I hate to lose a heroine. There are so few of them, these larger-than-life leaders who dedicate themselves to the common good. “Public servants” we used to call them, though most who collect government salaries have long since ceased to practice anything but self-service.
Hirsi Ali is different. She is dedicated to the public good and has laid her life on the line for her beliefs. But now, it is precisely those beliefs that call her work into question.
As everyone knows, Ali Hirsi and Theo van Gogh made a ten-minute documentary film, Submission that ended up getting van Gogh killed. He was actually executed because the killer couldn’t get access to Hirsi Ali, who was his real target. He had to be satisfied to append a message to her by a knife stuck to the chest of his dying victim.
Ali’s contention has always been that Islam is harmful to those who practice it. As the victim of an horrific clitorectomy — sans anesthesia — when she was five, Ali is living proof of that claim. She has gone from that contention to include all religions in her indictment against harmful beliefs that must be eradicated if people are to be free.
Just how fervent is her atheism is coming to light in proposed legislation to do away with Article 23 of the Dutch constitution. At the heart of her dissent are the clauses from three to seven:
3) Education provided by public authorities shall be regulated by Act of Parliament, paying due respect to everyone’s religion or belief.
(4) The authorities shall ensure that primary education is provided in a sufficient number of public-authority schools in every municipality. Deviations from this provision may be permitted under rules to be established by Act of Parliament on condition that there is opportunity to receive the said form of education.
(5) The standards required of schools financed either in part or in full from public funds shall be regulated by Act of Parliament, with due regard, in the case of private schools, to the freedom to provide education according to religious or other belief.
(6) The requirements for primary education shall be such that the standards both of private schools fully financed from public funds and of public-authority schools are fully guaranteed. The relevant provisions shall respect in particular the freedom of private schools to choose their teaching aids and to appoint teachers as they see fit.
(7) Private primary schools that satisfy the conditions laid down by Act of Parliament shall be financed from public funds according to the same standards as public-authority schools. The conditions under which private secondary education and pre-university education shall receive contributions from public funds shall be laid down by Act of Parliament.
One can understand Ms. Hirsi’s concern, if not her conclusions. Private religious schools of the Muslim variety teach values and a way of life that is not conducive to the integration of its students into Dutch life. On the other hand, the Netherlands form, historically, part of Western Europe’s long association with Judaeo-Christian culture. It is these values, formed in a Dutch sensibility about the world, that private and public schools in the Netherlands are designed to inculcate. Ali would lump all these schools together, and it is this stance which may cause her fall from grace.
Unraveling Ms. Ali’s beliefs to find their core is difficult. As does any politician of merit, her views have changed as she has gained experience and perspective. Thus, her initial allegiance to the Dutch Labour Party changed when the Socialists drew back from her ideas about forbidding further Muslim immigration into the Netherlands. Subsequently, she found refuge in the Liberal Party. Now, with her demand that the 23rd amendment of the Dutch constitution be abolished, her place there is threatened.
Alexandra Colen makes several points about Ali in an essay in Brussels Journal. She begins by questioning Ms. Hirsi’s understanding of the culture in which she has made her home:
|Hirsi Ali became known worldwide as a paragon of the successful immigrant: bright, loquacious, a modern woman readily assimilated into Western society, and aware of the necessity to adopt the values of the nation that she has made home. But how Dutch is she really? This seems to depend on whether or not secularism is seen as the core value of Western society, or rather the Judeao-Christian heritage.|
That is a very large question, one which Europe has been grappling with for some time.
In addition, Hirsi Ali appears blind to the Dutch world view:
|Her recent clash… revealed an appalling insensitivity to issues relating to religion but also to classical liberalism, where parents, rather than the state, have always been allowed to decide about the education of their children. Though Hirsi Ali exercises her freedom of speech to the full (and rightly so – it is an indication of the intolerance of certain Muslims that she needs constant surveillance at the expense of the taxpayers), she seems never to have heard of freedom of religion and freedom of education – basic freedoms which have always been as central to the concept of the free society as the freedom of the late Theo Van Gogh to shout abuse at people he did not like.|
Ms. Ali may not have understood the radical differences between the culture in which she was raised and that which she adopted. Her demand to abolish all non-state schools is similar in spirit to Shari’ a law: it is one of absolutes rather than respect for pluralism.
As Ms. Colin points out:
|One may also wonder how much Hirsi Ali really knows about the history of the Dutch. Like other European peoples, they have waged fierce political battles over education and the right to organise independent schools where children could be educated in accordance with the religious values of their parents. Without this system, all traces of Christianity would have long since been eradicated from Dutch society by the secular, anti-religious, “enlightened” establishment. As it is, Dutch society has become largely secular and anti-religious. In all its “enlightenment” it has refused to procreate and, in the name of tolerance, it has accepted alternative lifestyles and multiculturalism. To compensate for the demographic void it created, it has opened its doors to millions of immigrants from an entirely different cultural background, thereby creating the problems that some, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali now hope[s] to fight by restricting the existing freedoms of the West even further for the small band of remaining Christians. Their children will be forcefully secularized by the state, because the latter is frantically searching for a means to forcefully secularize the children of Islam. [emphasis added].|
So far, the United States has avoided this clash — but barely. The government-run schools are a hodgepodge of p.c. reflexivity and large doses of irrelevant diversity. These institutions continue to churn out poorly educated, historically ignorant graduates. Attempts to move toward school vouchers which would permit some children to attend private or public schools of their choice have been met with furious attacks by the powerful and entrenched system of spoils that represent American education from kindergarten through graduate school.
Given the experience of the Dutch in having won some freedom of choice in this regard, perhaps we are better off searching for an alternative in which our public schools can be encouraged to atrophy as we find alternative methods of real education. Homeschooling is not increasing in a vacuum, after all. It exists because those parents who can find a way to make the sacrifice in order to avoid public schools are doing so in increasing numbers. This continuing growth of schooling at home represents a push against the dhimmification of public education. So far efforts to ban homeschoolers have failed.
The Islamic schools in our midst are a concern. They have been found to teach anti-American sentiments. But then, so do our public schools, if not so blatantly. Thus, banning religious education would not solve our problem.
Part of the problem is the locus of power. If the provenance of schools were returned to the states and localities, many issues parents have with schools as they are would die a natural death. Parents would return in droves to an institution which they helped devise and run; children would be educated in the values and history of their surrounding community and their families. “National” “education” is a hybrid of the worst elements of each.
Meanwhile, Ali Hirsi is an object lesson: it is difficult indeed to truly move away from one’s origins without bringing along some of the trappings, however unwittingly. Ms. Ali’s one-size-fits-all forcing of secularization on Dutch education in order to avoid Muslim education for any child is not distinguishable in kind from the orthodoxy in which she was raised. It’s merely the substitution of one orthodoxy for another.
Ms. Ali has not learned or experienced true pluralism so she cannot see past the limits of orthodoxy, she can only move the chairs around.