C-Span Would Be Jealous

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

C-Span Would Be Jealous

The lower house of the Dutch Parliament had a debate last night--yes, they met at night--and much of the country was transfixed. Five million viewers tuned in for live TV coverage, and more than a million were still watching after midnight (the thing went on until 3 a.m.). Five million might not sound like a lot by American standards, but the Netherlands has an adult population of 13 million.

Minister Verdonk was pretty much all alone. Members of her own party and other coalition party were, if anything, even more vociferous in criticizing her than were opposition members. The Dutch newspapers this morning all carried headlines like "Verdonk Under Fire." Zacht Ei has a blow-by-blow account of the debate.

Among other things, MPs pointed out that Hirsi Ali's e-mail address is not Ali@tweedekamer.nl but Magan@tweedekamer.nl (the Tweede Kamer is the lower house of the Dutch legislature). In other words, every time Verdonk sent her an e-mail, she knew that Hirsi Ali's "real" name was Magan, her father's surname. As I mentioned yesterday, it's the fact that she was naturalized under the wrong name that Verdonk cited as grounds for determining that Hirsi Ali wasn't a citizen--people are pointing out that this is not news, so why get all excited about it now?

Verdonk's position is that she's just enforcing the clear rules and that she has no discretion in the matter. The irony is that if anyone is supporting her at all, it's the pro-asylum groups who are normally her bitter enemies: they say that this debacle proves that it was a bad idea to adopt such rigid laws in the first place rather than permitting officials to take account of individual cases.

Meanwhile, there's talk--it must be somewhat overblown, I'm sure--of a constitutional crisis. The idea is that if Hirsi Ali was never a Dutch citizen, the parliament has not had the required 150 members for the past three years.

Verdonk has agreed to reconsider her finding (actually, one of the big arguments last night was whether she made a "decision" that Hirsi Ali isn't a citizen, or just noted an existing fact). Meanwhile, Hirsi Ali does continue to have a refugee passport, besides which I've heard (but haven't been able to confirm) that the U.S. ambassador announced that the U.S. will do whatever is necessary to enable her to come to the U.S.

This circus will continue. Stay tuned.

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