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18 May 2006

Rita Verdonk and the Netherlands' slide to the right

Netherlands Minister for Integration and Immigration Rita Verdonk shakes hands with an imam in June 2005. Earier she had cancelled a meeting with a Muslim group whose men refused to shake hands with her. (

The Times (London UK)
13 October 2005

Dutch unveil
toughest face in Europe
with ban on the burka

from Anthony Browne in Brussels

The 'time of cosy tea-drinking' with Muslims
is over, says the minister who would ban the burka

THE Netherlands is likely to become the first country in Europe to ban the burka, under government proposals that would bring in some of the toughest curbs on Muslim clothing in the world.

The country’s hardline Integration Minister, Rita Verdonk, known as the Iron Lady for her series of tough anti-immigration measures, told Parliament that she was going to investigate where and when the burka should be banned. The burka, traditional clothing in some Islamic societies, covers a woman’s face and body, leaving only a strip of gauze for the eyes.

Mrs Verdonk gave warning that the "time of cosy tea-drinking" with Muslim groups had passed and that natives and immigrants should have the courage to be critical of each other. She recently cancelled a meeting with Muslim leaders who refused to shake her hand because she was a woman.

The proposals are likely to win the support of Parliament because of the expected backing by right-wing parties. But they have caused outrage among Muslim and human rights groups, who say that the Government is pandering to the far Right.

Mrs Verdonk admitted that a complete ban on the garment would be legally tricky because of freedom of religion legislation. However, she said that she would prohibit the garments "in specific situations" on grounds of public safety. The ban is likely to be enforced in shops, public buildings, cinemas, train and bus stations and airports, as well as on trains and buses.

The Netherlands has become preoccupied by Islamic terrorism after the investigation into the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh uncovered a network of Muslim extremists dedicated to destroying the country. Attention has turned to the burka because police authorities have become concerned that a terrorist could use one for concealment.

A government spokesman said: "We want to investigate when, how, in which places the burka should be banned. It is a safety measure -- you don't see who is in it." The Government cites as a precedent existing football legislation, which bans people from entering football grounds covering their faces in scarves.

Yassim Hertog, a vice-president of the Muslim School Boards Union, said: "Can you prohibit someone from wearing a certain type of dress? They are trying to test what a government can forbid, and how far you can go trampling on people’s rights. They want to show all these Dutch citizens who are sick and tired of all these ‘mutant’ citizens, this is where we draw the line -- get normal."

Muslim groups insist that only a few dozen women in the Netherlands wear the burka, and that the ban is a distraction. The Muslims and Government Contact Body said: "Only a handful of Muslims actually wear burkas. Let us focus our energy on what we have in common. This is not a big problem."

Last year two Muslim women lost a court case against their college that had banned them from wearing burkas during their social work and childcare course. The judge backed the college in its claim that children had to be able to see who was caring for them, prompting the women to drop the course.

Famile Arslan, the women’s lawyer, told The Times:

"Women have a very strong opinion about the burka. If you ban it they won’t leave the house. It is not a good way to integrate and emancipate Muslim women. Everything Muslims do is criticised by Verdonk. She is doing it to get votes. She doesn’t care about Muslims and their problems."

Mrs Verdonk made the proposals after Geert Wilders, the right-wing MP, requested the ban. Mr Wilders claimed that the garment was unfriendly towards women and a threat to security.

Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP [Member of European Parliament], on the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, who has been active in opposing bans on the hijab, or scarf, said that there were no arguments for banning the burka. "If there is a genuine belief that someone under a burka is a terrorist, then you invoke stop-and-search laws on the grounds of reasonable suspicion."

The Netherlands would become the first European country to ban the wearing of the burka in public situations, although there are already some local bans. Last year several Belgian towns, including Antwerp and Ghent, banned the wearing of the burka in public, and recently started issuing £100 spot fines for breaking the municipal ordinance.

