Do you think America has an immigration problem? Consider Europe, and specifically the Netherlands—a bellwether for the continent.
Here is one of the nicest and most tolerant countries on earth. Open, modern, liberal—the Dutch practically invented globalization, trading throughout the world since the 1600s and welcoming new ideas and all comers. And so it is today. Gay marriage, legalized drugs, prostitution? To each his own, say the Dutch, offering sanctuary to refugees, radicals and freethinkers of every ethnic and political coloration, from Spinoza to America's Puritan founders to a more recent generation of immigrant jobs and asylum-seekers.
What, then, to make of the latest news—the Dutch government's decision to revoke the citizenship of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 36, a Dutch member of Parliament and a prominent campaigner for Muslim women's rights? On its face, the case against her is simple. The Somali-born author and filmmaker lied on her application for political asylum way back in 1992. Never mind that she confessed to the fact years ago, writing and speaking publicly about how she had come to Holland via Kenya to escape an arranged marriage to a man she had never met. When Dutch TV recently broadcast a segment about her, immigration authorities quickly concluded that she should be expelled. Holland is now in an uproar. Was scrupulous law enforcement the real reason for the government's action, many Dutch wonder—or was it that Hirsi Ali has simply become too controversial?
Across Europe, Muslim radicalism is on the rise. Race riots in Paris. Bombings in Madrid and London. Arrests of hate-speaking clerics in Britain, Germany and Italy. Though many may not instantly recognize her name, Hirsi Ali became famous for a film she made with the Dutch director Theo van Gogh. He was found dead 18 months ago with a knife in his chest, impaling a handwritten warning that his murderers would soon get her, too. Ever since, she has lived under round-the-clock protection. Her crime, as Muslim extremists saw it, was to challenge Islam and the Qur'an as an absolute guide to life in modern, Western society. Among the uncomfortable issues she raised: to what extent, in a Europe of laws and human rights, should medieval-era scriptures be allowed to govern such fundamental matters as marriage, education and the relationship between men and women—not to mention assimilation into one's adopted country.
Like the rest of Europe, the Netherlands is only beginning to grapple with these questions. The Dutch are increasingly dismayed at the radicalization of their fast-growing immigrant population. Demographic trends only underscore those concerns. Nearly 40 percent of Rotterdam's population is foreign-born and will exceed half within a decade. Muslim kindergartners already outnumber non-Muslims in many of Holland's major cities. The record on integration, even among second- and third-generation immigrants, meanwhile has been spotty at best. Dutch now widely refer to nonwhites as "Moroccans," whether they come from North Africa, the Middle East or Asia. Holland's famed tolerance, in other words, seems to be stretching to a breaking point.
Signs of the backlash abound. After so many decades of largely unfettered immigration, the country's borders are now closing—particularly for would-be migrants from less-developed nations. NEWSWEEK has previously reported how the Dutch Parliament recently proposed new laws banning the wearing of the burqa outside the home and how Rotterdam has passed a city ordinance requiring Dutch to be spoken in public places. Just a few weeks ago, a new citizenship test was instituted, designed to gauge a would-be migrant's assimilability. Applicants might be shown a picture of a gay couple kissing, for instance and be asked how they feel about homosexuality. A young man might be quizzed about how he would respond if his sister refused to marry a husband chosen by the family or wanted to marry a Dutchman instead.
Most Dutch do not fully know where they stand on all this. Yes, most want to crack down on immigration. Most want their country to remain Dutch, not become some Islamic-European hybrid. Yet they do not want to lose the sense of openness and tolerance that, for hundreds of years, has marked their culture. Ayaan Hirsi Ali fits uneasily into this debate. Lately, she has been touring the United States and Europe for her new book "The Caged Virgin," in which she lashes out against Western tolerance for Islamic practices that are antithetical to our own most fundamental values—free speech, women's rights, social tolerance. Blindly, she says, we celebrate the considerable virtues of multiculturalism and the melting pot—yet do nothing about those in our midst who reject those very principles, sometimes violently.
Despite the obvious resistance her views elicited—a former head of her own Liberal Party called her departure "no loss"—Hirsi Ali promised at a farewell press conference to "continue to ask uncomfortable questions" in order to "help others live in freedom." More to the point, perhaps, she poses the questions that Europeans are not entirely ready to answer. Maybe that made it easier for authorities to make an example of her, and send her packing to a new life in America.