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Commentary: 'We Are Making Fools of Ourselves in the Eyes of the World'

By Leon de Winter in Amsterdam

Fear of fanatical Islamists prompted Ayaan Hirsi Ali to leave the Netherlands, her adopted home, and now she has been forced to return. Paying for her bodyguards in the United States is too expensive for the Dutch government -- what a disgrace.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become the Salman Rushdie of the new century.
AP

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become the Salman Rushdie of the new century.

There are exactly five people that the Dutch government has to protect against death threats from radical Islamists.

This sort of protection is expensive. Society bears the costs because freedom of opinion, a cornerstone of our culture, is on the line. The extremists, for their part, are prepared to risk their own lives to kill those under government protection.

The costs of protection are completely disproportionate to the outcome: the continued existence of our values and norms.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the sixth person granted protection by the Dutch government. She began receiving threats when, as a Dutch citizen and member of the parliament, she spoke out critically against political Islam. After the so-called "passport scandal," when the Dutch minister of immigration and integration threatened to confiscate her passport after Ayaan had been accused of lying about her name and birth date when she first arrived in the Netherlands, she moved to the United States, which precipitated a sharp upswing in her career within only a few months. She wrote a bestseller and landed a job at the American Enterprise Institute. But as a Dutch citizen, Ayaan does not qualify for protection in the United States under US laws and regulations.

Contrary to what many in the Netherlands believe about the success of her autobiography, she is not wealthy. She could not pay for the kind of protection she needs out of her own pocket -- no matter how much she would like to do so. Besides, the Dutch government apparently failed to find the right US officials with whom they could have reached an agreement. Under a decision by Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Balin, the protection paid for by the Dutch government expired on Oct. 1. Ayaan returned to the Netherlands, because without protection she doesn't have a day left to live.

How Much is Her Life Worth?

When someone in the Justice Ministry leaked classified documents on Ayaan's protection to the newspaper NRC Handelsblad, it set off a media circus. Neither Ayaan nor anyone directly associated with her was behind all the attention she is currently attracting. She would have preferred to go on living quietly in the Netherlands, and she would have liked to quietly work out a solution with Hirsch Balin.

How much is her life worth, according to Minister Balin's budget? How does he calculate this? These are politically sensitive questions, questions that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher never asked when it came to the life of Salman Rushdie, wherever he happened to be.

Dutch society has no choice in this case. Canceling Ayaan's protection would be the equivalent of a death sentence. She can lead a relatively quiet life in the United States, but not in the Netherlands. And because she is so well known in the Netherlands and practically lives the life of a prisoner, not even able to go out on the street, the most humane solution is to continue to provide her with protection in America.

When commenting about the fact that the Netherlands paid for Ayaan's protection in the United States, parliamentarian Sybrand van Haersma Buma of the Christian Democrats can't help but admit that "it was a transitional solution, one that cannot last indefinitely."

How many days will he give Ayaan? Another week to live? A month? And then it would be time for the butchers of fundamentalist Islam to move in?

Whether we think she is nice, kind or opportunist, we cannot afford anything happening to her. The Dutch government is making a problem out of something that shouldn't be one, something that only causes chaos and sorrow.

Both Hirsi Ali and Hirsch Balin can only lose. The winners are the extremists who laugh about our inability to offer this courageous woman quiet and safety. You see, it's too expensive. In fact, though, it makes you want to weep.

Translated from the Dutch by Verena Bardtholdt

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