Several towns in Italy, including Como, have invoked legislation introduced by Mussolini that bans hiding one’s face in public to impose fines on burka-wearers. France and several regions of Germany have followed Turkey and Tunisia in banning the wearing of the hijab, which leaves the face visible, in public buildings, most controversially in schools.

The French ban applies only inside government-owned buildings and was imposed to preserve the secular nature of the state.


How the Netherlands has become less liberal:

* Immigrants must pass an exam on Dutch language and culture before being allowed to move to the Netherlands. That does not apply to immigrants from US, Canada, Australia, Japan and other EU states.

* Legal immigrants already there must take a Dutch language course at their own expense.

* Immigrants guilty of any minor crime, such as shoplifting, during their first three years in the country can be deported.

* People can bring in a husband or wife only once they are 24 years old, and do not depend on welfare benefits. The measures are aimed at curbing international arranged marriages.

* 26,000 illegal immigrants are being deported, some of whom have been in the country for ten years and have established families.

* Clampdown on foreign imams working in mosques. They must show their appreciation of Dutch values.

* Increase in sentences for a range of crimes, and introduction of "zero tolerance" policing to cities such as Rotterdam.

* Tightening of rules on cannabis-selling coffee-shops and zero-tolerance approach to infringements. About half the coffee shops in Amsterdam have closed.

* The Netherlands is still liberal in some ways, however. In 2001, the country became the first in the world to legalise gay marriages. The Netherlands still has liberal rules on euthanasia, recently extending it to severely handicapped babies and children.

- 30 -

from Wikipedia:

Drs. Maria Cornelia Frederika "Rita" Verdonk (born October 18, 1955) serves as Minister without Portfolio for Integration and Immigration in the of current Dutch government. Verdonk is a member of the liberal VVD. She is one of the candidates in the current 2006 VVD leadership election.

Career before politics

Born in Utrecht, Verdonk attended the atheneum at the Niels Stensencollege (also in Utrecht). She then studied sociology, specializing in sociology of organisations and criminology. After graduating in 1983, she became trainee at the department of correction at the Ministry of Justice.

In 1984, she became assistant-director at the Scheveningen House of Detention. In 1988, she became member of the board of the Prison 'De Schie' in Rotterdam. In 1992, she switched to the Ministry of Justice's department of Youth and Hospital Orders Institutions, where she reached the position of vice-director.

In 1996, she became director of the department of State Security of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Between 1999 and 2003 she was senior manager/director of the influential consulting firm KPMG (later Atos/KPMG-Consulting).

Political career

In 2003, Verdonk became Minister for Integration and Immigration. She has developed a reputation as a hardliner on immigration issues. She is one of the boldest ministers, applauded by many as a strong leader but criticized by others for hard and uncompromising policies.

On April 4, 2006, Verdonk announced her ambition to become lijstrekker for the next elections, and political leader of the VVD. Other candidates in the leadership election are the left-liberal staatssecretaris of Education Mark Rutte and the backbencher Jelleke Veenendaal. Although her political views on subjects other then immigration and integration are still unclear she a likely candidate. Shortly after announcing she would be candidate RTL-news reported that 56% of the people would like to see her as the leader of the VVD. Rita Verdonk is advised by Kay van der Linden, who also played a part in Pim Fortuyn's 2002 election campaign.

On May 16, 2006, Verdonk has been criticized by prominent members of her own political party, the VVD, MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Gerrit Zalm, deputy prime minister. Verdonk declared that because Hirsi Ali lied about her past in the naturalization process, her Dutch citizenship is invalid. Hirsi Ali has expressed her disappointment in Verdonk.

VVD-deputy prime minister Zalm said he was surprised that events known for years suddenly resulted in action by Verdonk two days after a television broadcast about the past of Hirsi Ali. He said Verdonk has disqualified herself from being lijsttrekker for the VVD in the coming elections [1].

