Dutch Retreat

The struggle of civilizations, or perhaps more aptly the struggle of modern civilization against medieval barbarism, has taken a depressing turn in the Netherlands. Unlike their neighbors the Danes, who have staunchly defended their liberties despite storms of outrage from thin-skinned Muslims mortally offended by a few cartoons, the Dutch are planning a somewhat different response to Islamic fury over a forthcoming film: supine, craven appeasement.

The film in question is called Fitna, loosely meaning “strife” in Arabic, and it is the work of a Dutch politician by the name of Geert Wilders. Apparently the film is not sympathetic to Islam, and makes comparisons between the Koran and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Predictably, the Muslim world is aboil with rage, and the usual calls for brutal savagery fill the streets. Less predictably, the Dutch government, quaking with fear, is seriously considering banning the film, apparently unaware of the effect such cowardice has on bullies.

Islam has had its eye on Europe since Charles Martel ousted the Saracens at the Battle of Tours in 732. With the accelerating demographic collapse of European culture, the Vatican’s recent declaration of solidarity with the Muslims against the Danes, and now the shameful groveling of the Dutch, its hour may soon be at hand.

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30 Comments

  1. Simma says

    “[D]emographic collapse of European culture”? I mean, sure, rampant procreation of one’s “race” is, I suppose, one way to perpetuate culture, but it’s hardly the most “civilized” way to do so, and it’s a far from foolproof method. Not to mention that a monolithic “European culture” is a figment, and even if it weren’t, it would be in no danger of sudden, catastrophic “failure”, however one would define that. I doubt that your sentiments actually run in the hysterical right-wing nativist-by-proxy vein that your words suggest here.

    Doubtless, many Muslim radicals are inspired by historical resentment, but is the emigration of individual Muslim families to the West part of a grand pan-Muslim plot to revive the Umayyad Caliphate and “Islamify” Europe? Or is it more likely that, fleeing repressive, economically dysfunctional countries, they want to move somewhere they can make a living, but once there they often find that the culture they bring with them is an ill fit and problematic? Your wording here implies the former.

    I don’t disagree with you on your assessment of the reactions of many Dutch politicians, although it has to be noted that there seems to be plenty of debate in the Netherlands about the issue. And it should also be noted that the Danes had their political debates about the cartoons in the Jyllands-Posten. It wasn’t all unadulterated heroism in the defense of freedom on the one hand and pure craven cowardice on the other.

    It seems to me that, out of a sense of outrage or a desire to create a grand narrative, you’re straying into unsavory rhetorical territory. The whiff of surrogate xenophobia interferes with contemplation of your core point.

    Which brings me to what I gather is the matter at hand: Wilders strikes me as one of those one could defend only for the principle of freedom of speech (in which I strongly believe). He’s a puffed up right-wing drama whore whose ideas are crude caricatures of thought. But he should certainly make whatever kind of idiotic film he wishes, and if he finds a broadcaster who sees fit to air it, it should be permitted to hit the airwaves along with the other trash that passes for television programming these days.

    As for the Pope siding with Muslims who called for the curtailment of free expression, I see it as less a sign of the “collapse of European culture” than as one champion of superstitious nonsense siding with kindred spirits.

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 2:15 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Simma,

    Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    Yes, I know that I strike rather a harsh tone here, but I think there is ample reason to.

    As you say, conquest-by-breeding may not be the most “civilized” way to overrun a territory — but then I am not making any assertions of civility. And the notion of a common European culture is not such a “figment” as all that, and it is certainly monolithic enough in juxtaposition to the rising tide of Islamic culture that threatens to drown it. Secular government, a free press, women’s rights, and the rest of the Enlightenment philosophical heritage are common, generally, to all European democracies, and alien to the fundamentalist Muslim mind.

