25.4.06

Wisdom is Dutch

Everybody remembers the assassination of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands by a fanatic Muslim and the state of shock in which this very peaceful and tolerant country found itself in after the assassination.

Well, it is not like that suddenly the Dutch woke up to a new reality. Before that, in May 2002, a right wing leader and the chief of what just became the second largest political party in Holland, Pim Fortuyn, was assassinated by a militant ecologist . Fortuyn never hid his disdain of Islam declaring on many occasions that the culture was 'arrierated', that they were 'homophobic' (Fortuyn was an avowed homosexual) and that Holland has 'too many Muslims'.

The connection between Theo Van Gogh and Islam came through the controversed Hirsi Ali* whose extremist and provocative critical views on Islam were influenced by a personal change from a fundamentalist muslim to an atheist.

The recent Danish cartoon row had a snow ball effect on many european legislations toward immigrants. Recently, Holland introduced an immigration legislation requiring from foreign citizens from only Islamic countries applying for citizenship to undergo a test in which they should express their sentiments and opinions in front of gays kissing and nude women in a move (stupid, I must say) the immigration ministry considers to be a test on the very essence of Dutch values, tolerance, in this case tolerance towards what might shock a devout Muslim.

However silly and discriminatory this legislation might be, it tells us how the people who designed the test, and the West in general, view Muslims: intolerant and violent.
Some Muslims might be intolerant and violent, like in every religion or ethnicity. Logically speaking saying that 'Muslims in general or Islam is intolerant and violent' could not follow from saying that 'some Muslims might be intolerant and violent' and this is actually what happened and what is happenning: some Muslims are intolerant and violent in their confrontations of western policies, and not values, as some would like us to believe (I believe behind the values confrontation there is a resentment towards middle eastern policies of the West). But then the last assertion: 'some Muslims are intolerant and violent' can apply to individuals in every group or religion, if you replace 'Muslism' by something else and I don't need here to enumerate the list of intolerant and violent people belonging to such and such gruop or religion. However, under the growing hype and fear provoked by the 'War against terrorism', the West did make the logical error of drawing a false conclusion from a shaky premise: from 'some muslims are intolerant and violent', the West drew the conclusion that 'Muslims in general and Islam are intolerant and violent'.

Because this can be a very dangerous generalization, in addition to the fact of being erroneous, Dutch are now reconsidering their initial reaction to the assassination of Theo Van Gogh and the growing fear of Islam it provoked in Holland. The BBC Arabic reports that an official commission appointed by the Dutch government to study the reaction of the government and the Dutch society to these events has presented its three years study results on April 12th in a 250 pages document. The government will present an official answer to the document before the Dutch parliament.

The document states that Islam does not contradict Dutch values and Human rights. The study in the document is based on an exploration of democratic values and Human rights in 10 islamic countries including Egypt, Iran and Indonesia. The document states that while there are extremists in these countries, there are at the same time other movements which outnumber the extremists working toward more democracy and openness albeit slowly. Critics of the document, the most prominent being Ayaan Hirsi Ali said that the study lacks professionalism and did not adress the issue of free speech in these countries.

The lead researcher in the study told BBC Arabic that he wanted the document not only to draw conclusions but also to open the door to a wider discussion about the values issue between Islam and the West. He also rejected Ali's remarks as vague generalizations about Islam that can be dangerous in the sense that they close the door and elevate a wall between Islam and the West.

The document goes further in that it has recommendations on how to deal with islamist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Brotherhood. They advocate maintaining contact with these organizations and not isolating them. They think that the isolation of these 'reformists' movements which have a lot of credit among Muslim citizens, will lead them to stay inside the influence of Islamic countries therefore diminishing their contacts with the West and its values and creating a gap which wil be filled only by more extremism.

Only fear, préjugés and hasty generalizations can lead to a faulty conclusion that Islam contradicts western values, drawn from some particular events. Wisdom is to think logically and to enquire about facts and reality behind our fears and beliefs.
Now where is the intolerance and who are the intolerants and how can you define tolerance ?

I say, tolerance has been and will always be Dutch. Wisdom is Dutch also because wisdom and tolerance are related, it is wisdom, not fear, that makes us tolerant and it is tolerance that makes us wise and not fearful.

