The Caged Virgin
Holland's shameful treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Three years ago, at a conference in Sweden, I was introduced to a Dutch member of parliament named Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Originally born in Somalia, she had been a refugee in several African countries and eventually a refugee from her own family, which had decided to "give" her in marriage to a distant male relative she had never met. Thinking to escape from such confines by moving to the Netherlands, she was appalled to find that radical Islam had followed her there—or in fact preceded her there—and was proselytizing among Turkish and Moroccan and Indonesian immigrants. In ancient towns like Rotterdam and Amsterdam, where once the refugees from Catholic France and inquisitional Spain had sought refuge, and where Baruch Spinoza had been excommunicated and anathematized for his opposition to Jewish fundamentalism, there were districts where Muslim women were subjected to genital mutilation and where the Dutch police were afraid to set foot.
Entering politics to try to alert the European left to this danger, she was first elected as a deputy for the Labor Party, but after 9/11 she changed her allegiance to the Liberals. This, she explained, was because many Labor spokesmen preferred to think of immigrants as possessing "group rights." They had become so infatuated by their own "multi-culti" style that they had ignored the rights of individuals—especially women and girls—who were imprisoned within their own ghetto. (That, by the way, was precisely Spinoza's problem as well. The Dutch rabbis cursed him and condemned him in their own sectarian "court," of which the Christian authorities approved because it took care of dangerous secularism among Jews.)
At the Swedish event, Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke calmly and rationally about the problem. I never know whether or not it's right to mention, with female public figures, the fact of arresting and hypnotizing beauty, but I notice that I seem to have done so. Shall I just say that she was a charismatic figure in Dutch politics, mainly because of the calm and reason to which I just alluded? She was the ideal choice of collaborator for the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh (a distant descendant of the anguished painter) on Submission, a film about the ignored problem of enslaved and oppressed women in Holland. Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote the screenplay and provided the movie's voice-over.
You probably remember what happened next: Van Gogh was bicycling to work one morning in 2004 in the capital city of one of Europe's most peaceful and civilized countries when he was shot down in the street and then mutilated in a ritual fashion by an Islamist fanatic. The murderer (who had expected to become a martyr but who was only wounded in the leg by the gentle Dutch cops) left a long "martyr's letter" pinned to van Gogh's corpse by an equally long knife. In it, he warned Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she was the next target, and he gave a long and detailed account of all the offenses that would condemn her to an eternity in hell. (I noticed, reading this appalling screed when it was first published, that he obsessively referred to her as "Mrs. Hirshi Ali,"as if trying to make her sound like a Jew. Other references to Jews in the text were even less tasteful.)
She has had to live under police protection ever since, and when I saw her again last week in Washington, I had to notice that there were several lofty and burly Dutchmen acting in an unaffected but determined way somewhere off to the side. I would urge you all to go out and buy her new book, The Caged Virgin, which is subtitled An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam. The three themes of the story are: first, her own gradual emancipation from tribalism and superstition; second, her work as a parliamentarian to call attention to the crimes being committed every day by Islamist thugs in mainland Europe; and third, the dismal silence, or worse, from many feminists and multiculturalists about this state of affairs.
Before being elected to parliament, she worked as a translator and social worker among immigrant women who are treated as sexual chattel—or as the object of "honor killings"—by their menfolk, and she has case histories that will freeze your blood. These, however, are in some ways less depressing than the excuses made by qualified liberals for their continuation. At all costs, it seems, others must be allowed "their culture" and—what is more—must be allowed the freedom not to be offended by the smallest criticism of it. If they do feel offended, their very first resort is to violence and intimidation, sometimes with the support of the embassies of foreign states. (How interesting it is that the two European states most recently attacked in this way—Holland and Denmark—should be the ones that have made the greatest effort to be welcoming to immigrants.) Considering that this book is written by a woman who was circumcised against her will at a young age and then very nearly handed over as a bargain with a stranger, it is written with quite astonishing humor and restraint.
But here is the grave and sad news. After being forced into hiding by fascist killers, Ayaan Hirsi Ali found that the Dutch government and people were slightly embarrassed to have such a prominent "Third World" spokeswoman in their midst. She was first kept as a virtual prisoner, which made it almost impossible for her to do her job as an elected representative. When she complained in the press, she was eventually found an apartment in a protected building. Then the other residents of the block filed suit and complained that her presence exposed them to risk. In spite of testimony from the Dutch police, who assured the court that the building was now one of the safest in all Holland, a court has upheld the demand from her neighbors and fellow citizens that she be evicted from her home. In these circumstances, she is considering resigning from parliament and perhaps leaving her adopted country altogether. This is not the only example that I know of a supposedly liberal society collaborating in its own destruction, but I hope at least that it will shame us all into making The Caged Virgin a best seller.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Ed Oudenaarden/AFP/Getty Images.