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NETHERLANDS/USA: Litmus Test

Last week, former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the world's most outspoken feminists, was hung out to dry when the Dutch government announced that it would no longer pay for her protection in the United States. Though the Dutch Parliament claims that the issue is financial, the plain fact is that paying for her protection in the U.S. costs far less than it does in Holland, where the threat to her life is far more grave. It's not the reported $3-million price tag that's the problem for the Dutch. It's Hirsi Ali herself.

Hirsi Ali, readers will remember, is the Somali-born woman who sought and received asylum in the Netherlands in the early 1990s. There, she became an outspoken critic of the treatment of women in Islamic society. She received international attention in 2004 when her friend and collaborator, Theo Van Gogh, was brutally murdered as a result of a film the two made about subjugation of women under Islam. A note, promising Hirsi Ali would be next, was pinned to his chest with a butcher's knife.

Her neighbors no longer felt safe with her on the block and so they sued the state under nothing other than the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 8 - "the right to respect for private life"), and had her evicted. That action, coupled with a controversy in which she admitted to having lied about certain details on her asylum application, caused her to leave Holland in September 2006 for the U.S. But there, too, she has not had the warmest of welcomes, especially among feminists, whom we could rightly have expected to embrace her. Her oppression under Islam, apparently, forces these multiculturalists to confront a nasty reality they would rather ignore.

As a young child, Hirsi Ali survived a circumcision in which her clitoris and inner labia were cut off with scissors before her vagina was sewn shut. She endured beatings by her mother and religious teacher; one time she was left with a fractured skull. Later, she was expected to accept the marriage arranged for her by her father. Instead, she fled to Holland, where she claimed political asylum.

Hirsi Ali's proficiency with languages (she speaks six) allowed her to find work as a translator for other Somali refugees, whose stories bore striking resemblance to her own. She began to speak out against violence carried out in the name of Islam.

The death threats began long before the Van Gogh murder. In 2002, Hirsi Ali was forced to flee Holland for the first time for security reasons. She returned a few months later to run for Dutch Parliament. As an MP, Hirsi Ali was a tireless and decidedly politically incorrect defender of women's rights. By focusing on domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and "honor killings" within Holland's Muslim community, she challenged the recklessly naive multiculturalism that characterizes so much of the Western political landscape.

It's no wonder the Dutch don't like having her around. Hirsi Ali, today 37, seems to inspire the kind of intolerant behavior that is unbecoming of a culture that so prides itself on multiculturalism.

Some in Holland blame Hirsi Ali for being a lightning rod, for bringing the problems on herself. But lightning rods, particularly ones that have written books with titles like "The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam," are precisely the kind of women who should receive nothing less than a hero's welcome among feminists. Or so we would think. In reality, organizations like the National Organization for Women in the U.S. have remained mum, failing to defend her.

A look at feminist criticisms of Hirsi Ali over the past few years indicate why. She is branded as "Islamophobic" and a "traitor" to a besieged Islam. In Newsweek, she was called "reactionary," "single-minded" and a "bombthrower." Her work has been called "stunningly ignorant scholarship" in The Nation. Ann Snitow, professor of literature and gender studies at the New School for Social Research, has accused her of "aligning herself with U.S. fundamentalism and violence," dismissing her as another neocon.

Are today's feminists so paralyzed by the risk of being branded culturally insensitive, or racist, that they refuse to stand up for what is clearly just? The problem here is that the dogma of multiculturalism is trumping the most basic women's rights. Today's Western feminists squirm at the idea - one asserted by dissidents like Hirsi Ali - that some cultures are substantively better for women than others. As Irshad Manji, another heroic Muslim feminist and the author of "The Trouble with Islam Today" (2004) said in an interview this week with The Times of London: "Human beings are born equal, but cultures are not."

It's hard to imagine a leading American feminist who would admit to being so old-fashioned. Kudos to the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank where Hirsi Ali is a fellow, for setting up funds for her protection. But the job of defending a woman who first and foremost calls herself a feminist should not be limited to AEI. If Hirsi Ali has exposed the trouble with Islam, the feminist response to her has unwittingly exposed the trouble with feminism.

SOURCE: Haaretz.com

AUTHOR: Bari Weiss

URL: Click here

DATE: 27/10/2007

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