In a session in parliament Verdonk stated that she had no choice in this matter because Hirshi Ali's passport was issued with an incorrect name and incorrect date of birth. Some members of parliament suggested that Verdonk's stern actions were a result of her political ambitions in the 2006 VVD leadership elections [2].


Verdonk has proposed the following plans:

* In order to reduce migration through marriage, she has proposed that partners of Dutch citizens are only allowed to immigrate into the Netherlands if the Dutch partner earns more than 130% of the minimum income.

* She refused to grant pardon to around 26,000 asylum seekers who lived in the Netherlands for over 5 years but who were not granted asylum.

* To integrate migrants into the Dutch society, every person who wants to immigrate into the Netherlands must have passed an integration test. It tests knowledge of the Dutch language, political system and social conventions. The test must be taken before entering the Netherlands, preferably in a Dutch Embassy in the country of origin. "Oudkomers," migrants who have lived in the Netherlands for a long time, but are not "integrated", are also requested to take the exam. EU nationals, and nationals of various other western nations such as the US, are exempt from these policies.

She was called to parliament for the following issues:

* In October 2005, the Immigration & Naturalisation Services provided information to refugees home-countries about asylum requests. This risked that when refugees were denied and send back to their homecountry (in this case Congo) they could possibly be tortured by their government, but no proof of this was provided by any party. Verdonk maintains that no sensitive information was transferred [3] in accordance with the findings of a special committee (Commissie Havermans) [4]

* In December 2005, a cell-complex for denied refugees at Amsterdam airport [Schiphol] burned down. Eleven refugees died, and surviving refugees reported that they had to wait more than 45 minutes before being released from their cell. Before the fire's investigation was completed, Verdonk stated that prison workers adequately handled the circumstances.

As a minister, Verdonk has proposed the following, without it becoming policy yet:

* In October 2005, Verdonk proposed a ban on Muslim women wearing the burqa in public places, on the grounds that the burqa, which covers the face, is a security risk since suicide bombers could use it as a disguise. She also cancelled a meeting with Dutch Muslim leaders when some of them would not shake hands with her, because she is a woman. She has said that "the time for cosy tea-drinking" Muslim groups had passed.

* In January 2006, Verdonk proposed the adoption of a national code of conduct, listing the most important conventions of Dutch society, to facilitate the integration of migrants. She was inspired by a similar initiative undertaken by the Rotterdam municipality.

* Upon receiving Dutch citizenship, immigrants would have to be able to sing the first stanza of the national anthem, the Wilhelmus.

* In March 2006, Verdonk proposed to send homosexual asylum seekers from Iran back because they are no longer prosecuted, despite the general public conception that acts of homosexuality were still punishable by death. Note that homosexuality in itself is not punishable by death sentence in Iran [5]

* In response to parliamentary criticism, the Minister announced on March 4 that all asylum cases involving homosexual Iranians would be assessed on an individual basis [6].


The political career of Rita Verdonk has been surrounded by incidents. In June 2004 Verdonk was assailed by two women and smeared with ketchup [7]. The women received an 11 day sentence. In September 2005, an assailant spit on Verdonk when she and her family spent a day sightseeing in Amsterdam [8].

On November 4, 2005, the Dutch Forensic Institute was asked to investigate a window in the private office of Verdonk in the Ministry of Justice in The Hague. It was suspected that the building was shot at by unknown assailants from an opposite building. Verdonk was not present at the time of this incident. According to one news source [9], Verdonk was forced to wear a bulletproof vest at the commemoration of the death of Theo van Gogh (the previous year) because of the incident. On November 5, 2005, the institute reported that it was unlikely that the damage resulted from bullet impact [10].

Miscellaneous Information

* Verdonk is called "Iron Rita", by people who oppose her policies, referencing Margaret Thatcher's nickname the "Iron Lady".

* During the 1970s, Verdonk supported the leftwing Pacifist Socialist Party. Before joining the VVD (circa 2000), she voted for the social-democratic PvdA.

* In January 2006, Verdonk received the Dutch Big Brother Award


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