The Price of Freedom
If the Dutch government abandons Ayaan Hirsi Ali, America should welcome her.
If any country has enjoyed a long reputation for peaceful and democratic consensus combined with civic fortitude, that country is the Netherlands. It was one of the special countries of the Enlightenment, providing refuge for the family of Baruch Spinoza and for the heterodox Pierre Bayle and René Descartes. It overcame Catholic-Protestant fratricide with a unique form of coexistence, put up a spirited resistance to Nazi occupation, evolved a constitutional form of monarchy, and managed to make a fairly generous settlement with its former colonies and their inhabitants.
In the last few years, two episodes have hideously sullied this image. The first smirching was the conduct of the Dutch contingent in Bosnia, who in July 1995 abandoned the population of the U.N.-protected "safe haven" at Srebrenica and enabled the worst massacre of civilians on European soil since World War II. Dutch officers were photographed hoisting champagne glasses with the sadistic goons of Ratko Mladic's militia before leaving the helpless Muslim population to a fate that anyone could have predicted.
Those of us who protested at this slaughter of Europe's Muslims are also obliged to register outrage, I think, at the Dutch state's latest betrayal. On Oct. 1, having leaked its intention in advance to the press, the Christian-Democrat administration of Jan Peter Balkenende announced that it would no longer guarantee the protection of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
To give a brief back story, it will be remembered that Hirsi Ali, a refugee from genital mutilation, forced marriage, and civil war in her native Somalia, was a member of the Dutch parliament. She collaborated with Theo van Gogh on a film—Submission—that highlighted the maltreatment of Muslim immigrant women living in Holland. Van Gogh was murdered on an Amsterdam street in November 2004; a note pinned to his body with a knife proved to be a threat to make Hirsi Ali the next victim. Placed inside a protective bubble by the authorities, she was later evicted from her home after neighbors complained that she was endangering their safety and then subjected to a crude attempt to deprive her of her citizenship. Resolving not to stay where she was not wanted, Hirsi Ali moved to the United States, where she was offered a place by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and where the Dutch government undertook to continue to provide her with security. This promise it no longer finds it convenient to keep. The ostensible reason for the climb-down is the cost, which involves a basic 2 million euros (not very much for a state), which can admittedly sometimes be higher if Hirsi Ali has to travel.
The Dutch parliament debates this question later this week, and I hope that its embassies hear from people who don't regard this as an "internal affair" of the Netherlands. If a prominent elected politician of a Western country can be left undefended against highly credible threats from Islamist death squads, what price all of our easy babble about not "appeasing terrorists"? Especially disgraceful is the Dutch government's irresponsible decision to announce to these death squads, without even notifying Hirsi Ali, that after a given date she would be unprotected and easy game. (Lest I inadvertently strengthen this deplorable impression, let me swiftly add that at present she is under close guard in the United States.)
Suppose the narrow and parochial view prevails in Holland, then I think that we in America should welcome the chance to accept the responsibility ourselves. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become a symbol of the resistance, by many women from the Muslim world, to gender apartheid, "honor" killing, genital mutilation, and other horrors of clerical repression. She has been a very clear and courageous voice against the ongoing attack on our civilization mounted by exactly the same forces. Her recent memoir, Infidel(which I recommend highly, and to which, I ought to say, I am contributing a preface in its paperback edition), is an account of an extremely arduous journey from something very like chattel slavery to a full mental and intellectual emancipation from theocracy. It is a road that we must, and for our own sake as well, be willing to help others to travel.
For a while, her security in America was provided by members of the elite Dutch squad that is responsible for the protection of the Dutch royal family and Dutch politicians. The U.S. government requested that this be discontinued, for the perfectly understandable reason that foreign policemen should not be operating on American soil. The job has now been subcontracted, and was until recently underwritten by The Hague. If The Hague defaults, then does the "war on terror" administration take no interest in protecting the life of one of the finest enemies, and one of the most prominent targets, of the terrorists? Hirsi Ali has been accepted for permanent residence in the United States, and would, I think, like to become a citizen. That's an honor. If she was the CEO of Heineken or the president of Royal Dutch Shell, and was subject to death threats while on U.S. soil, I have the distinct feeling that the forces of law and order would require no prompting to consider her safety a high priority.
A last resort would be to set up a trust or fund by voluntary subscription and continue to pay for her security that way. Perhaps some of the readers of this column would consider kicking in or know someone who was about to make an unwise campaign contribution that could be diverted to a better end? If so, do please watch this space and be prepared to write to your congressional representatives, or to the Dutch ambassador, in the meantime. We keep hearing that not enough sacrifices are demanded of us, and many people wonder what they can do to forward the struggle against barbarism and intimidation. So, now's your chance.
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 Ian Waldie/Getty Images. Photograph of Ayaan Hirsi Alion Slate's home page by Shiho Fukada/AP.