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Dutch Politics VVD D66

The prince of liberty

   Tue 16/10/2007

Since criticising Islam for condoning violence against women, she has been on the run from Islamist extremists trying to kill her. The warning note was attached to the body of murdered cineaste Theo van Gogh with a knife.

Ayaan has had an eventful year. In the summer of 2006 she had to escape to the US after a court ruled in favour of her neighbours who were afraid to share a building with a terrorist target.

This came at around the same time that the populist immigration minister Rita Verdonk first took her Dutch passport away for lying about her name, and giving it back a month later after it turned out that Somali family law allowed her to use her grandfathers name after all. The matter led to the fall of the Dutch government in June 2006, when junior coalition partner D66 lost their trust in the minister, while the other two parties (CDA and VVD) insisted on keeping her in the job. Verdonk has, in the meantime, been kicked out of the parliamentary group of the VVD, because of, yes, loss of trust.

The current drama centres on Ayaan's safety.

When she fled to the US, the Dutch government pledged to protect her there. The government now claims this was just for a year. The protection expires this month. Ayaan apparently agrees that the Dutch financed protection cannot go indefinitely. She has now asked for more time to raise the necessary private funds. Salman Rushdie, who has joined the debate, indicated that the former VVD party leader, Gerrit Zalm, promised her protection forever when he 'stole' her (and the many votes she represented) away from the rival PvdA party.

Interestingly, her former party friends in the VVD have joined the right wing calls of Geert Wilders (who also has protection because of his 10-point plan to "de-Islamify" Holland) in calling for an end to her protection. After all, why should the Dutch taxpayer foot the bill?

If you find this bookkeeping mentality hard to accept in the face of the threats she faces, you’re in good company. Salman Rushdie has warned the Dutch prime Minister that this could turn into an international scandal for The Netherlands. TIME Magazine has nominated Ayaan as one of the world’s most influential people. She has become an international icon in the fight to liberate women, whether you like her or not.

Yes, she is very outspoken and critical of her former religion. I am sure that some Muslims found her film 'Submission' extremely upsetting. But many Christians found 'Life of Brian' or the 'Last Temptation of Christ' deeply insulting. They did not however murder the producer or try to assassinate the writer. Violence, or the threat of it, undermines everything we hold dear. When we allow terrorists to dictate what a person can say, they win.

Societies that cherish freedom need to realize that freedom comes at a price. Whether the annual cost of protecting Ayaan is EUR100,000 or 3 million, should not be the issue. Whether we protect her for one more month or the rest of her life should not be the issue.

The Netherlands should have decided to pay what is needed to protect one of her most prominent citizens and in doing could have reclaimed its reputation as a haven for free thinking and free speech. Regrettably, last week only two parties felt that way: the Greens and D66, the social-liberals.

The Government washes its hands of the matter, and Ayaan is left to fend for herself. Now the Danes are coming to the rescue and have offered Ayaan protection. The cartoon crisis has taught them that sometimes you have to stand up for liberty, even if it costs a few euro. I was already buying more Danish cheese in order offset the post-cartoon boycott. We will now be doubling our consumption. Long live the Danes!