Hisri Ali 88 298.
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Her preoccupation with security is felt throughout our conversation. Before Ayaan Hirsi Ali arrives in the hotel where we meet, one of her state-provided guards tells me she can only sit at one specific table in the lobby. Elsewhere she may be shot at through the windows. When she arrives, surrounded by tall bodyguards, two young Danish men in the room come over to express their admiration for her.
When we start to talk, she is worried about somebody who remains seated too close to us for her taste. I explain that he is probably a foreigner who has no idea who she is. Finally the hotel manager, who is very honored by her visit, suggests that we continue our conversation in his office.
"I visited Israel a few years ago, primarily to understand how it dealt so well with so many immigrants from different origins," she says. "My main impression was that Israel is a liberal democracy. In the places I visited, including Jerusalem as well as Tel Aviv and its beaches, I saw that men and women are equal. One never knows what happens behind the scenes, but that is how it appears to the visitor. The many women in the army are also very visible.
"I understood that a crucial element of success is the unifying factor among immigrants to Israel. Whether one arrives from Ethiopia or Russia, or one's grandparents immigrated from Europe, what binds them is being Jewish. Such a bond is lacking in the Netherlands. Our immigrants' background is diverse and also differs greatly from that of the Netherlands, including religion."
Not all of Hirsi Ali's reactions to what she saw in Israel were positive, however.
"From my superficial impression, the country also has a problem with fundamentalists," she says. "The ultra-Orthodox will cause a demographic problem because these fanatics have more children than the secular and the regular Orthodox."
"I have visited the Palestinian quarters in Jerusalem as well. Their side is dilapidated, for which they blame the Israelis. In private, however, I met a young Palestinian who spoke excellent English. There were no cameras and no notebooks. He said the situation was partly their own fault, with much of the money sent from abroad to build Palestine being stolen by corrupt leaders.
"When I start to speak in the Netherlands about the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the role of Arafat in the tragedy of Palestine, I do not get a large audience. Often one is talking to a wall. Many people reply that Israel first has to withdraw from the territories, and then all will be well with Palestine."
On Double Moral Standards
"The crisis of Dutch socialism can be sized up in its attitudes toward both Islam and Israel. It holds Israel to exceptionally high moral standards. The Israelis, however, will always do well, because they themselves set high standards for their actions.
"The standards for judging the Palestinians, however, are very low. Most outsiders remain silent on all the problems in their territories. That helps the Palestinians become even more corrupt than they already are. Those who live in the territories are not allowed to say anything about this because they risk being murdered by their own people."
Hirsi Ali's criticism of Islam is more general. "Almost nobody in the West wants to understand that Islam's problems are structural. Contemporary Islam hardly exists. Islam stopped thinking in the year 900 and has stood still for more than a thousand years. Western Muslims, however, live in an environment where you can think independently without your head being chopped off by somebody.
"If one wants to meet contemporary Muslims, one has to go to the Ahmadiyya movement. The Muslim mainstream, however, considers them heretics. I have been educated as a Muslim and I want to change some of Islam's tenets. This makes me a heretic and thus radicals want to eliminate me."
Hirsi Ali explains why she is a danger to radical Muslims.
"They realize that I know too much about Islam. I am also a woman. If a woman no longer believes, she frees herself. They are deathly afraid that if one drops out, others may follow; that is how herds function."
The writer is Chairman of the Board of Fellows at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This interview was part of a major project of about 100 interviews with prominent Dutch people on the Dutch attitude toward Jews and Israel, which was funded by the Israel Maror Foundation.