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Holland Has No Use For Heroes

Over the past week, commentators have reacted in shock and utter amazement over the Dutch government’s decision to stop funding the protection of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Many pinned their hopes on a debate in Dutch parliament, an institution which over time has become used to gathering for emergency debates over its fraught relationship with its adopted Somali daughter. The last time was in the summer of 2006 where the less than apt treatment meted out to Hirsi Ali by the then right-of-center coalition led by Jan-Peter Balkenende resulted in a loss of parliamentary confidence and the subsequent elections in the fall of 2006.

The said election not only returned a center-left coalition (again led by Balkenende) it somehow heralded an era of restoration. The Dutch instinctively veer towards stability and consensus and the political turmoil created by the now late Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh as well as the expelled Hirsi Ali had for some run its course. It was as some of the political establishment hoped ‘time to put the genie back in the bottle’, a sentiment not unheard of on this side of the ocean where many still believe that a return to that peaceful and careless pre-9/11 world is still a viable option. And although there does not seem to be a clear agenda with motivated political agents, there appears to be a mood that the pendulum can swing the other way and in that spirit Dutch parliament gathered yesterday to once more discuss Hirsi Ali.

The outcome of the debate was therefore not all that surprising as most parties appeared to be lining up behind the current administration and its assessment that the time had come to end the nation’s involvement with Hirsi Ali. And that assessment was brutal in its candor as Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin informed parliament that Hirsi Ali had not taken sufficient steps to arrange alternative, privately funded, security and that she ‘lacked the willingness to assume her own responsibility in this matter’. It was only the Green Left that appeared to be unsatisfied with this explanation and to their credit tabled a motion that seeks to extend Dutch security efforts. A symbolic gesture only as it is likely to fail in a vote later this week.

Hirsi Ali must have sensed that the mechanics of the debate were not working in her favor and her lawyer released a series of confidential documents right before the debate, much to the annoyance of the government. They make for good reading as they lend support to the fact that Dutch authorities were less than motivated to provide effective security to her. In fact from the moment she arrived in Washington DC last year a series of incident took place were Hirsi Ali felt unsafe, notably when her security detail chose to follow her in a separate taxi often leaving her with cabdrivers of Somali and Ethiopian descent one of whom Hirsi Ali claimed recognized her. Dutch authorities according to these documents were also no longer prepared to pick up the cost for securing her new apartment in Washington. Yet, the most astounding piece to come out of these documents is the fact that during one of these security-evaluation meetings Hirsi Ali was advised to seek psychiatric counseling. Hirsi Ali declined this offer – something which the government apparently was willing to fund – by replying that in case her mental condition would require ‘counseling’ she would just as well contact a good friend.

While Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens stepped up to support Hirsi Ali yesterday, many will wonder what has prompted this drastic approach, apparently at odds with that notion of Dutch tolerance and freedom. It left one terse commenter in a Canadian newspaper yesterday wondering why on earth they had bothered to liberate the Dutch some sixty years ago.

There is not one reason for this. Firstly, on a cultural level the Dutch dislike heroes and outspoken success stories, more than once have I explained to foreigners that famous national mantra “act normal, that is strange enough’. Even at the height of her popularity Hirsi Ali was disliked by most Dutchmen. She was too outspoken, disrupted the existing order even though many felt she had a valid point. Hirsi Ali herself never grasped this and took her newfound freedom literally, never finding the right note that would allow her to really fit into the ‘Dutch debate’. Secondly, on a practical level the entire approach to her – her eviction from her apartment, the questions over her passport and her security – were all dealt with in purely administrative and legal terms. Not once did moral considerations or feelings enter a string of bizarre decisions that on its surface appear to be defensible yet upon closer examination lacked any reasonable basis and merely provided an easy justification for many to expedite Hirsi Ali’s exit. Thirdly, and that is something I have more than once addressed on my own blog, the Dutch are not tolerant by nature: at best they are pragmatic, at worst indifferent.

But above all the political dynamics in The Netherlands have changed. In a week where the government allowed and possibly encouraged the immensely popular crown princess Maxima – herself an immigrant – to give a speech in which she denied the existence of a ‘Dutch Identity’ there was no clearer evidence that the tide has turned. The debate and changes of what I would term the ‘Fortuyn-interregnum’ are decisively channeled back into a format where a top-down Dutch consensus originated in the nation’s capital is once more the norm for political discourse. There is no more room for unconventional freethinkers, only the drab conformity from the center devoid of any ideas. In that spirit Dutch parliament yesterday once more turned Hirsi Ali into an orphaned refugee. It is now up to her new American and Canadian friends to adopt her and I have no doubt that they will succeed in doing so.

Pieter Dorsman writes on his own blog Peaktalk and The Van Der Galiën Gazette. He still is a proud Dutchman and after a career in finance in London and Hong Kong he now resides in Vancouver where advises early stage technology firms.