PARIS: A former Dutch member of Parliament and outspoken critic of Islam has prompted a fierce debate over who should pay for protecting her against death threats while she works in the United States.
The case has raised questions about the extent of governments’ responsibilities to citizens whose lives have been threatened by extremists.
It has also rekindled the divisive debate about freedom of speech and the integration of Muslim minorities that followed the murder of Theo van Gogh, Hirsi Ali’s collaborator on a controversial film about Islam called “Submission.”
Van Gogh was murdered as he cycled to work in Amsterdam in November 2004 and a death threat against Hirsi Ali was pinned to his chest by the assailant’s knife.
That prompted Hirsi Ali, the most prominent Dutch woman to renounce Islam, to go into hiding under 24-hour guard. Hirsi Ali’s decision to take up a post with the American Enterprise Institute followed a threat to strip the Somali-born politician of her Dutch nationality because she had admitted lying on her asylum application after she arrived in the Netherlands in 1992. Ultimately, she retained her Dutch passport, but left the country last year, receiving protection while in the United States at the expense of the Dutch government.
The American Embassy in The Hague said that the United States never pays security for private citizens. No figures have been released on the costs of Hirsi Ali’s security but one newspaper, Volksrant, calculated that round-the-clock cover, with six bodyguards, would cost ‚¬4 million, or $5.7 million, a year.
The Dutch government is expected to make a statement on the funding to Parliament on Thursday or Friday.
Britta Böhler, Hirsi Ali’s lawyer, said her client was willing to pay her security costs but had not yet organized financing. She added that, while Hirsi Ali is unable to pay, the Dutch government has a responsibility for her safety, according to a Dutch news agency, ANP.
The leader of the Greens party in the Netherlands, Femke Halsema, supported that position, arguing that “it is the duty of the Dutch government to provide security for Hirsi Ali so long as she doesn’t have the funds to pay for herself or find another solution.”
But Sybrand van Haersma Buma, security spokesman for the Christian Democratic Party, which leads the Dutch coalition government, said, that when Hirsi Ali is in the United States “it is up to the U.S. to express what system of protection there is,” adding, “That doesn’t mean that we demand the same protection as the Dutch – we demand the protection that is appropriate to their system.”
“When she left, the government paid for a period of time which was limited – about a year,” van Haersma Buma said. “The period that the Dutch government consented to pay has come to an end. I don’t think that the government should pay when a citizen leaves to go to another country because we cannot assess the threat, that can only be done by the state.”
Wim Kok, spokesman for the Dutch national anti-terrorism coordinator, Tjibbe Joustra, said that Hirsi Ali had held talks with Joustra in the Netherlands on Tuesday.
The American Enterprise Institute declined to comment on whether it could pay some or all of Hirsi Ali’s security costs.
Another high-profile Dutch critic of Islam, Geert Wilders, a rightist politician, has police protection. He remains a member of the Dutch Parliament.
Supporters of Hirsi Ali liken her case to that of Salman Rushdie, who faced a fatwa issued by the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini authorizing the murder of the British writer after the publication of his work “The Satanic Verses.” Rushdie’s security is believed to be paid for by British taxpayers, even when he is abroad. The British Home Office refused to comment on the funding for Rushdie’s security.