“I fled the Middle East, but the Middle East followed me. I knew that this time I had nowhere else to flee except maybe the moon.”

An extraordinary voice for truth and free speech. “Bard on the run: Iranian-born scholar still at risk in Holland,” by Cnaan Liphshiz for JTA, November 29:

LEIDEN, the Netherlands (JTA) — Among his many talents, Afshin Ellian has a knack for making people want to kill him.

It’s a trait he demonstrated as a fugitive in his native Iran after the Islamic Revolution; then as a refugee in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he angered secular Stalinists; and finally in Holland, where he lives under 24-hour police protection because of his criticisms of Islam.

Ellian has never been someone to toe the line, however. As many in Europe were rushing to condemn Israel’s operation in Gaza earlier this month, Ellian, probably the most famous Iranian in the Netherlands, used his platform at the Dutch magazine Elsevier to blame Hamas “for putting their people in an inhumane position by needlessly waging war.” He has criticized the Western media for ignoring massacres in Arab countries and focusing instead on Israel. And he has drawn death threats from Muslim militants for zingers like this: “Radical Islamists are so determined to prove Islam is the religion of peace that they are willing to kill for it.”

Having found himself in the line of fire so many times, it’s unsurprising that the 46-year-old philosopher, poet and law professor dismissed suggestions that he might be deterred by Hamas rockets from carrying through with his first trip to Israel, a country he first heard of as a young political activist in Iran.

“Israel is what I wished Iran would be after the fall of the shah’s regime,” Ellian said in an interview last week at his office at Leiden University. “Its democratic nature is seen as a weakness by the Islamists in power but is a powerful model for young Iranians seeking change. Israel is also a central element — a made-up enemy — in the identity of the Iranian Islamic Republic, which oppresses them and has made me stateless. In short, Israel is relevant to my life.”

A refugee from the Iranian revolution, Ellian has a high profile in the Netherlands. The author of several books, some of them on radical Islam, he is also a columnist for Elsevier and appears regularly on Dutch television as a Middle East commentator. His Op-Eds also have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and Der Spiegel.

For a small country, the Netherlands has produced more than its fair share of political provocateurs who live under constant threat of death for their views. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born former parliamentarian, lived for years under armed guard following the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, with whom she collaborated on a piece critical of Islam, before leaving for the United States. The anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders also lives under police protection.

Like Hirsi Ali and Wilders, Ellian came to embrace the Jewish state, both as the adversary of a shared enemy and a model of what a religiously inspired democracy in the Middle East could look like. He first heard of Israel as a teenager in Iran, fleeing the Islamists who would pick out political activists like himself in universities and on the street. His cousin, also an activist, was executed and dumped in a mass grave.

“I was in a bakery and Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution’s spiritual leader, promised that the war with Iraq will lead to Jerusalem,” he said. “The baker and I had no idea where that was. I figured it had to be a village in Iraq.”

In Israel, Ellian delivered a lecture at the University of Haifa organized in part by Irgoen Olei Holland, an association of Dutch immigrants. The event is held each year on Nov. 26, the anniversary of a defiant 1940 speech by Rudolf Cleveringa, a non-Jewish Leiden professor, opposing the expulsion of Jews from academic and public life in Nazi-occupied Holland.

After his flight to Israel was diverted so the KLM crew could disembark — the airline had barred its employees from the country during last week’s fighting — Ellian wrote that the crew could “learn something about courage from Cleveringa.”

They also could learn something about courage from Ellian himself. The son of two left-leaning intellectuals, Ellian went into hiding soon after Islamists swept to power in Iran in 1979. At 17, he already was hiding with the liberal underground’s shrinking network of safe houses.

“I shacked up in a Christian cemetery one night,” he recalls. “The sexton told me I might as well find a grave.”…

In 1987 he fled again, this time with his wife to Holland, where he set his mind to his studies, earning three master’s degrees at the University of Tilburg within six years of his arrival — a first in the university’s history.

“I thought I could finally say anything,” he says of his current home. But danger was still lurking.

In 2000, he received the first of what would become many death threats after he criticized the Prophet Muhammad’s orders to kill critical poets in Medina, among other aspects of Islam. But Ellian would not be silenced. He accused the Iranian regime of “barbarity” and the “silent majority” of Muslims of complicity in the acts of violent radicals. The threats continued….

