22 February 2008

Then again, maybe not...

Yesterday, the news reported that France will not pay for Hirsi Ali's protection outside of France, should she become a French citizen. According to the article, France only pays to protect its diplomats outside of the country. I commented on this story earlier this month, so it's rather interesting to see France's government's response to the intellectuals and politicians who first suggested that Hirsi Ali become a French citizen. One can only assume that French citizenship will become significantly less attractive to Hirsi Ali if it does not include the protection she needs.

Of course, in the way that all things come together or rather conspire to make me rethink positions, Vrij Nederland, a liberal weekly Dutch news magazine, featured an article about Hirsi Ali's protection problems this week. The gist of it is that authors and columnists in the Netherlands, whether they agreed with her or not, are calling on Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende to reverse the October 2007 parliamentary decision to not pay for Hirsi Ali's protection outside of the Netherlands. According them, regardless of what Hirsi Ali says, the Netherlands is duty bound to protect her right to freedom of speech.

This sets me thinking. Do I think that the Dutch government should pay for Ayaan Hirsi Ali's protection outside of the Netherlands? What about the freedom of speech? There are a couple of interesting facts to consider here. For example, Hirsi Ali is living outside of the Netherlands because she took a job in Washington D.C. She choose to leave the Netherlands, where she would be protected to work in the United States. And there is the fact that she left amidst some serious controversy with regards to her application for Dutch citizenship. I think these help explain a lack of public support in the Netherlands for her protection outside the country.

Then there's the freedom of speech question. I have to admit to having my doubts the past few years. Mainly because freedom of speech seems to be a sliding scale. Insult Muslims by offending one of the basic beliefs of their faith, like publishing Mohammed cartoons, and you're within your rights. When people then protest, and I'm not advocating death threats or threats of violence, but protest, they're criticized for opposing freedom of expression. What happened to their right to disagree? Freedom of speech seems to belong to the liberally provocative and, most importantly, to the secular. The example that particularly irritates me happened in the Netherlands a few years ago. After Theo van Gogh's murder, there was an outcry about his right to the freedom of expression, mainly in reference to the film Submission, which was critical of Islam. A few months later a fire at the illegal immigrant detention center at Schiphol airport resulted in the deaths of 11 detainees. The sitting Minister for Immigration and Integration, Rita Verdonk, was held responsible for the incident. When protesters hung sheets that read "Verdonk Murderer" from windows, the sheets were removed by authorities.

All this leaves me wondering, if we can agree that the freedom of speech is important, can we agree on who it applies to? At this point, it seems like freedom of speech has come to be understood as a freedom to provoke unpopular positions. And isn't there a responsibility that comes with having the freedom of speech?

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