- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

When Ayaan Hirsi Ali arrived in the Netherlands in 1992, she applied for asylum because, she said, she feared her family would retaliate against her after she fled her native Somalia to escape an arranged marriage. This week, Hirsi Ali announced she would resign from the Dutch parliament, as she faced losing citizenship for lying to win asylum.

Hirsi Ali is the woman who wrote the screenplay for the short film “Submission,” which was critical of Islam’s treatment of women. The film so angered radical Islamists that Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-born Muslim, assassinated director Theo van Gogh in 2004. Bouyeri left behind a five-page death threat addressed to Hirsi Ali pinned to van Gogh’s chest.

Since then, while living out of the country or with 24-hour police guard in the Netherlands, Hirsi Ali has become an international heroine — “the symbol for Dutch resistance to Muslim fundamentalism,” as the Financial Times put it. She maintained many Muslim immigrants were “incapable of integration” into Dutch society — which is why the Dutch should tighten their immigration policies.

She had personal experience in that department. When she joined the Liberal Party in 2002, Hirsi Ali revealed that when she applied for asylum, she had given a false name, had lied about her age and lied about fleeing from war-torn Somalia. In fact, she left Somalia at age 7. Hirsi Ali left out the fact she arrived via Germany, after living in Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya, where she had been granted asylum — which would have disqualified her for asylum in Holland.

As Americans probably would, the Dutch had received the news about the asylum lies as within acceptable bounds. Until this month, that is, when the Dutch TV program “Zembla” aired a story in which Hirsi Ali’s family denied her account of her marriage. The thrust of the story was that Hirsi Ali had lied not to keep her family from finding her, but to keep the Dutch government from realizing she came from an affluent family enjoying asylum in Kenya.

Hirsi Ali called the “Zembla” story a “smear,” then announced she was resigning from parliament. Already, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk had announced she would lose her citizenship for using a false name, saying, “Laws and rules are valid for everyone.”

As one who has marveled at Hirsi Ali’s courage and applauded her ability to unpeel some of the romantic gauze that clouded the European view of tolerance, I am bitterly disappointed. It is heartbreaking to watch this elegant 36-year-old pay so harsh a price for a mistake made at age 22.

Her credibility is in tatters. Islamic critics who have bristled at her claims of Muslim abuse of women now have cause to ask: If her forced marriage story is bogus, what of her other claims?

This week, Hirsi Ali told reporters: “I am not proud that I lied when I sought asylum in the Netherlands. It was wrong to do so. I did it because I felt I had no choice.”

No doubt many illegal immigrants in the United States today thought the same way — and some eventually will be rewarded with citizenship. Hirsi Ali may end up an American, too. The American Enterprise Institute has offered her a job, though spokesman Andrew Pappas was not sure if she would need or qualify for asylum or a green card.

And then what? Hirsi Ali is a courageous woman who braved death threats in her fight to alert Europe to the dangers of Islamic extremism. Now she is a heroine whose message comes with a question mark.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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