    Western nations should welcome those who, fleeing the tyrannies and medieval theocracies of the Muslim world, wish to participate in modern society. But what we have instead is a sullen, non-assimilating subculture that increasingly insists on importing seventh-century social policies into modern European societies, even going so far as to declare areas of cities to be off-limits to Western law, and subject to shari’a. Their numbers are swelling so rapidly that the resolve of Western leaders is beginning to crumble, as witness Rowan Williams’s recent surrender, and that being contemplated by the Dutch.

    Is this a premeditated, organized campaign of procreative conquest? First of all, that hardly matters; the salient fact is that it is happening. But it is certainly seen as such by many Muslim religious leaders; I recall a chilling quote from one cleric who said what the Nazis failed to achieve with their bombs, Islam will accomplish with the wombs of its women.

    Yes, the Danes had their debates. And the capitulation of the Dutch isn’t a foregone conclusion either; the matter is still being discussed. Perhaps they will still show some backbone after all.

    I have no doubt that Mr. Wilders, as you say, lacks sensitivity, though I haven’t seen the movie. But I’m glad you agree that the core principle — freedom of speech, and defiance of the imposition of Islamic control of the press — is the vital issue here. It is illustrative of the essential difference between these two cultures that after the brutal slaughter of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in an Amsterdam street, the response takes the form of a critical film, while the Islamists cry for blood.

    As for the charge of xenophobia, I think some clarification is necessary. I have no quarrel here with any person or race as such, but with a certain form of behavior. Furthermore, a “phobia” is, by definition, an “irrational fear”. My fear that the noble Enlightenment experiment of Western liberal democracy is under genuine assault here is far from irrational.

    Finally, I think you are right about the Pope; it is too much to hope, after the craven support of Pius XII for the Nazis, that the Catholic Church will be a bulwark against tyranny. But they are aligning themselves here with a culture that is not known for advocating religious pluralism, and I think they may find they are making a pact with the Devil.

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 10:55 am | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    Skokie, Illinois, has a large Jewish population, many of whom are Holocaust survivors. In the late 1970’s, the American Nazi Party planned to march through Skokie in full uniform with swastikas flying. They deliberately chose Skokie because it was the ideal place to provoke a reaction. The Nazis claimed the right to free speech, and many Skokie residents claimed the right to live without intimidation.

    In your view, should Skokie have permitted the Nazis to march through town?

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    I don’t like it, but yes. I think the protection of these essential liberties trumps my being offended. Of course, the “right” to parade and disrupt traffic is another matter altogether; but the underlying point here is freedom of speech, arguably the most important freedom of all.

    There are exceptions: for example, do you have the right to make overt physical threats? Libel is another, in that the speech in that case is the promotion of damaging falsehoods.

    The point as regards this post, however, is the suppression of speech by violent intimidation. If Muslims want to sue this filmmaker for libel, that’s another matter altogether.

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    I agree with you. However, I think that the Muslims in Holland and Denmark are analogous to the Jews in Skokie. While I don’t think that the film should be banned, I also think it is inexcusable to print cartoons which have no apparent purpose except to be gratuitous and offensive.

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    If a class of people are going to go around slaughtering innocent civilians in the name of their religion — beheading journalists, for example, while chanting “God is great” — I think it is a bit much to demand that such a mindset can’t be twitted in the press.

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  7. bob koepp says

    While I’m quite sure there are reasonable limits on freedom of expression, I think that sometimes it’s entirely appropriate to act with the explicit intent to cause offense. Demonstrating for all the world just how easy it is to offend certain parties should cause reasonable people to look very carefully and critically at the artificially thin skins of self-proclaimed victims.

    If the ideas Jones is trying to inclucate in his fellow citizens are mean spirited, lacking in any objective warrant, or just plain stupid, his being deeply offended by that characterization doesn’t count for squat.

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Thank you, Bob. Right indeed.

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  9. Simma says

    While I can understand, if not necessarily agree with, your characterization of the state of immigration in Europe, I don’t know that this is necessarily the issue here. While there are always some exceptions, the Muslim population of the NL is not so resistant to assimilation as the country’s right-wing politicians would have you believe. Unlike countries such as Germany and France, where North Africans and Turks can be into their third generation and still having trouble assimilating (for a number of reasons that would take up too much space to go into here), immigration to the NL is much more recent, so claims that immigrants aren’t fitting in are wildly premature.

