Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali back in the Netherlands - and the Islam debate comes back with her

A few years ago the Somalian refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali caused a major political uproar in the Netherlands. Within a few years, she went from being a refugee to becoming a member of parliament and she spoke out fervently against the - then - tabou topic of Muslim integration. Based on a pillar system in Dutch society in which Catholics, Protestants, secularists and Muslims live in parallel and without interference to one another, the Dutch state long turned a blind eye on mistreatment of Muslim women in the Netherlands, as Ali argues in her autobiography Infidel. After she long believed in Islam during her adolescence, the treatment of women led her to become atheist and she's fought today's interpretation of Islam ever since. Her film "Submission" led to many discussions and triggered the violent murder of her director Theo van Gogh in the middle of Amsterdam - stabbed multiple times in the chest by a radical Muslim, who attached to the knife a life threat for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She subsequently left the country and fled to the US.

Now Ali came back to the Netherlands for a week to present her second book, Nomad. Like Infidel, it carries a lot of autobiographic traits, arguing that Islam is slowly croaching upon Europe and that Christians (led by the Vatican) and secularists have to join forces to push it back. "We have to bring Muslims away from Islam", she says in this interview regarding her book. I have not read the book yet, but the comments I read suggest that she is hitting a nerve again, and polarizing without wishing to polarize. With her former liberal ally Geert Wilders campaigning for the national elections, the atmosphere in the Netherlands is tense; fear comes up that Wilders may actually win the elections in June with his anti-immigrant propositions. Ali may have distanced herself from Wilders, but the tide of the time is absolutely unfavorable to immigrants and especially Muslims.
On the other hand, in a heavily secured television debate in her former university Leiden, female Muslim students took Ayaan Hirsi Ali under fire for her criticism of Islam. "Have you ever even bothered to read the Qur'an?" was the questions she was asked most of all. To polarize matters further, during her brief stay in the Netherlands Ali also accepted an award from the youth wing of the ultra-orthodox protestant SGP party which certainly drove Christians and Muslims further apart.

News coverage doesn't suggest that there is a completely new debate in the Netherlands - but the publication of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book at this time certainly has an impact upon political thinking and the elections. If it it will be for the better or for the worse - that remains to be seen.

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