“I have nothing against Islam,” Ellian told JTA. “But I should be able to criticize it in the same way that I am able to criticize Judaism and Christianity.”

Ellian was placed under 24-hour police protection shortly after receiving his first death threats. Four years later, after the van Gogh murder, security was beefed up considerably at his Leiden office, where he sits behind electronically locked doors.

“I was shocked,” Ellian said. “I fled the Middle East, but the Middle East followed me. I knew that this time I had nowhere else to flee except maybe the moon.”

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Free speech victory: Dutch parliament revokes blasphemy law
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  1. says

    a very brave man.my admiration and respect for
    him is on par with robert,pamela,gert,nonie,ayaan,the murdered theo and all freedom loving individuals who fight for all of us to stay that way.

  2. says

    He’s on the way, I think. The way that leads out to life, and freedom, and the rebirth of full humanity.

    But not there yet.

    Re Israel as “a model of what a religiously inspired democracy in the Middle East could look like.”

    That, Mr Ellian, is only possible because Judaism is fundamentally different from Islam.

    Judaism affirms life. Islam is dead, and worships death.

    And I will add that, supposing the Christians of Lebanon had been strong enough to boot out *all* the Muslims, and had settled down to create a non-Islamic secular (Francophile) culturally-Christian country, that too would have been possible only because Christianity (child of Judaism) is *also* – exactly like Judaism – very very different from Islam.

    *Not one* of the majority Muslim countries in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world, could ever or will ever – so long as the majority of its population continue to identify as Muslim – have the smallest chance of becoming like Israel, or for that matter like any other majority non-Muslim country anywhere in the world (all of which, even the worst of them, excepting only utterly ghastly sui generis North Korea, are – or, if in trouble today, still have the possibility of becoming – better places for human beings to live, than any part of dar al Islam ever was or will be). Islam wherever it goes turns everything it touches to sh*t. Or to sterile dust. Wherever Islam prevails, there one finds desolation and delusion, slums in the midst of deserts, a condition of total moral, social, political, intellectual and ecological collapse.

    “I have nothing against Islam,” Ellian told JTA.’

    He *should* have something against Islam. He *should* be against Islam. He has a *huge* bone to pick with it.

    It is the ideology of Islam, plain and simple, its core teachings about apostasy and blasphemy, that – encoded in the heads of pious, orthodox, bog-standard Muslims – drives those same bog-standard Muslims to want to kill him.

    A fugitive from Nazi Germany would not say, “I have nothing against Nazism”.

    A fugitive dissident from the USSR would not say, “I have nothing against Communism’.

    Mr Ellian needs to be challenged on this, and encouraged – preferably by those apostates who have ‘gone all the way’, such as Mr Magdi Cristiano Allam, and Ms Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Mr Ibn Warraq – to publicly and plainly declare himself apostate…and to take off the gloves and – no holds barred – give a good solid thrashing to the ghastly totalitarian system that is classical Islam.

    I will pray for him.

    I will pray that in the sunlight of eretz Israel – and I hope he will meet de-dhimmified Persian Jews – every last clinging, lingering trace of the darkness of Islam will be removed from his mind, heart and soul.

    In the meantime, just in case he lobs in here to read what people think, here is what Magdi Cristiano Allam said, when he had finally and irrevocably and (as publicly as humanly possible) broken with Islam and embraced, instead, Christianity:


    “I had to do this (abandon Islam)”, Allam wrote in a long letter to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

    “Beyond … the phenomenon of extremists and Islamist terrorism at the global level, the root of evil is inherent to a physiologically violent and historically conflictual Islam,” wrote the Egyptian-born journalist, who says he has received death threats and is under police protection.’

    ‘Regarding a combative tone that has made him famous in Italy, Allam wrote:

    “Over the years my spirit has been freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimises lies and deception, violent death that leads to homicide and suicide, blind submission to tyranny.”…

    My prayer is that one day Afshin Ellian will also be able to declare, joyously and defiantly, “Over the years my spirit has been freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimises lies and deception, violent death that leads to homicide and suicide, [and] blind submission to tyranny”.

    Have at it, man!!

