Fall of the "Muslim Atheist": Hirsi Ali's Journey from Dutch Politician to Failed Asylum Seeker Reveals Much about Europe's Retreat from Multiculturalism

Article excerpt

ON MAY 16, 2006, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch-Somali politician and one of Netherlands' most outspoken critics of Islam, nearly had her citizenship revoked by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk. Fourteen years earlier, Ali had provided a false name on her asylum application. She also claimed that she traveled to Holland directly from her home country of Somalia. In fact, Ali's father, a prominent member of a Somali liberation party, had resettled his family in Kenya in 1976. It is unclear whether Ali had arrived from Kenya or Germany, where she was reported to have been visiting family members, or elsewhere; however, Ali claims that she falsified her information because she was eluding her family and fleeing a forced marriage to a cousin.


Many, including Ali herself, were surprised by Verdonk's decision, since Ali had admitted these falsehoods when she initially ran for office with the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) in 2002. Ali is known around the world for her unflinching criticisms of Islam and relentless promotion of Enlightenment and liberal values. She first caught the Netherlands' attention in a televised debate over multiculturalism in early 2002, where as an audience member, she vociferously criticized a Dutch philosopher's sympathetic treatment of Islam and multiculturalism. Since then, the self-described "Muslim atheist" has engaged in numerous public debates and international news shows, championing a muscular liberalism against a monolithic Islam. She helped produce a prominent film with famous Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh that criticized Islamic attitudes toward women. Submission highlighted misogynist Islamic verses on women's naked bodies and became the provocation for Van Gogh's assassination by a radical Muslim and numerous death threats against Ali. Since then, she has been given state-funded round-the-clock security. Through it all, Ali continued her indiscriminate criticism of Islam and all Muslims to the welcoming embraces of Western liberal feminists, scholars, pundits and politicians. Ali's fall from international darling to a stateless former minister of parliament seemed sudden, but it had been fomenting since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Netherlands, once the most self-consciously immigrant-friendly European nation, is now one of the most hostile. Holland began to consider increasing restrictions on asylum applications shortly after the 2002 assassination of openly gay Dutch MP Pim Fortuyn (by a non-Muslim animal rights activist), who ran on a gay rights and strident anti-immigrant platform. Most recently, "Iron Rita" Verdonk, a former prison warden and former VVD ally and friend of Ali, called in 2004 for the immediate expulsion of over 26,000 asylum seekers whose applications had been rejected, including those who have resided in the Netherlands for over five years. Potential immigrants must now pass an exam testing their knowledge of "Dutch culture." In an effort to discourage orthodox Muslims from immigrating, they must watch a video showing "quintessential" Dutch images such as topless women sunbathing and a same-sex marriage ceremony.

But the story is much larger than the Netherlands. In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States and much of Europe began promoting increasingly restrictive legislation against immigrants generally, but especially those of Muslim background. In May 2002, Denmark passed a devastating immigration law that set the precedent for Verdonk's call for the immediate expulsion of rejected asylum seekers. It also included a prohibition on welfare benefits for immigrants who had resided in the country for less than seven years; a ban against asylum seekers age 60 older; and stricter conditions for permanent residence, requiring applicants for permanent residence through marriage (and their Danish spouses) to be at least 24 years old. England followed Denmark's lead, with stricter citizenship requirements, including an exam that tests immigrants' knowledge of English history and culture. …