Confronting Israeli Realities with Dutch Ones

, September 26, 2006

In the past few years Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become known worldwide. In 2006, Reader’s Digest gave her the European of the Year award and said she best embodied Europe’s contemporary values. Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia in 1969 and granted asylum in the Netherlands in 1992. She left for the United States in spring 2006 after she had to resign from the Dutch parliament because of a minister’s ruling that she had never obtained the Dutch nationality.

Under parliamentary pressure, the minister’s decision was canceled a few weeks later. Over the past years, however, Hirsi Ali’s life had become almost unbearable because of ongoing Muslim threats and their consequences. Her last neighbors obtained a court injunction that she had to relocate because they felt the permanent protection she received affected their privacy.

Israel: Solving Immigration Problems

Part of Hirsi Ali’s interest in Israel concerns its approach to solving immigration problems somewhat similar to those with which the Netherlands has such great difficulty. Her adoptive country is perplexed at the trouble it has in integrating numerous non-Western immigrants and their offspring, to a substantial extent of Muslim origin.

She says: “I visited Israel a few years ago, primarily to understand how it dealt so well with so many immigrants from different origins. My main impression was that Israel is a liberal democracy. In the places I visited, including Jerusalem as well as Tel Aviv and its beaches, I saw that men and women are equal. One never knows what happens behind the scenes, but that is how it appears to the visitor. The many women in the army are also very visible.

“I understood that a crucial element of success is the unifying factor among immigrants to Israel. Whether one arrives from Ethiopia or Russia, or one’s grandparents immigrated from Europe, what binds them is being Jewish. Such a bond is lacking in the Netherlands. Our immigrants’ background is diverse and also differs greatly from that of the Netherlands, including religion.”

Socialist and Palestinian Corruption

“I have visited the Palestinian quarters in Jerusalem as well. Their side is dilapidated, for which they blame the Israelis. In private, however, I met a young Palestinian who spoke excellent English. There were no cameras and no notebooks. He said the situation was partly their own fault, with much of the money sent from abroad to build Palestine being stolen by corrupt leaders.

“When I start to speak in the Netherlands about the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the role of Arafat in the tragedy of Palestine, I do not get a large audience. Often one is talking to a wall. Many people reply that Israel first has to withdraw from the territories, and then all will be well with Palestine.

“Before I joined the VVD liberal party, I was a member of the Labor party. They have forgotten the positive role they played in the creation of Israel. Their great model thinker is the Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit, who promotes solidarity with those who are weak. In socialist eyes whoever isn’t white or Western is a victim, and this includes Muslims, Palestinians, and immigrants. My position is that I am not a victim. I am responsible for my acts like anybody else and so are all people.”

Minority Racism

“I studied social work for a year in the Netherlands. Our teachers taught us to look with different eyes toward the immigrant and the foreigner. They thought racism was a phenomenon that only appears among whites. My family in Somalia, however, educated me as a racist and told me that we Muslims were very superior to the Christian Kenyans. My mother thinks they are half-monkeys.

“When I started to explain this truth in the class, the teacher responded that it was ‘untrue and impossible.’ I said, ‘Yes, it is true.” I mentioned that I was living in the center for asylum seekers in the town of Ede and that the Somalis I knew there talked about native Dutchmen as uncircumcised, irreligious, and dirty.

“When a Somali man in the Netherlands sees his sister with a Dutch friend, that is what he thinks and he usually becomes very angry. Such attitudes may spill over to behavior. There was a case in the Netherlands, for instance, where an Iraqi man killed his sister because she bore a child from a native Dutchman. That is extreme nonwhite racism, even if it is called honor-related violence. After my initiative in the Dutch parliament, a pilot investigation was carried out that found there had been eleven honor-related murders in the Netherlands over an eight-month period.”

Dutch Double Standards

“There are many other cases of minority racism. For instance, a nephew and a niece may have to get married because the family wants to keep its blood pure. Marrying someone from another race, of course, is completely out of the question. If, however, a native Dutch woman says, ‘I’m not interested in a Moroccan man,’ then it makes all the headlines. The Dutch think this manifests the decline of their society.

“If a Dutchman says he doesn’t want a Moroccan or a Turk as a neighbor, he is a racist. If a Moroccan says, ‘I want to live next to other Moroccans,’ that is viewed as a sign of group attachment, because he has been isolated by immigrating. So that is not considered racism. If a right-wing skinhead draws swastikas on a Jewish cemetery, that is Nazism and he will be punished. If a Moroccan immigrant does the same, it is an expression of his displeasure with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“A few years ago on 4 May when the Netherlands commemorated its World War II dead with two minutes of silence, Moroccan youngsters made a lot of noise in one Amsterdam location and played football with the memorial wreaths in another. Although there were angry reactions, even this was explained as a protest against the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“Defining an individual as an eternal victim is a fundamental mistake. Colored people, Muslims, and other non-Western immigrants are not victims. They are individuals, like me, who have come to the Netherlands in search of a better life. It is my responsibility to improve my life, and I am not asking the authorities to do it for me. I request only to live in an environment of peace and security. The socialist worldview is different. Those who are not white and Christian, and do not share the ideas of Christian civilization, are victims by definition.

“Paradoxically enough, that attitude derives partly from the Holocaust, which created major guilt feelings in the Netherlands. Some people think the behavior of their countrymen toward the Jews during the war is something that should never be repeated. Thus they compensate by letting Muslims beat their wives and a few others beat up homosexuals or prepare to plant bombs. Such an attitude reflects mental illness.”