*''Hirsi Ali wrote the script for Submission [4], a short, low-budget film directed by Theo Van Gogh. This film criticized the treatment of women in Islam. The film showed naked and half-dressed women with texts from the Qur'an referring to the subordination of women covering their bodies. In addition to writing the script, Hirsi Ali also provided the voice-over. The release of the film sparked much controversy, as well as violent reaction, when radical Islamist Mohammed Bouyeri gunned down Van Gogh in an Amsterdam street on November 2, 2004. A letter pinned to Van Gogh's body with a knife was primarily a death threat to Hirsi Ali.''

4 comments:

Cosmic Duck said...

An interesting document. I agree that it is important not to put up barriers between islam and the West. Islamic culture must be respected, and it should have the right to develop slowly as circumstances permit. And development is not necessarily in the direction of copying Western democracy.

There may be practises that it may be difficult to accept from a progressive point of view, for instance circumcision of girls in Somali families, and suppression of women in families and society. But that is not necessarily islam. What islam is can be interpreted diversely.

It is important that the West, in this case particularly the EU, show more conciliatory attitudes to the "reformist" movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The non-acceptance of Hamas on the part of for instance Jordan and other conservative Arab states is probably that they fear that democratically elected Hamas may turn out to be a success, thus threatening their own autocratic governments.

That's why it's so important to continue supporting Hamas. This morning some Danish papers ran a story on how the Norwegian foreign ministry has set-up a meeting with Hamas diplomats, and the Americans have pressured them to give it up. The Norwegian foreign ministry has not cancelled the meeting. Norwegian vikings seem to have more backbone than the Danish ones.

Sophia said...

Northern european countries are the most civilised and tolerant in the world. There is a tradition of tolerance in these countries. You can see it in their social policies. I am sure that there are cultural and religious roots for this tradition and I am quite sure that despite the cartoon row, Danemark still more welcoming to many immigrants than say France or Spain. And I am quite hopeful that these countries will play, inside the EU, a leading role for positive social change towards immigration, unemployement and other social issues.

Cosmic Duck said...

In Denmark welfare policies and tolerance is based on the tradition of a strong labour movement with influence on the state. More than 80 per cent of all workers and employess are organised in trade unions, the majority of them traditionally with a socialist/social-democratic ideology. This has meant the establishment of a welfare state with formal equal rights to all citizens.

This welfare state has, however, come under a lot of pressure lately, because of globalisation and because of influx of immigration in the 90's that many ordinary Danes found it quite difficult to cope with. That gave rise to rightist political movements that have put the welfare state and the traditional tolerance under a lot of pressure. Sweden has been more successful at withstanding this pressure than Denmark.

Many people, especially those with low education, are afraid of the rapid rate of globalisation, outsourcing of jobs, etc.

We hope that it is a transitory phenomenon, and these countries will find their way back to the traditional cultural patterns of secularism and tolerance.

Earl said...

Sorry for the late reply Sophia. I saw this log earlier, but because it's been very busy on my end lately, did not respond to it, even though I would have liked to do so.

The things you mention are rather complex and not easily explained, which is why I did not respond.

Basically, the financial elite and the capitalistic system are a great part of the problem here. Importing cheap labor means "importing" the least educated, and this is similar to the Mexican "problem" in the U.S. in many ways. Western countries have been raping the economies of Muslim countries (and others, too), causing much of the problems there.

But those immigrating to another country must fit into the culture there, and the least educated from Muslim countries will generally hold on tightly to their own culture, which was old fashioned and conservative to begin with, these people usually coming from the more outlying and conservative areas. More educated Muslims are also more progressive and tolerant, but they have much less motivation to emigrate to another country. And this is a large part of the problem.

The other main part is the sheer numbers of these less educated people. Most of these go to the larger cities, and Amsterdam is presently about 30% Muslim.

You are correct in that only a small number of Muslims are problem people, just as any other group. But when they become a significant portion of the population, there will be problems. The mingling of contrasting cultures takes time, and this migration has happened too quickly.

I've worked with many Muslims and find them to generally be not only good people, but an asset to any community, but these were also the more 'average' people, not the poorly educated. The less educated among them have a real problem with the cultural differences, and hold themselves totally apart, not integrating.

I saw the same happen to Dutch immigrants to the U.S. when I was a child. The poor immigrants did not integrate that well.

 
Since March 29th 2006