Sahla, a protege of former VVD leader Frits Bolkestein, was sentenced in 2014 to three years in prison for illegal possession of weapons and membership of a terrorist organization, the so-called Hofstad group. After her release and deradicalisation, she studied political science in Leiden. She is now doing PhD research at the same university.
She became a member of the VVD and also ‘table chairperson’ for terrorism and radicalization in that party, precisely because of her experience with deradicalisation. In that role she advises the party and members of parliament. In 2019, Sahla and her mentor Bolkestein were received by VVD leader Rutte in the Torentje.
The role as advisor was a reason for PVV leader Geert Wilders last week to strongly argue against the VVD in a debate with Rutte. Wilders pointed out that Sahla, like the murderer of Theo van Gogh, belonged to the Hofstad group. And that terror group also wanted to kill Wilders. The PVV leader accused the VVD of having hired a convicted terrorist as an adviser.
Although the VVD first stood up for her, party leader Sophie Hermans said last Sunday in the television program WNL suddenly feel ‘uncomfortable’ with Sahla’s role within her party. She was ‘in her stomach’ with the issue and the party had to think about it.
That had the desired effect, because three days later Sahla announced that she would resign from her position with the VVD. She said she regretted the ‘black page’ in her life, but said she would remain a member of the VVD.
Acting party chairman Onno Hoes said he had “approved of Soumaya’s decision”. “Her statement allays the discomfort we felt. That inconvenience was in the combination of her coordinating role in the thematic network and not having publicly apologized for her past actions.”
Took too long
Hoes still mentions the less flexible route of his party in the case. “It has taken far too long for the party to consider the issue. We blame ourselves for that.”
Professor of legal philosophy Andreas Kinneging is supervising Sahla in her PhD research. He is furious about the actions of party leader Hermans and about the role of VVD leader Rutte. “Mrs Hermans should have said: we are right behind Mrs Sahla. Whoever touches her, comes to us. Mrs Sahla was asked by the VVD to take on that presidency. Rutte is also aware of this and has given permission for this. The issue of her past was also discussed and that was not an obstacle.”
“It’s a witch hunt. You shouldn’t want that in a civilized country. We are all for integration and deradicalization and in both cases she is a fantastic example for hundreds of thousands of people. You have to embrace her,” says Kinning.
The professor is angry. “Hermans made a blunder. And instead of acknowledging that you made a blunder, you dig yourself in even further, to save face.” He thinks Rutte should have corrected Hermans. “Rutte should have stood up for Mrs Sahla in public. But here you see again what happens if there is no dualism. The VVD really shows what it is worth: nothing at all.”
That is also the opinion of professor of encyclopedia of law Paul Cliteur. “I think the VVD has made a big mess of it,” says the former party leader of Forum for Democracy in the Senate. “The VVD has reacted badly and injudiciously.” He calls the party’s actions ‘a major flop’ and the aftermath ‘a soap opera’.
Cliteur, who also knows Sahla personally, believes that she could have played an important role in forming opinion on deradicalisation and combating terrorism. But she should have come forward with that sooner, he thinks. Then this drama would have been avoided.
“She has good views on terrorism and deradicalisation. She should have emphasized together with Frits Bolkestein what she thinks about those subjects, for example by writing opinion articles together.”
Never this role
VVD-prominent and former European Commissioner Neelie Kroes believes that Sahla should never have been given this role in the VVD. According to the prominent liberal, her party should have prevented this.
“The party should have come to her senses much earlier. As far as I am concerned, they could have helped her with her job search, but this role was much too sensitive. Of course, she was penalized, but the party should have felt that this would lead to a lot of hassle. And they should never have sent Sophie Hermans into the field so unprepared, without a decision by the party. The whole process certainly does not deserve a beauty prize.”
Former Justice Minister Benk Korthals also thinks that the VVD should have thought longer about Sahla’s position within the party. “In principle, I think people should be given a second chance, but they shouldn’t have given her this role so quickly. But that’s also wisdom in hindsight.”
The youth organization JOVD, which is affiliated with the VVD, says it is not charmed by the party’s attitude. Chairman Daphne Lodder calls it a ‘very wrong signal that the VVD is sending’.
“I don’t think that dealing with Soumaya is worthy of VVD. She has been part of the party for four years. She had a volunteer position and no other major influence. That should have been explained better. And that the discussion is also about getting a second chance in life. A kind of panic football was played in response to Wilders’ comments. They should have stood behind her then. So don’t look at the electorate, but what is idealistically the right thing.”