PARIS, May 17 — The Dutch immigration minister’s decision to cancel the citizenship of a Somali-born Dutch legislator has set off a political storm in the Netherlands, with Parliament demanding that the move be revoked.
At the center of the storm is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 36, who gained fame — and received death threats — while campaigning against militant Islam and opposing the abuse she said Muslim women suffered even in Europe.
The immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, said she acted Monday after a television program last week that focused on lies Ms. Hirsi Ali told when she sought political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992 and citizenship in 1997. Ms. Verdonk said she had to be evenhanded after several highly publicized cases recently involving immigrants who had also violated rules.
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Her action prompted an extraordinary session of Parliament beginning Tuesday that lasted almost 10 hours, until 3 a.m. Wednesday. Members from across the political spectrum fired a barrage of questions and attacks. Some accused Ms. Verdonk of politicking to enhance her own status in the polls for the next elections, when she hopes to become the leader of the conservative VVD Party. She has been called “Iron Rita” because of her tough stance on immigration.
Ms. Verdonk agreed early Wednesday to reconsider her decision after it had become clear that she had been virtually isolated.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said that Ms. Verdonk’s decision had been hasty and that Ms. Hirsi Ali, in any case, would continue to receive police protection, as she has since the death threats against her began in 2002.
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People who know the immigration minister and Ms. Hirsi Ali say the confrontation between them is puzzling because they have been close political allies and hold similar views, with each saying that Muslims should integrate into life in the Netherlands or leave.
The attacks on the immigration minister reflect the intensity of the debate about large-scale Muslim immigration as one of the most important themes in Dutch politics, and the high profile of Ms. Hirsi Ali in the Netherlands.
Her repeated warnings that militant Islam might be spreading in Europe and her criticisms about the plight of Muslim women in Europe have earned her many admirers. But she also has many detractors, who have described her comments as “Islam bashing” and who say she has made the already difficult integration debate more polarized.
Ms. Hirsi Ali, who has remained outspoken despite the death threats, worked with the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh on a short film depicting the abuse of Muslim women, for which Mr. van Gogh was killed by a Muslim militant in 2004.
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Clearly taken aback by Ms. Verdonk’s actions, Ms. Hirsi Ali noted that she had long since admitted that she changed her birth date and her last name when she arrived in the Netherlands because she was fleeing an arranged marriage. She said Dutch social workers had recommended that to gain refugee status she claim to be fleeing Somalia, her homeland, where a civil war raged, rather than say that she had been living with relatives, who were refugees in Kenya.
In an interview on Monday she insisted that she had discussed all this with the leaders of her party — to which the immigration minister also belongs — when she was invited to run for a seat in Parliament.
Although Ms. Hirsi Ali is one of the country’s most famous politicians, she had already decided not to seek a new term in 2007 and to take an appointment at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
On Tuesday, after being informed that her Dutch passport was being withdrawn, she announced her resignation from Parliament and said she would leave for the United States sooner than she had planned. What had earlier prompted her to decide to go to the United States, she said, was that in April, an appeals court ordered her to leave her apartment. Her neighbors had sued her, saying her presence made the apartment building unsafe.
Complicating Ms. Hirsi Ali’s situation is the fact that there have been a number of recent high-profile cases in the Netherlands involving immigrants who have not met official criteria. The Supreme Court last year confirmed that an Iraqi family should be expelled for lying about personal information, and in recent weeks, the case of a teenager from Kosovo made headlines when she was forced to leave the country just before completing her high school exams.
Ms. Verdonk told Parliament she had no choice but to follow the rules. But her critics contend that the rules allow her to use discretion, if needed.
In one opinion poll on Tuesday, respondents were almost evenly divided on the issue of whether Ms. Hirsi Ali should be treated like other immigrants and be stripped of her citizenship because she had lied. But prominent writers published a letter denouncing the action as shameful.
Newspapers on Tuesday were almost unanimously against Ms. Verdonk’s move, calling it variously a witch hunt, a fiasco or an embarrassment.
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