Muslim Women Glad Hirsi Ali Left Netherlands

For three years Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali galvanised Dutch society with a frank account of her traumatic past and her conviction that Islam is a violent, misogynous religion. That conviction led to death threats, the murder of her associate, filmmaker Theo van Gogh and, her critics say, the alienation of precisely those she aimed to engage as relations between Muslims and non-Muslims deteriorated as never before. Now almost a year since the former Dutch parliamentarian hit headlines worldwide for admitting she lied to gain asylum in the Netherlands, many of the Dutch-Muslim women Hirsi Ali sought to stir and inspire state bluntly they are relieved she is gone. The 37-year-old now works for a U.S. think-tank, while her international profile as an ex-Muslim critic of Islam soars. “I am glad that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is gone, because now the tone has softened, it has become less extreme and tensions have eased,” said Nermin Altintas, who runs an education centre for migrant women.

Dutch May Revoke Lawmaker’s Citizenship

The Dutch immigration minister said Monday that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born woman who became one of the most prominent members of Dutch parliament, was improperly granted citizenship in 1997 and it may be revoked. Hirsi Ali, an opponent of fundamentalist Islam and an advocate for immigrant women’s rights, returned abruptly from a book tour in the United States last week after a political firestorm over her past erupted in the Netherlands. Critics called for her to resign after a television program aired Thursday detailing how she lied on her asylum application when she fled to the Netherlands in 1992 to escape an arranged marriage. Hirsi Ali had admitted the fabrications publicly when she was vetted as a candidate for parliament in 2002, and the country’s immigration minister said Friday she did not face any sanctions over the matter. But on Monday, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk sent a letter to parliament saying that, after reviewing the facts “it must be assumed she (Hirsi Ali) will be considered to never have received Dutch citizenship.” She said Hirsi Ali will have six weeks to formally respond. Hirsi Ali’s spokeswoman Ingrid Pouw said the lawmaker would hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss her position. Earlier Monday, Dutch media reported that Hirsi Ali would announce her retirement from politics this week and would join the American Enterprise Institute starting in September to work on a new book. Pouw could not confirm that. Hirsi Ali’s political downfall would be remarkable, given the prominent role she has played in the Netherlands’ national debate on Islam in the past several years. She became internationally known when filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered in November 2004. Hirsi Ali wrote the screenplay for his movie “Submission,” which criticized the treatment of women under Islam and offended many Muslims. She received numerous death threats and has been under continuous police protection since the Van Gogh murder. The Dutch state is currently scrambling to arrange new housing for her after her neighbors in The Hague complained successfully that security arrangements for her had become an unfair nuisance for them. On the TV documentary program Zembla, she repeated that when she arrived in 1992 she changed her name and birth date on her asylum application and did not reveal that she had lived in three different countries after leaving Somalia. Several of her critics called for her to be deported. On Saturday, she told the AP she was the victim of a “smear campaign.”

Dutch Virtue Of Tolerance Under Strain

By Roger Cohen AMSTERDAM In the Dutch interiors painted by the great artists of the Golden Age, all appears in order: the ruffs of white linen and polished surfaces speak of a luminous calm. But often a furtive glance caught in a mirror, or a keyhole view of another world, suggests a charged tension behind the elegance. The Netherlands today can still offer a picturesque tranquillity, with its swarms of straight-backed bike riders and its canals reflected in the handsome windows of gabled homes. But cut a keyhole through Dutch decorum and violence appears: a filmmaker shot and stabbed by an Islamic fanatic, politicians in hiding from jihadist threats, a newspaper columnist menaced into silence, people living in fear. Immigration, particularly of Muslims, has long been an issue in Europe, a challenge to overburdened welfare systems and to the self-image of countries where every village hoists a church spire to the sky. But what was once a subject of worthy debate is now more a matter of survival. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Netherlands, where a familiar European combination of troubled history and quiet hypocrisy, wrapped in a veneer of tolerance, has yielded unexpected bloodshed. “We see that our much-vaunted tolerance toward immigrants was often just indifference and we are left wondering: What have we become?” said Job Cohen, the mayor of Amsterdam. The murders, in 2002 and 2004 respectively, of the taboo-trampling politician Pym Fortuyn and the Islam-bashing movie director Theo van Gogh have left the Dutch bereft of certainties. They are not alone in their questioning. Islam is now of Europe, a European religion. But Europe, after terrorist killings in Madrid and Amsterdam and London, sees more threat than promise in the immigrant tide from its Muslim fringes. Geert Wilders is a rightist member of the Dutch Parliament living in a secret location under police protection because Islamic radicals say they will kill him. That, in what was until recently the placid Western democracy par excellence, is extraordinary. “All non-Western immigration must be stopped,” Wilders said. “Pure Islam is violent.” Other politicians, like Cohen, see the solution more in building bridges than barriers. They argue, like Tony Blair and George W. Bush, that a perversion of Islam, not Islam itself, threatens the West. But nobody, even in laid-back Amsterdam, is indifferent to immigration any longer. That Europe needs immigrants, and that they will seek to come from adjacent North Africa and other poor Muslim areas, is evident. It needs them to do jobs, from asparagus picking to care of the elderly, that others do not want to do. […]

