Hirsi Ali Update

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hirsi Ali Update

The split between insiders and outsiders is becoming ever more stark.

Rita Verdonk's patron Neelie Kroes, who is now the European Commissioner for Competition (i.e., the European Union's anti-trust czar), has withdrawn her support for Verdonk's candidacy to become leader of the Liberal Party. The race for the leadership was well underway when the whole Hirsi Ali crisis broke out. As far as I can tell, most prominent Liberal MPs are running away from Verdonk as fast as they can.

Meanwhile, Verdonk announced that she is not standing down from the race and contended that the party stands the best chance of becoming the largest party in Parliament--as opposed to a junior member of a coalition headed by the Christian Democrats--if she is leader. In her determination, she is still getting a lot of support from rank-and-file members of the party, and since they're the ones who vote on the leader, she's still in with a chance. Her appeal has always been her toughness, so this only makes her look more attractive to her devotees.

This quote, when asked in the hallway of the parliament building whether she would resign from her position as Immigration Minister, fits nicely into that image (you have to see the Dutch to get the defiant tone): "Je moet optreden, niet aftreden." In English: "You've got to take action (optreden), not resign (aftreden)." (Actually, I think it might be even more clever, since optreden can mean both to take action and to serve in a certain capacity--to be a government minister, for example. But I'm way out of my linguistic depth at this point).

Verdonk continues to argue that she had no choice. My off-the-cuff translation: "I have to uphold laws and regulations. That's difficult, especially when you know someone well. But the laws apply to everyone equally."

Hirsi Ali's lawyer begs to differ. She claims that Verdonk did have some discretion in the matter. I don't know whether the double entendre is as striking to the Dutch ear when she says: "My client's situation isn't as black-and-white as Verdonk makes it out to be."

My own, ill-informed intuition is that while Verdonk may or may not survive (in the sense of keeping her current job, let alone becoming party leader), the whole brouhaha will only boost Hirsi Ali's career. If she wants to go back to parliament, she'll be able to eventually; even if Verdonk is right about the law, surely Hirsi Ali will be able to go back and get Dutch citizenship the right way if she wants to. But she may be looking to bigger and better things than the Dutch parliament (no offense meant to my Dutch friends), and this episode has not only heightened her already considerable celebrity status in the Netherlands but also projected her onto the international stage. If the AEI really wants her, then she's already made some very useful connections in Washington.

The two principals in the eye of this hurricane, during happier times:

Verdonk says she hasn't had any contact with Hirsi Ali since she broke the news to her that she wasn't Dutch. But she will call her soon, "simply, as just Rita," i.e., as a buddy not a minister.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall (or a federal agent listening in without a warrant) on that call.

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