They are going to “think about it” at the VVD, said party leader Sophie Hermans last Sunday, in the television program WNL on Sunday. The fact that Soumaya Sahla is active in the VVD gives her “an uneasy feeling”. Sahla was once convicted as a member of the Hofstad terrorist group. Hermans used that word, ‘uncomfortable’ no less than eight times. Because the ‘rule of law way’ of looking at Sahla (“Convicted. Sentenced. Period.”) was no longer sufficient for her. Then what? Hermans did not know, and openly doubted.
Since PVV leader Geert Wilders started to attack Sahla in the House of Representatives, the VVD has had a big problem. “The VVD employs a terrorist who wanted to get me covered,” Wilders said last week in the debate on the government statement. It was striking even then that Hermans did not really stand up for her, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte afterwards neither – they said that Sahla was not their advisor, she was not employed by the VVD, she could not just enter the House of Representatives.
What the VVD is now dealing with – Sophie Hermans is not the only one in her party – seems to be mainly a self-created problem. The life story of Soumaya Sahla (38) has been known in the party for a long time, and it has not been a problem until now. She has been active for several years in the VVD’s thematic network ‘Security and Justice’, where she organizes panel discussions, among other things, and she has also been the right-hand man and closest advisor to VVD celebrity Frits Bolkestein for years. She has been her mentor since 2011.
In December last year, when Wilders started tweeting about Soumaya’s sister Fonda Sahla, who became a D66 MP, the VVD in the House of Representatives had already discussed it: the party may have made itself vulnerable with Soumaya’s role in the network. Especially, VVD members also felt outside the Binnenhof, because they had never heard her say in full that she distanced herself from her past.
In an interview in Elsevier, in 2019, she called the lawsuit against her a “show trial.” She said: “I was the first female terror suspect and set an example.” She was arrested with two others in 2005, and later convicted of membership of a terrorist organization and possession of firearms. She was in jail for three years.
She said in the interview that tensions arose in the Extra Secure Institution (EBI) in Vught between her and the other members of the Hofstad group, the radical Islamic network that included Mohammed B., the murderer of Theo van gogh. Sahla: „The boys probably only had Islam for dummies read. Didn’t know the difference between verses in the Quran that are now a dead letter and what came next.” VVD members in the House of Representatives or the cabinet are not concerned with the thematic network that Sahla is part of. That is a party matter. But it is even more something of the members themselves. The VVD has 24 thematic networks devised and founded by members. It can be about self-employed people and family businesses, about ‘mobility and living environment’, education, women, defense – whatever. The aim is to initiate discussion, within the VVD and beyond. The party bureau appoints a chairman and a secretary for such a network, as volunteers, and they must be members of the VVD. However, non-members can also participate.
VVD members are silent
VVD members find it inconvenient that Sahla’s resume, on the network’s site, does not mention her conviction. But that is not so serious that they want to send her away for that reason. And not because Wilders is now suddenly making such a big point of her involvement in a discussion platform. In the House of Representatives, at the entrance to the plenary hall, Sophie Hermans did not want to say anything more about it on Tuesday afternoon. VVD leader Mark Rutte was also silent. “Because it’s about people,” he said. “We won’t say anything about it until we have something to report.”
Also read: VVD ‘feels discomfort’ about advisor Sahla after strong criticism from Wilders
Sahla’s parents were from Morocco, she is the fifth of eight children. In Elsevier she called the family a “religious Islamic nest”. Her father was a co-founder of the El-Islam mosque in The Hague. While in prison, she had studied political science. “I wanted to know what was going on,” she said. “How decision-making works, why I was there.” She also studied African studies, and Islamic theology. According to the site of the VVD network she is doing PhD research in Leiden into the ‘religious orthodox world view’. “She is investigating,” it says, “whether liberal Western thinking is a good alternative.”
Eyes are on Bolkestein
It is unclear what exactly the VVD is ‘thinking’ about and what, in Rutte’s words, they will have to ‘report’ one day. Do they still want her to openly distance herself from her membership of the terrorist Hofstad group? Or strip her of party membership?
And suppose they want to get rid of her, what does Frits Bolkestein (88) do, who has protected her for years? He is seen as a prominent member who deserves respect, but he no longer has much influence. Still, it will hurt if Bolkestein, party leader between 1990 and 1998, were to resign. Frits Bolkestein, who was unreachable for comment, will, that seems certain, not be able to save her from this matter.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 26, 2022
#VVD #hesitates #proceed #Sahla