Dutch Mosques Develop Strategy Against Extremism

Three mosques in Amsterdam have presented the Jan Peter Balkenende, the prime minister of the Netherlands, with a plan to combat religious extremism. The plans explain how they will detect extremists and lay out how they will cooperate with authorities in confronting the problem. The plans are a result of agreements between teh city of Amsterdam and the mosques following the murder of Theo Van Gogh. {(continued below in French)} Trois mosqu_es d’Amsterdam devaient pr_senter lundi au Premier ministre n_erlandais Jan Peter Balkenende un code de conduite contre l’extr_misme, selon le Service d’information du Royaume (RVD). Dans ce code, ces mosqu_es du quartier du Baarsjes, _ forte population immigr_s, expliquent comment elles comptent d_tecter des comportements extr_mistes parmi les fid_les, ce qu’elles font pour contrer l’extr_misme et comment elles impliquent les autorit_s dans la lutte contre ce ph_nom_ne. C’est le r_sultat d’un accord entre mosqu_es et la ville d’Amsterdam, conclu apr_s le meurtre au nom de l’islam radical du cin_aste Theo van Gogh, destin_ _ d_tecter l’extr_misme islamique et _ d_fendre la libert_ d’expression. Plusieurs imams aux Pays-Bas ont appel_ les fid_les _ ne pas prot_ger d’_ventuels membres du r_seau islamiste Hofstadgroep accus_ de pr_parer des attentats aux Pays-Bas, et dont l’assassin de van Gogh aurait fait partie. Selon le quotidien amstellodamois Het Parool, un imam de Tilburg (sud) les a m_me qualifi_s “d’apostats”, consid_rant qu’ils sont infid_les au “vrai Islam”. Un imam de La Haye a r_dig_ une fatwa (avis religieux) autorisant tous les t_moignages contre les membres de ce groupe.

Dutch Government Passes New Terror Bill

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Dutch government passed a new terrorism bill Friday, granting law-enforcement authorities far-reaching powers of investigation and allowing them to hold suspects for up to two weeks without charges. Intelligence agents will be able to use currently banned techniques such as infiltrating terror cells for undercover operations and telephone taps, a Justice Ministry statement said. They will also be allowed to use entrapment tactics, such as bogus sales transactions. The law must be approved by parliament. “There also will be more possibilities to gather information, detain suspects and conduct preventive public searches,” it said. “The events in Amsterdam and The Hague have made clear that wider powers to prevent terrorism are desirable.” The ministry was referring to the Nov. 2 killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose throat was slit allegedly by a young Muslim radical who associated with a suspected terrorist cell. In The Hague a few days after the murder, terrorist suspects wounded several policemen during a botched arrest attempt. Two young men holed up in a residential neighborhood for a day before surrendering. The new law also lowers the level of proof needed to hold a suspect believed to be plotting terrorist activity, said Justice Ministry spokesman Wibbe Alkema. The problem in the past, Alkema said, has been insufficient grounds to detain someone who could be preparing an attack. If the law is passed, authorities will have more time – up to two weeks – to build a case and bring charges. “In the initial stage of custody, there will no longer need to be serious suspicion, but only a reasonable doubt,” he said. “That could be someone who is believed to be involved with a network that has been under observation for some time.” One such case is that of Samir Azzouz, an 18-year-old Dutch Muslim on trial for allegedly plotting bombings of prominent Dutch landmarks. Prosecutors will be able to approve the use of spot searches of people and cars in public places that could be potential targets, such as an airport or a sports stadium, if there is suspicion of an attack plot.

