlands, she took an increasingly critical view of the oppression and intolerance she had witnessed in her youth - and that to her horror, she saw around her in Dutch Muslim enclaves. After 9/11, she rejected Islam entirely. Years of menial jobs and university study preceded her election to the Dutch parliament, where she called on her government to challenge the abuse of women in Muslim communities, advocated the closing of state-funded Muslim schools which taught children to hate infidels and democracy, and proposed legislation to protect girls from genital mutilation.

Even after van Gogh's murder, unintimidated by death threats and by the need for daily round-the-clock armed protection, Hirsi Ali continued to speak truth to power. She was the kind of immigrant whom democratic leaders should hold up as an example; indeed, she was the very model of a responsible citizen of a democracy. Yet many of her fellow politicians - mired in traditions of consensus and trouble-avoidance - viewed her as they had viewed van Gogh and the murdered politician Pim Fortuyn, as a troublemaker.

Even Hirsi Ali's neighbors in The Hague turned on her. A few weeks ago, anxious about living near a woman who was a terrorist target (no matter that she was a target precisely because she was defending their freedoms), other residents in her apartment building won a court battle to evict her. In recent days, Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk has gone one better, citing incorrect details on Hirsi Ali's applications for asylum in 1992 and citizenship in 1997 (which Hirsi Ali admitted to, and explained, years ago) as justification for rescinding her Dutch citizenship.

Next week, Hirsi Ali plans to move to Washington, D.C. Here in Europe, a continent where the likes of Norway's Mullah Krekar - founder of the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam - are able to live free and undisturbed, it's clear why Hirsi Ali has been the victim of this lightning-fast attempt at denaturalization: By continuing to lift her voice in anger, she stands in the way of an illusory "multicultural harmony."

Fortunately, not everybody in the Dutch parliament is against Hirsi Ali. Ms. Verdonk is now under fire and may lose her job, and Hirsi Ali may well receive a new passport. Yet whatever happens, the fact remains that she has been put through a disgraceful episode which, like the murders of Mr. Fortuyn and van Gogh, is a stain on the Dutch heritage of freedom and tolerance.

That one of the noblest and bravest among Dutch public servants has faced the prospect of losing her citizenship is a measure of the degree to which some Dutch leaders prefer attacking the messenger over dealing with the acute social problems facing their country. In the US, Hirsi Ali will doubtless remain an eloquent voice for freedom; one can only hope that Americans will heed her message. The Netherlands' loss will be America's gain.

Bruce Bawer is the author of "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within" (Doubleday). He lives in Oslo.

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