A Somali-born member of Parliament who became an internationally known opponent of fundamentalist Islam said Tuesday she will resign and leave the Netherlands because the government was revoking her citizenship for lying on an asylum application.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been under police protection since a film she wrote criticizing the treatment of women under Islam provoked the murder of its director, Theo van Gogh, by an Islamic radical.
She said she had made her decision Monday night, after Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk told her “she would strip me of my Dutch citizenship.”
“I am therefore preparing to leave Holland,” Hirsi Ali told reporters in The Hague, her voice choking with emotion. She declined to comment on what she will do next, or on Dutch media reports that she will join the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.
The threat to strip Hirsi Ali of Dutch citizenship appeared to divide the government: Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he was “surprised by the speed” of Verdonk’s decision and had asked for an explanation.
“The Cabinet believes that laws and rules should be obeyed, and that’s also the case in this situation,” Balkenende said. “But carefulness must also be taken into consideration.”
He added that Verdonk bore “individual responsibility” for her decisions in immigration cases.
Parliament scheduled an emergency debate for later Tuesday, at which Verdonk was expected to defend her decision.
U.S. immigration officials and a spokesman for the Washington-based think tank declined to comment on Hirsi Ali’s possible move.
“AEI does not comment on prospective personnel decisions,” spokesman Andrew Pappas said.
Hirsi Ali said she felt she had been successful in putting “oppression of immigrant women” on the national agenda and getting Dutch “politicians to grasp the fact that major aspects of Islamic doctrine and tradition, as practiced today, are incompatible with an open society.”
She vowed to “go on” with her work against fundamentalist Islam and plans to make a sequel to Van Gogh’s film “Submission.”
Hirsi Ali falsified her name and date of birth on her asylum application when she arrived in 1992, fearing reprisals from her family after she fled an arranged marriage.
She was granted a passport in 1997 and acknowledged the falsification in 2002 during vetting as a candidate for parliament. There were no objections then.
But after a television program brought new attention to the matter last week, Verdonk ruled that naturalization had been improperly granted.
Verdonk has built her reputation as a tough enforcer of immigration rules, especially in high-profile cases.
A Kosovo-born teenager who had lived in the Netherlands since she was 12 was deported on Verdonk’s orders a month before graduating high school. Verdonk also denied an Ivory Coast-born soccer player citizenship despite pleas by the Netherlands’ national team coach to naturalize him in time for the World Cup.
Hirsi Ali became internationally known after the murder of Van Gogh in November 2004. She wrote the script for “Submission,” which criticized the treatment of women under fundamentalist Islam, and offended many Muslims.
Van Gogh’s murderer left a note threatening Hirsi Ali, and she has been under police protection since then. The Dutch state had been scrambling to arrange new housing for her after her neighbors in The Hague complained successfully last month that security arrangements for her had become an unbearable nuisance.
“It is difficult to live with so many threats on your life and such a level of police protection,” Hirsi Ali said. “It is difficult to work as a parliamentarian if you have nowhere to live. All that is difficult but not impossible. It has become impossible since last night.”
Supporters reacted with dismay to the government’s decision.
EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad that she was “ashamed of the Netherlands because a valuable person like Hirsi Ali is being shoved out of the country.”
Galen Irwin, a political science professor who mentored Hirsi Ali while she studied at Leiden University, said Verdonk’s decision was “strange.”
“There is nothing new about Ayaan’s perceived lies. What disturbs me is the fact that she told her party leadership about this in 2002” and they failed to act then, Irwin said.
Hirsi Ali said that she had been left with little choice but to resign while she resolves her citizenship problems.
“Instead of fighting for the issues I care about I would be getting into legal fights,” she said. “It’s better, more appropriate, more elegant to take the time for that than impose my own personal problems on the parliament and the public.”