Fading Liberal Dream Tears Dutch Apart

Immigration has polarised the Netherlands as never before but, as Alex Duval Smith reports, its traditional values of tolerance have found some unlikely defenders . Martyn Loosman, impeccably turned out in a traditional costume of baggy trousers and a red and white striped shirt, buffs up the Dutch Queen Wilhemina coins on his belt buckle. ‘The government is going too far by proposing body searches and forcing suspected terrorists to report weekly to police,’ he says before sloping off, his black clogs scraping nonchalantly against the cobblestones of the fishing village of Urk. Forty miles south, in an Amsterdam coffee shop, advertising copywriter Geert Beck toys with his blond dreadlocks while sucking on a joint. ‘There are too many immigrants in Holland. They are stealing our society.’ The men, both 29, represent the contradictions in the Netherlands’ liberal society and pose questions over whether it has died or was only ever superficial. In a country where euthanasia is legal, one million people are on sick leave with no questions asked, prostitutes pay income tax and you can buy cannabis with your coffee, the government has for the past three months been passing radically intolerant laws. Immigration tops the political agenda all over Europe – in Britain ahead of the general election, in Denmark where the right was re-elected last week on an anti-foreigner platform and in Spain, which has infuriated its European Union partners by launching an amnesty for thousands of people without work permits – the Netherlands has reasons for a clampdown. In November 2004 – 911 days after the 9/11 attacks – controversial film-maker Theo Van Gogh was brutally murdered in an Amsterdam street. His alleged attacker, Dutch-Moroccan Mohammed Bouyeri shot him, strangled him, then stuck a note on his chest with a knife threatening war on Europe in the name of Islam. Within hours of the killing, prompted by Van Gogh’s controversial short film, Submission, which criticises radical Islam’s attitude to women, Integration Minister Rita Verdonk told 10,000 mourners gathered in front of Amster dam’s royal palace that Dutch tolerance ‘stops here and will not go any further’. There followed a cascade of reprisals. By the end of the year, more than 20 mosques, religious schools and churches had been attacked. Submission’s screenwriter, Somali-born MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, still receives regular death threats. ‘People say Holland changed after the Van Gogh murder but we started asking ourselves questions long before that,’ said Loosman, who is unemployed. ‘I have done many different jobs but right now I do not want to work. I will get a job when I want one,’ he says as he walks with two friends through Urk’s winter fair – a pageant of basket-weaving, lace-making and wood-turning, punctuated by the sounds of a fairground organ. The village is festooned with Urk’s flag, a mackerel on red, white and blue stripes, and stalls sell smoked fish. In Calvinist Urk, a picture-postcard fishing village, there are only white people. Urk was an island until the great damming projects of the Thirties, and its mentality remains insular. Its dialect is incomprehensible to other Dutch people, businesses close at noon on Saturdays because that is the start of the Lord’s Day, and women go to church in black dresses. There are 16 churches for 17,000 people and some people still do not watch television on Sundays, or use the phone or ride their bicycles. ‘We call ourselves Holland’s indigenous Muslims because we are different,’ said Loosman. ‘People in the rest of the country make fun of us, saying we are rigid and high and mighty. ‘But I am proud to be an Urker. We have a history going back 1,000 years. During the Second World War we hid hundreds of Jews in the reeds to save them from the Germans. The other day I saw a photograph which was an aerial view of Urk as an island, and I felt sorry that we are no longer that way.’ Being attached to the mainland has changed everything for the Urkers. Friday’s fair was Urk’s first, created to improve its image. ‘In the last two years things have happened here which are not good,’ said Loosman. ‘First there was a split in one of the Reform churches. It was very nasty. Then, when some Kurds came here to do road work, there was a fight with local people. It was all over the Dutch papers. We are holding the fair, in which everyone is invited to wear local costume, to show we are friendly.’ Urk’s idea of a good image is somewhat different from those of other towns and villages in the Netherlands now engaged in the national pastime of working out what it means to be one of the world’s 16 million Dutch people. Many individuals and local authorities have forged links with the immigrants, said to be 5.8 per cent of the population. A ‘white march’ for peace was launched by a web- site called ‘Don’t touch my neighbours’ and Moroccans in Amsterdam started a ‘We won’t tolerate it’ campaign reminiscent of the France’s ‘Don’t touch my mate’ anti-racism drive in the Eighties. In Delft, a local association has started courses in ‘Moroccan culture and civilisation’, partly as a protest against new rules making immigrants take ‘acclimatisation courses’ and exams before being granted residency. Halfway between The Hague and Amsterdam, the local council of Alphen aan den Rijn has gone further than most with a campaign, under the slogan: ‘Let’s throw away our prejudices.’ The mayor, Nico Schoof, has plastered these words on bus stops, dustcarts and on the wrappers of Dutch waffles and Surinamese pancakes in cafes. Supermarkets have even slapped it on ‘fair trade’ such as bananas. Yet at government level the victim of another murder, the far-right politician Pim Fortuyn, is enjoying posthumous triumph. Fortuyn, who called Islam a ‘retarded religion’ and was killed on the eve of elec tions in May 2002, had run on a ticket calling for the Netherlands’ borders to be closed, integration to be obligatory and for measures against Muslim extremists. After his death, his party won 26 seats, though it lost all but eight of them six months later. In the past two years, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister, has done Fortuyn proud. The previous government of Social Democrat Wim Kok began the trend in 2001 by hardening the asylum laws so much that the country was condemned by Human Rights Watch. Asylum applications, which had totalled 43,000 in 2000, fell to 13,400 in 2003. Balkenede then pushed through rules banning all unsuccessful applicants fromstaying in the country. Now Fortuyn has a successor of sorts, Geert Wilders, 41, reckoned by opinion polls to have the third largest number of supporters in the country, though a general election is not due until 2007. Wilders, who left the liberal VVD last September because he objected to its moderate stance over Turkey joining the EU, appears to have wider support than Fortuyn, including some academics. But his party has not yet been tested in an election and he has no manifesto, apart from calls for a ban on extremist mosques. Yet most people in the Netherlands – Dutch or not – remain proud of their liberal traditions. Doing his bit for multiculturalism is the Surinamese comedian, J_rgen Raymann, 38, whose show at Emmeloord on Friday, had a all-white, often elderly, audience in stitches of laughter. His jokes – about food, dancing and accents – tackled racism head-on, making fun of immigrants and of the Dutch. ‘I try to hold up a mirror to myself and make them look at it, but I also hold up a mirror to them,’ said Raymann. ‘I try to put across the idea that Holland is a great country with fantastic health services, infrastructure, a tradition of compassion and no natural disasters. ‘Even though the weather is like a beautiful woman with premenstrual tension there are plenty of reasons to feel happy here. The Dutch have been spoilt and because they were so comfortable for many years, they felt guilty and became all politically correct. We are paying the price now. There is a panic. Everyone in a headscarf is a potential terrorist, and the media accentuates those views.’ Raymann believes the Netherlands ‘nee
ds to take a stand. We have to kick out the extremists and start a dialogue with the moderates. Dutch are not xenophobic, they are in a panic. When they have got over it, they will get back to their proud, tradition of moderation’. Others, however, feel lost. Loosman looks out to sea from Urk lighthouse, wishing his village was still an island. ‘Five years from now, I do not know where we will be. I am proud to be an Urker but the world seems to be pushing us in a direction we do not want to go.’ Geert Beck, the cannabis smoker at the Amsterdam coffee shop, does not want to be pushed either. ‘Our society is free, if you respect the rules. We Dutch know this but others have come here with different values and taken advantage of our trust.’