MP under investigation for inciting hatred
The Guardian (England), Jan. 29, 2003
The Netherlands‘ one million-strong Muslim community has become embroiled in a furious row over free speech after its chief critic – a woman MP who has been dubbed the Dutch Salman Rushdie – called the prophet Mohammed a “perverse tyrant”.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a 33-year-old Somali-born immigrant to the Netherlands and a former Muslim, has received death threats and been forced to flee the country in the past because of her outspoken criticism of Islam, but her latest outburst threatens to dwarf previous rows.
Writing in the daily Trouw newspaper, Ms Ali, who was recently elected an MP for the VVD liberal party and is constantly accompanied by bodyguards, said that, by western standards, Mohammed was a perverse man and a tyrant.
Adding insult to injury she also said that the seventh century prophet reminded her of “all those megalomaniac leaders in the Middle East: Bin Laden, Khomeini and Saddam”.
Mohammed’s attitude had, she said, been “do it my way or there’ll be trouble” and modern Muslim politicians were no different.
“Mohammed says that women must stay at home, wear a veil, cannot take part in certain activities, do not have the same inheritance rights as their husbands and can be stoned to death if they commit adultery,” she wrote.
“I want to show people that there is also another reality than the ‘truth’ that is spread all over the world with Saudi money.”
Dutch Muslims have barely been able to conceal their anger. Her comments have been called “blasphemous” and “unacceptable” by an umbrella organisation of Dutch mosques and there have been calls for her to be barred from public office.
Acting on complaints from Muslims, the Amsterdam public prosecutor’s office has also initiated an official investigation into her outburst to see whether she is guilty of inciting hatred against Muslims. A ruling is expected within weeks.
Ironically the same laws have been cited in past, unsuccessful, attempts to prosecute imams for preaching hatred against gays, Israel and the US.
Ms Ali’s political party has also come under serious pressure to distance itself from her comments and its leader, Gerrit Zalm, has tried to do just that. Her remarks were, he said, personal and did not represent party policy.
“The VVD has no standpoint on Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha,” he said.
Trouw, the newspaper which ran the offending story in the first place, remains unrepentant. “In the 1960s and the 1970s we had similar criticism about Christianity and everyone got used to it and now Islam has become a target,” said Koert Van der Velde, a religious affairs specialist on the paper.
“In the short term Muslims will get angry and shout and say it damages integration but I think it will be good for integration in the long term and everyone will get used to it.”
But the country’s Muslims see things differently.
Although they say they are anxious not to undermine the freedom of speech traditionally enjoyed by the Dutch they believe that Ms Ali has gone too far this time.
“As a member of parliament and as someone involved in promoting integration she should not be making these remarks,” Yassin Hartog, a spokesman for Islam and Citizenship, the country’s main Muslim lobby, said.
“Her remarks were blasphemous and have been received with a great deal of pain by the Muslim community. She has crossed a line and this is where we want to draw the line.”
Freedom of speech is one thing for an ordinary citizen, he added, but MPs should not be allowed to say exactly what they wanted in public.
Ms Ali, a self-styled champion of Muslim women’s rights, has angered Muslim clerics in the past by claiming that orthodox Muslim men frequently indulge in domestic violence against women, as well as incest and child abuse.