Correspondents in or from the Netherlands have written to me on the subject of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Views differ. I admire her in many ways, myself – but that doesn’t entail thinking she’s beyond criticism. So I was glad to see this piece by Ian Buruma; it seems fair. (I say ‘seems’ only because I don’t know nearly enough about Dutch politics to judge. I have to take his word for what he’s saying – but I see little reason not to.)
In the name of the Enlightenment, she would do battle against the new counter-Enlightenment, and she found allies among a variety of conservative intellectuals and politicians – and some former leftists, too – who were convinced that multiculturalism had failed, that the Dutch were timid, even cowardly, in the face of the Muslim challenge and that a tough line had to be taken. Rita Verdonk was only a particularly extreme and unimaginative exponent of this new mood…It was she who sent back vulnerable refugees to places like Syria and Congo. It was under her watch that asylum seekers were put in prison cells after a fire had consumed their temporary shelter and killed 11 at the Amsterdam airport. She was the one who decided to send a family back to Iraq because they had finessed their stories, even though human rights experts had warned that they would be in great danger…In this context, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s earlier remarks about the “terror” of “political correctness” have an unfortunate ring. It would have been better if she had taken this opportunity to speak up for the people who face the same problem that she did, of trying to move to a free European country, because their lives are stunted at home for social, political or economic reasons. By all means let us support Ayaan Hirsi Ali now, but spare a thought also for the nameless people sent back to terrible places in the name of a hard line to which she herself has contributed.
There’s more than one kind of tough line. Resisting cultural relativism is one thing, sending refugees back to Syria and Congo is another. So spare a thought.