Double Moral Standards toward Israel

“The crisis of Dutch socialism can be sized up in its attitudes toward both Islam and Israel. It holds Israel to exceptionally high moral standards. The Israelis, however, will always do well, because they themselves set high standards for their actions.

“The standards for judging the Palestinians, however, are very low. Most outsiders remain silent on all the problems in their territories. That helps the Palestinians become even more corrupt than they already are. Those who live in the territories are not allowed to say anything about this, because they risk being murdered by their own people.”

When asked whether the moral standards to which many Dutch hold Israel are often also far higher than those they apply to the Netherlands, Hirsi Ali replies: “The VVD and parts of the CDA Christian Democrats do not apply double standards to Israel, nor do the smaller Christian parties. Many other politicians do, however.

“This also has to be seen in a wider context. Not only the Netherlands, but many other European countries have changed their minds after more than fifty years of commemorations of the Holocaust. They are happy to free themselves of its history and of Israel’s history. Thus they apply these very unequal criteria. They also think they are entitled to have their double standards, whereas the Israelis are not.”

Israel’s Security Needs

Hirsi Ali fully understands Israel’s security needs. Her own history makes her very sensitive to them. She is no stranger to threats by other Muslims. In November 2004, Theo van Gogh made the movie Submission on extreme discrimination against women by Muslims, based on Hirsi Ali’s script. Soon after he was cruelly murdered by the radical Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri. The latter left a knife in his body to which a letter was attached that threatened several Dutch politicians with murder, of which Hirsi Ali was one.

She had already received many threats before that. This time Hirsi Ali had to leave her home and live for weeks in a Dutch army camp. Part of the time the Dutch sent her to the United States because they could not protect her in the Netherlands. She could not do her parliamentary work during that period. The same was the case for the Dutch conservative politician Geert Wilders.

Her preoccupation with security is felt throughout our conversation. Before she arrives in the hotel where we meet, one of her state-provided guards tells me she can only sit at one specific table in the lobby. Elsewhere she may be shot at through the windows. When she arrives surrounded by tall bodyguards, two young Danish men in the room come over to express their admiration for her.

When we start to talk, she is worried about somebody who remains seated too close to us for her taste. I explain that he is probably a foreigner who has no idea who she is. Finally the hotel manager, who is very honored by her visit, suggests that we continue our conversation in his office.

Who Is Responsible?

The conversation moves to who is responsible for the Middle Eastern conflict. Hirsi Ali says: “It is hard to believe that there are Dutch people who say that if Israel would follow another foreign policy and withdraw from the territories, the problem would disappear entirely. This attitude is infantile and utopian wishful thinking, but one cannot get it out of their heads.

“Still I do try sometimes. For instance, I refer to the behavior of Arab countries that have no direct interaction with Israel. Their oil reserves have made them extremely rich, yet they remain very fundamentalist, hate the West, and want to destroy it. This Wahhabi thinking is promoted by the Saudis and not the Palestinians. To think that if Israel leaves the occupied territories, Saudi Arabia will suddenly propagate another religion is both too infantile for words and opportunistic.

“To counteract such attitudes, Israel first of all has to stand firm. A state’s prime responsibility is to guarantee the security of its citizens. If Israel doesn’t do that, its society is in danger. When I visited Israel, I found much firmness there. One such person I talked to there was Natan Sharansky, whom I have also met in the Netherlands.”

Israeli and Dutch Fundamentalism

Not all of Hirsi Ali’s reactions to what she saw in Israel were positive. “From my superficial impression, the country also has a problem with fundamentalists. The ultra-Orthodox will cause a demographic problem because these fanatics have more children than the secular and the regular Orthodox.

“Knowledge and realism are the basis for the well-being of a small country. Those who want to exclude their children from this so as to promote a certain type of religion are a danger for any state. Such an attitude also exists among nonfundamentalists in Dutch society. There are many who close their eyes to realities. All they want is entertainment; they do not want to read anything or find out anything more. People like that no longer understand what danger is.

“However, if there are bomb attacks in the Netherlands like those in London in July 2005, utopian socialism will increasingly give way to realism. The utopists, once Muslims throw a bomb at their house, will lose much of their leftist ideology and become more realistic human beings. There is already such a trend in the Netherlands. When the immigrants arrived, many of them refused to integrate. At that time the authorities refused to listen to the complaints of native Dutchmen.

“Thus more and more people left the big cities for the suburbs or the countryside. There is also some emigration from the Netherlands for a variety of reasons. Farmers have gone abroad and been successful. This will influence others who will want to do the same.

“On the other hand, some groups of native Dutch have begun to defend themselves through violence. Increasingly people want to join new political parties that make security and the fight against terrorism a central plank. The existing parties and the Dutch government will have to deal with developments more realistically. If they run away from their responsibility there will be small, or even large, explosions of violence.”

A False Image of Tolerance

“Those who propagate the image of the Netherlands as a tolerant country talk nonsense. There is a huge difference between being tolerant and tolerating intolerance. Many Dutchmen think they are very tolerant if they let others do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t threaten their own personal freedom.

“A few centuries ago, they did not have that attitude. They did not tolerate the Dutch Catholic Church because it was an intolerant religion. The Catholics then adapted themselves. Many Dutch baby-boomers in power nowadays, however, think that if you tolerate the actions of those who break the law that is a sign of great tolerance.”

One of the many occasions when Hirsi Ali received much publicity in the Netherlands was in March 2004. She wrote an open letter to Amsterdam socialist mayor Job Cohen, telling him he was a nice and involved person but was radically wrong in his understanding and approach to the Muslim issue in the Netherlands.

Criticizing the Mayor of Amsterdam

Some of her observations in that letter we