Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Her name is Soumaya Sahla. Born in The Hague in 1983 to Moroccan immigrants (her father was the founder of a mosque in that city), she joined a jihadist terror organization, the Hofstad group, at a young age, and along with another member of the group, Noureddine el Fahtni, to whom she’d been married in an Islamic ceremony, acquired an Agram 2000 submachine gun, which they were reportedly planning to use, at the direction of the leaders of the Hofstad group, to kill various politicians. Among their intended victims were Geert Wilders, then a relatively new member of the Dutch lower house, the Tweede Kamer, who’d made a name for himself as a critic of the Islamization of the Netherlands, and the Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who’d rejected her Muslim faith after 9/11 and been elected to the Tweede Kamer in 2002.
The year was 2005. The previous few years had been a busy time for assassination and assassination plots. On May 6, 2002, nine days before a general election from which he was expected to emerge as prime minister of the Netherlands, Pim Fortuyn had been murdered by an activist named Volkert van der Graaf who was appalled by his criticisms of Islam. In the summer of 2004, Sahla’s husband, Fahtni, had been arrested in Portugal on suspicion of planning to kill that country’s then prime minister, José Manuel Durão Barroso, but there had not been sufficient evidence to hold him. A few months later, on the morning of November 2, 2004, a fellow member of the Hofstad group, Mohammed Bouyeri, had slaughtered the celebrated writer and filmmaker Theo van Gogh – perhaps the Netherlands’ most prominent critic of Islam – on a busy street in Amsterdam.
Sahla and Fahtni’s plans, however, did not prove as successful as Bouyeri’s. On June 22, 2005, they were both arrested by Amsterdam police.
Fahtni ended up serving six months. Sahla spent nine years in and out of court. First, she was convicted by a Rotterdam court of illegally possessing weapons and of membership in a terrorist organization with the intent to commit murder. Later, the Court of Appeal in The Hague found her guilty, in addition, of planning to murder Wilders and others. In 2011, however, the Supreme Court annulled that ruling and transferred the case to the Amsterdam Court of Appeal, which in 2014 found Sahla guilty of membership in a terrorist organization and possession of firearms but not of intention to kill anybody. Although sentenced to three years, she didn’t have to spend any time in prison because of the time she’d already served in detention.
During that long trial period, Sahla had studied political science, African Studies, and Islamic theology. She’d also, curiously enough, become the protegée of Frits Bolkestein, a legendary figure in the center-right VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy). As the newspaper Het Parool put it the other day, Bolkestein “led her into the party” in 2011 – that is, while her case was still under adjudication – “unseen and without causing a fuss.” It’s been established that Bolkestein knew about her history. So did other VVD leaders. Not one of them, apparently, considered it a reason not to give her a responsible party position. Sahla began her career in the VVD as head of its deradicalization and terror group; as of the beginning of this year, she’d risen in the party ranks to become – simultaneously – head of the VVD’s security and justice division, chair of a party advisory committee on deradicalization and terror, and “right-hand” woman to Bolkestein.
It’s worth noting that the current head of the VVD, Mark Rutte, is also prime minister of the Netherlands, a position he has held since 2010.
Not until January 18 of this year did Sahla’s past become a problem. On that day, during a discussion in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, Wilders, who since 2006 has been head of the PVV (Freedom Party) and who since 2004 has had to live with round-the-clock security owing to jihadist death threats, raised the subject of Sahla, saying that someone who’d been issued a gun with which to kill him and Ayaan Hirsi Ali had no business in a leading position in the country’s ruling party. Wilders also mentioned Sahla’s sister Fonda, who, as it happens, is a politician for the centrist D66 and a colleague of Wilders’s in the Tweede Kamer, where she routinely wears a hijab.
Did representatives from other parties join Wilders in expressing outrage over the VVD’s employment of a woman who’d actively sought his death? No. They protested his bad manners. Rutte, obviously a man of exquisite sensitivity, said Wilders’s behavior had been uncivilized.
