EU politicians make empty promises to Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been in Brussels to plead for political backing for a controversial proposal to get the EU to pay for her protection. By Vanessa Mock
She was invited by French Socialist MEPs, who launched the initiative to set up a special fund for the former Dutch Parliamentarian who has received death threats because of her critical views of Islam.
"Today I find myself in the embarrassing position that I have to come to ask for help," she told the European Parliament. "I need you to support this fund to protect people like me whose only crime is free speech."
Ms Hirsi Ali has been living under police protection since the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004, with whom she made a film about Islam's treatment of women. A note targeting her by name was found on van Gogh's body.
The Dutch government stopped paying her security bills last year when she left to work in the US. "I think it was the wrong decision. I am forced to do fundraising and will have to go into hiding when the money runs out," she said simply.
Despite a high-publicity campaign in Brussels, the Somali-born Hirsi Ali is likely to come away empty-handed. The proposal has received the backing of just one in seven MEPs (85 out of 785) - and just two Dutch MEPs.
A tragedy for Ayaan
"This initiative is going nowhere," says Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, a Dutch MEP and a former colleague. "It's tragic for Ayaan because she needs security but the EU is not the place to provide it. She is being made to believe in something that does not exist."
The EU fund is the brainchild of French Socialist MEP Benoit Hamon, who says the EU must urgently protect any citizens whose lives are at risk because they exercise the right to speak out. "Europe has to prove it's serious about freedom of expression as a fundamental right, not just as an ideal on paper."
Diplomats however say the idea is unworkable because it would need the political backing of all 27 member states, whereas providing security for individuals has until now remained in State hands.
Protection for Wilders?
Many EU politicians would also balk at the idea of footing the bill to protect controversial figures, such as the radical, right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders. "Where do you set the boundaries for who would be covered by this fund?" asks Ms Hennis-Plasschaert.
It is telling that even EU Commissioner Nellie Kroes, Ms Hirsi Ali's political mentor during her early days in The Hague, has given a cautious response. "She is an extremely courageous woman and deserves support," Mrs Kroes, one of the most powerful politicians in Brussels, told RNW. "But it is still early days, things are being discussed. We have to wait and see."
Shame on the Dutch
Earlier this week, Ms Hirsi Ali was invited by French intellectuals and Socialists in France, who had called for her to be granted French citizenship so that Paris could pay for her security. They criticised The Hague for suspending her security costs, estimated at Euro 2 million a year.
"As a European, I feel ashamed," said French writer, Bernard-Henri Levy. "Ayaan is a true European, she defends European values of freedom to judge and to express herself and dare to criticise."
Ms Hirsi Ali stressed that her love for the Netherlands was undiminished but that she felt let down. "The government supported my decision to leave as life had become impossible in the Netherlands and they promised to continue paying for my safety."
This week, the Justice Ministry reiterated that it would resume payment if she returned from the US but Ms Hirsi Ali says it would be impossible for her to lead a normal life there. She was forced to leave her previous Dutch apartment after her neighbours filed court proceedings against having such a high-profile resident.
The US has refused to cover the cost because it is against its policy to pay for the safety of individuals.
Who is Ayaan Hirsi Ali?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the daughter of a Somali scholar and revolutionary opposition leader Hirsi Magan Isse.
Her screenplay Submission, and her autobiography Infidel, led to death threats from Muslim organisations.
She obtained political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, where she was parliamentarian for the VVD Party from 2003-6.
A political crisis surrounding the potential stripping of her Dutch citizenship led her to resign and indirectly prompted the fall of the second Balkenende cabinet.
She is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
15 February 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]