The Somali-born Dutch politician and critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, yesterday quit parliament and announced plans to leave the Netherlands after the government threatened to strip her of citizenship for lying on an asylum application 14 years ago.
At an emotional press conference, Ms Hirsi Ali confirmed speculation that she will emigrate, following the dispute over her naturalisation, which has divided the Netherlands.
Once a devout Muslim, Ms Hirsi Ali lives under 24-hour guard after a death threat against her was pinned to the chest of her ally, the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered in broad daylight as he cycled to work in 2004. Ms Hirsi Ali was an outspoken critic of Muslim fundamentalism and worked with Mr Van Gogh on Submission, a film featuring veiled women with texts from the Koran written on their flesh.
Her voice nearly breaking, she told journalists yesterday: "I am ending my membership of parliament. I will leave the Netherlands. Sad and relieved, I will pack my bags again. I will go on." According to the Dutch media, Ms Hirsi Ali will move to the US to work for the conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute.
Since she joined the VVD Liberal Party in 2002, Ms Hirsi Ali has been open about giving a false name and date of birth when she sought asylum in the Netherlands in 1992. But, following the screening of a TV documentary last week, the hard-line Minister for Immigration, Rita Verdonk, reviewed her case and found naturalisation had been improperly granted, giving her several weeks to appeal.
The minister cited a 2005 Dutch Supreme Court ruling that passports issued to people with false names are automatically invalid. Had the government stripped her of her citizenship, Ms Hirsi Ali would have lost her seat in parliament.
Ms Verdonk - also a member of the VVD - has built her reputation for enforcing tough immigration rules, and is vying to become party leader. She now faces a backlash within her party over her decision.
Yesterday 36-year-old Ms Hirsi Ali explained why she falsified her passport, saying: "I am not proud that I lied when I sought asylum in the Netherlands. It was wrong to do so. I did it because I felt I had no choice.
"I was frightened that if I simply said I was fleeing a forced marriage, I would be sent back to my family. And I was frightened that if I gave my real name, my clan would hunt me down and find me." She added: "I am going away, but the questions remain. The questions about the future of Islam in our country, the suppression of women in Islamic culture and the integration of the many Muslims in the West."
Ms Hirsi Ali had been considering a move abroad anyway, since a court ruling that she must leave her home by August because her presence put her neighbours' security at risk. Yesterday she said: "It is difficult to live with so many threats on your life and such a level of police protection. It is difficult to work as a parliamentarian if you have nowhere to live. All that is difficult but not impossible. It has become impossible since last night."Reuse content