I was quite surprised to see in the papers yesterday that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Holland's most and least favorite Somali immigrant and former parliamentarian, is considering becoming French. Hirsi Ali is an outspoken critic of Islam and has been living under protection for several years. She has been the target of numerous death threats, especially after the killing of Theo van Gogh in relation to the film "Submission," a project that he collaborated on with Hirsi Ali. In 2006, after an unrelated crisis in which she nearly lost her Dutch citizenship, she moved to Washington D.C. to work for the American Enterprise Institute. The Netherlands agreed to pay for her protection for one year, and when that year ran out last fall, they stopped paying. As a result, Hirsi Ali has had to seek private funding for her personal protection. Now, a group of intellectuals and politicians in France is petitioning for her to receive French citizenship so France can pay for her protection.
Do I think that Hirsi Ali has a right to physical protection? I wouldn't claim to know enough about her situation to answer that question, but my tentative answer is "probably." Yet still, this new development irritates me. For one thing, there was a lively debate in The Netherlands last fall about loyalty. The issue arose because a number of newly elected parliamentarians had dual nationality. There were questions about their ability to perform their state duties as individuals with potentially split loyalties. Will this question, or a version of it seeing as how she's no longer in parliament, be raised again in light of Hirsi Ali's eagerness to switch nationalities?
Another thing that bothers me is the media's insistence on comparing Hirsi Ali with Salman Rushdie. There is a difference between receiving numerous personal threats and having the orthodox Islamic leadership issue a fatwa against you. With her two books, The Caged Virgin and Infidel, Hirsi Ali has surely angered many people, but her safety situation has not escalated the way that Rushdie's did. Remember that for many years, Rushdie never appeared in public.
I have intentionally left out any commentary about Hirsi Ali's anti-Muslim position here. Whether I agree with her or not, I can agree that she has a right to speak out. But something about the easy adoption of any convenient nationality sits wrong with me. Maybe it shouldn't. Maybe we should all be able to switch nationalities as easily as t-shirts and passports shouldn't matter. What do you think?