EuropeMulticulturalismNeterlands

Dutch government limps on following Hirsi Ali controversy

The ruling Dutch centre-right coalition has decided to limp on to early elections in November after shooting itself in the foot with its hardline immigration policy that almost cost one of its parliamentarians – the controversial Ayaan Hirsi Ali – her Dutch nationality.

On Friday 7 July 2006, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that he would limp on until November with a caretaker government made up of the remaining members of his centre-right coalition, despite calls for an immediate vote from a resurgent left. “Go away and take your party to the voters, to let their voices be heard,” challenged Jan Marijnissen, chairman of the Socialist party.

The collapse of the fragile three-party coalition came following the withdrawal from the cabinet of junior partner, D-66, a social liberal party, in protest at the handling of the outspoken Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Somali-born Dutch politician fell victim to the tough anti-immigration policies of the senior coalition partner, the conservative Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy) – which effectively shot itself in the foot.

Integration and Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, who had talked herself into a corner with her uncompromising stance on immigration, found that, in order to remain consistent, she would have to jettison fellow party member Hirsi Ali – who is a vocal critic of and has received death threats from some Muslim extremists – when allegations emerged that she had gained Dutch nationality on false pretences.

After widespread criticism and a parliamentary order, senior ministers struck an agreement at the prime minister's house. Hirsi Ali signed a face-saving statement in which she explained that she had not, in effect, lied about her name, as Ali was her grandfather's name and adopting it was legal under Somali law. Nevertheless, this glossed over the other allegations levelled against her.

D-66 took issue with the fact that Hirsi Ali was made to take full blame for the debacle, exonerating Verdonk of any responsibility. This precipitated the crisis rather than draw a line under it.

Meanwhile, Hirsi Ali has emerged from the debris unscathed – save for the dents to her reputation and credibility. Brushing off the fallout, she expressed her regret that the government should collapse on the back of her affair. “I feel very sad about it,” she told CNN in Washington, where she is due to take up a lucrative post with the neo-con think tank the American Enterprise Institute, a powerful driving force behind the Bush Administration's unilateral militarism and free-market orthodoxy.

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Hirsi Ali will get to rub shoulders with such illustrious company as AEI fellow Richard Perle – called the ‘Prince of Darkness' by friends and enemies alike. Perle, Ronald Reagan's assistant secretary of defence and a Cold warrior turned ‘war on terror' crusader, is widely credited as being the key architect of the  war. Her new boss, Christopher DeMuth, finds Hirsi Ali a like-minded addition to his team. He applauded her position on what he called the confrontation between ‘Islam' with the ‘post-enlightenment world', Time  reported on 29 May.

Caged impostors

And her new book, The caged virgin, is unlikely to disappoint her new associates. “One might… ask about the intended audience for such a book,” Laila Lalami, a Morrocan writer and literary critic, reflects in The Nation.  “Given the heavy reliance on the twin premises of ‘the native is silent' and ‘the native informant knows best', it seems possible that the book is not so much addressed to Muslims… as to Western advocates for Muslim women.”

“If, as the title of this book suggests, the Muslim woman is a virgin in a cage, then by definition she must be freed from the outside… But Muslim women are not, nor have they ever been, silent,” she notes, pointing to Aisha's active propagation of Muhammad's hadith (sayings), right down to modern-day feminists, such as Nawal al-Saadawi, and the Planet of the Orient herself, Umm Kalthoum.

Although the Hirsi Ali saga was ostensibly behind the collapse of the Dutch government, it is actually little more than a symptom of a wider malaise and reflects the troubled relationship Europe, haunted by the spectre of unemployment, finds itself in with its immigrant minorities – both new arrivals and those born and bred there. This is especially the case for Muslims who have been collectively – and simplistically – held responsible by an increasing number of people for violent terror attacks.

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A sizeable minority also view Muslims as fifth columnists and fear that letting ‘Islam' in through the ‘back door' of immigration would lead to the crumbling of the pillars held dear by western : democracy, individual freedom and . Following the same logic, Hirsi Ali, despite being an asylum seeker from a Muslim country herself, is an advocate of limiting immigration to the  from Muslim countries.

Despite these challenges, immigrants are a generally accepted part of modern-day Europe's social and economic fabric and they are rising to prominence across the continent. One highly visible example appears in that bastion of national pride, football: the French national team is overwhelmingly made up of first- and second-generation immigrants led by the enigmatic Zineddine Zidane. In fact, in many European countries, it is easier and faster for an immigrant to be naturalised than it is for an Egyptian with maternal links to the country to gain Egyptian nationality.

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) released a report last year entitled Attitudes towards migrants and minorities in Europe which “shows that the majority of citizens in the EU are open to concepts of  diversity. Yet [they are] more questioning of diversity in specific areas. The contradictory expression of attitudes demonstrates that we still have work to do,” Beate Winkler, director of the EUMC, noted at the time.

A pragmatic attitude towards immigration is important to Europe's economic and political future as population growth begins to stagnate and society greys. For instance, the European Commission estimates that Europe will need to import some 700,000 researchers alone over the next few years.

Building bridges to its immigrant communities, particularly the Muslims in its midst, is essential not only to Europe's cherished but also to its global standing. A better understanding of Islam and the diverse dynamics driving Muslim societies can greatly increase the prospects for peaceful global coexistence by sidelining the prophets of hate and their attempts to drive a false wedge between ‘the West' and the ‘Muslim world'.

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Author

  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the , and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled’s life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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