Still, the VVD knew this didn’t look good for them. On January 23, Claudia Kammer wrote in NRC Handelsblad that in the wake of Wilders’s criticism, VVD felt “ongemak” – discomfort – about her role in the party. (Not profound shame or self-disgust or a sense of mortification – discomfort.) On January 25, VVD was described as “embarrassed.” Part of the problem for the VVD was that Sahla had never really disavowed her terrorist history. On the contrary, in a 2019 interview with the newsmagazine Elsevier she’d called the long years of legal actions against her a “show trial.” It’s also relevant to note that in the last few years, when not seeing to her VVD duties, Sahla has been engaged in Ph.D. research, her objective being to determine whether “liberal Western thinking” is preferable to the “orthodox world view” of Islam. In other words, Sahla still doesn’t seem to have figured out whether she’s put the ideology of jihad behind her.
Well, she’ll have more time hereafter to ponder that question. On January 26, after a few days of intense intraparty debates, Sahla quit her position at the VVD – but not her party membership – and, for the first time, explicitly professed to regret her terrorist background. In an op-ed for NRC Handelsblad, Gerard Spong, a lawyer in Amsterdam, lamented her resignation, saying that Wilders had “overdramatized” the situation and criticizing both Wilders and VVD leaders for failing to recognize that “in a constitutional state, a convict who has served his/her sentence and who has been rehabilitated cannot be punished twice for a wrong step in the past.” Spong compared Sahla to Nelson Mandela: “He was also convicted of participating in a terrorist organization (the ANC). After 27 years in prison, he was released and for many years held South Africa’s highest office.”
NRC Handelsblad cartoonist Siegfried Woldhek, too, considered Sahla a victim of injustice. Naming her his “woman of the week,” he complained that “three years in prison and a public expression of regret were apparently insufficient for the VVD to want to keep her on.” In an angry op-ed, Andreas Kinneging, a professor of legal philosophy and Sahla’s Ph.D. supervisor, described her as the victim of “a witch hunt” of a kind that is unworthy of “a civilized country.” The editors of the daily newspaper Trouw stood up for her, too, insisting that in a country like the Netherlands people like Sahla deserved to get “a second chance.”
This coming May 6 will be the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, who promised to save the Netherlands from a process of Islamization that he viewed, quite rightly, as an existential threat to the individual liberty of which the Netherlands had been a beacon for centuries. Three years after Fortuyn’s death came the butchering of Theo van Gogh. Not long afterward, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose criticism of Islam was seen as particularly potent since she herself had been raised in the religion – was driven out of parliament and obliged to emigrate to the U.S. Since then, the struggle to preserve Dutch liberty in the face of the increasingly powerful Islamic enemy within has been led by Wilders, abetted, since 2017, by Thierry Baudet of the FvD (Forum for Democracy). But the progress made by Fortuyn two decades ago, and instantly lost by his murder, has never been recovered.
On the contrary, this beautiful little country which, two decades ago, seemed to be on the verge of a remarkable rescue from a nightmarish fate, has become steadily more Islamized – which has meant, among much else, violent crime (especially against Jews, gays, and women). It’s meant increased self-censorship and cultural appeasement. And it’s meant that Dutch citizens who have the same understanding of Islam that Fortuyn did twenty years ago are even more reviled by their nation’s elites than he was, and – as evinced by Wilders’s multiple prosecutions for hate speech – are subject to judicial punishment for voicing objective truths about the Religion of Peace.
Meanwhile, a former terrorist like Sahla has been able to walk the corridors of power for over a decade – and even now is, almost certainly, viewed by most Dutch journalists, academics, and politicians as the virtuous victim of this recent episode, while Geert Wilders, the man she planned to kill, is the villain of the piece. Given the current atmosphere in the Netherlands, it seems safe to say a couple of things: first, that Wilders hasn’t seen his last “hate speech” trial; and second, that Sahla will soon enough find an even better job than the one she had with VVD. Because in a “civilized” country like the Netherlands, you see, involvement in Islamic terrorism is the act of a misguided soul who’s eminently deserving of forgiveness and rehabilitation (including employment on the highest level), whereas criticism of Islam is the act of an unrepentant boor whom enlightened citizens should do everything possible to marginalize, silence, and crush.