    Make the break, Mr Ellian – you’re a dead man walking anyway – and give Islam, and its deluded and dangerous adherents, both the obviously aggressive and their silence-is-consent fellow-travellers and enablers, what-for.

  3. says

    “then as a refugee in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he angered secular Stalinists…”

    Yes, those secular Stalinists are quite dangerous in the mountains of Afghanistan — particularly the red-tailed yellow-bellied night-warbler variety.

  4. says

    Mr Elian, I see that you have become an Islamophobe, if not you would not permit such security measures. But since Islamphobia is considered racist in the west, how would you describe your worry about being murdered by a Muslim? But I can tell you don’t need to be ashamed of yourself, here in Indonesia all of us who belong to religious minorities, including Muslim sects, are Islamophobes, because not being one would lessen ones chances of survival. Like the guy in Temanggung who told a friend that he thought that the architecture of the Kaaba was phallic and the setting of Hajar Aswad, vaginal in shape. When this became known,a tiny minority of radical Moslems started to attack and burn churches and he himself was arrested for insulting Islam. Let him become an Islamophobe in jail for his own good… Or Alex who being Moslem thought he could admit loosing his faith… He was soon arrested for apostasy. His luck was that he was from West Sumatra, which has secular laws. If he would have caught in neighboring Aceh where they have shariah law… Recently a tiny minory of Moslem radicals stormed a house and lynched it owner because he taught that the Quran is not perfect and Muh. was not (necessarily) the last prophet. Too late for him to become sufficiently Islamophobic. Or for the Ahmadiyah and Shia who have been murdered in West Java and Madura. We Christians are surely Islamophobes. If we celebrate Christmass and Easter mass, the bomb squad with sniffer dogs goes in before the congregation. The church is cordoned off by police and cars are not allowed to park in front of the church. Sometimes even Islamophobia is not enough, like when this year a suicide bomber blew himself up with a nailbomb in the middle of the congregation leaving church. Only paranoia would help, like having everybody body scanned at the door… But is that what they now do in Nigeria? Am I an Islamophobe? I have touched the ash of the church were I was married… But later I married again, a Muslimah. So I became Muslim and started to read the Quran. That made me what I was not before, a convinced Christian. Then my children coming home from grammar school uttered things like I hate Christians because they have another God… Or I read their homework, and discovered that Christians have their own lower hell gate, and that I for not believing in my own religion, was destined for an even lower hell gate. Etc. That made me an Islamophobe all over… It made my afraid of my own children, small as they are. If you learn in grammar school that kafir are condemned by God, will you ever respect them and care if they are persecuted, if you believe they deserve so? So in Indonesia the plight of the Palestinians move people to tears, and in their own country we have refugee camps inhabited by Christians from AMbon and Poso, by Ahmadyah from Lombok, Shia from Madura, Hindus from Balinuraga. But who cares? So against my Islamophobia I have decided to lead them astray, and imbue them with the kind of values and truth not found in their school books. But I tell them they should not discuss this with anybody, friends nor teachers… And so I am creating a kind of little crypto Islamophobes, how sad. Some day I will bring them to the Netherlands, better to be called a racist in the west than to be a dhimmi here, or an retro apostate who has to life in fear for being found out.

  5. says

    “I knew that this time I had nowhere else to flee except maybe the moon.”

    Sorry, but the moon is not your best option; Muhammad completely hijacked Allah, which was prayed as MOON god in Arabian Peninsula.

    Besides, we read in the Bible:
    “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the MOON under her feet.”
    Revelation 12:1

    We also must not forget the humiliation felt by the MOON god worshippers when some american infidels left their footprints on it!!!

    You should try Saturn!


  6. says

    Oh the bare-faced cheek of the man, Afshin is speaking out against the Mighty Allah and Islam. He is going to be in trouble when dear old Munkar and Naker descend into his grave. I would not be surprised if the Mighty Allah rains down fire, famine and pestilence upon Holland for harbouring him.

    We would all do well to remember that the mighty Allah knows best.

  7. says

    It’s the culture, dda. The Muslim culture models itself after Mohammed, who is the “perfect man”. And Mohammed never had a democratic bone is his bone. He was a brutal, remorseless sociopath. And Islamic countries are cesspits of inhuman behavior, morally bankrupt.