    The Dutch press on the issue of Wilders’ film seems focused more on fears for their people abroad serving and living in majority Muslim countries than on fears about domestic turmoil, from what I have been able to gather. While Wilders himself has had death threats issued against him for his numerous inflammatory statements about Islam (I’m convinced he was trying to have death threats made against him to further his political agenda and his personal “mystique”, for lack of a better term), rioting or widespread violence within the NL does not seem to be the primary concern.

    Yes, van Gogh’s murder was shocking and terrible, especially in a country where violent crime happens so much less frequently than here in the U.S. However, crazed Muslim radicals are certainly not alone in the world in committing extreme acts for the sake of their delusions. They happen to get the lion’s share of media attention right now, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the coverage were just a little less hysterical in tone.

    I did not mean to suggest you were xenophobic, just that your language seemed to contain unfortunate echoes of “Yellow Peril” type fearmongering.

    As for the great “Muslim Peril”, to me, the problem doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming demographic tide. Muslims are still very much a minority in Europe (I believe they’re estimated to be around 5% of the population in the NL), and the Arab and Muslim worlds are even less monolithic than Europe in terms of culture. Not to mention that the disadvantage in the clash of cultures that accompanies immigration is overwhelmingly the immigrants’.

    The problem is that progressive politicians in a number of countries have a somewhat skewed notion of tolerance that paradoxically includes tolerating intolerance.

    Trying to fix things by cutting off immigration and increasing the birthrate among so-called natives might be one approach, but then again, you might end up like the U.S.–plagued by vapid Britney Spears clones who think that Hungary is in France and that God made the world in six days. And if that’s not the death of a civilization, I don’t know what is.

    To chime in on the Skokie example: I don’t like the idea of white supremacists marching anywhere, but provided their presentation wasn’t military in nature (which implies a threat), they were unarmed, and they were not permitted to make violent threats, I do believe they should have been allowed to march. And the residents would have had the freedom to choose between many reactions, among them to stay home and to go out and counter-demonstrate. I’m a firm believer in that quote attributed to Ben Franklin: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 6:17 pm | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    If the cartoon or the movie were about Muslims who behead journalists, that would be one thing. However, equating the Koran with Mein Kampf is an insult to all Muslims. It would be like equating the New Testament to Mein Kampf because, after all, Hitler was raised as a Catholic.

    My kid has friends who are Pakistani and Iranian, and their parents are as reasonable and thoughtful as could be. (I can’t think of a way to write that which does not sound patronizing, but that’s not my intent.) I would imagine that they would be deeply offended by a movie which compares their holy book to Mein Kampf, as well they should be.

    The suggestion that we can say whatever we want, no matter how offensive, because our laws permit it is deeply troubling. The idea that we can say whatever we want because it can incite a reaction which might be helpful in exposing the “artificially thin skins of self-proclaimed victims” is even more troubling. Equating the Koran with Mein Kampf is as offensive as Louis Farrakhan calling Judaism a “gutter religion” or Ahmadinejad equating Jesus with a Shiite figure. There is no purpose served in slandering an entire religion or mocking its religious icons.

    I don’t think we should ban offensive speech, because I don’t think any speech which expresses ideas (no matter how repugnant) should be banned. However, the fact that the speech is legal and protected does not diminish its repugnancy.

    Posted March 4, 2008 at 6:27 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Peter,

    Yes, equating the Koran with Mein Kampf may indeed be an unfair comparison, though one could argue both sides of that proposition; both make a case for the right of a particular people to take over the world, by force if necessary. (And just to be fair, the Old Testament isn’t exactly the Boy Scout Handbook, either.)

    But here’s the point: when Louis Farrakhan calls Judaism a “gutter religion”, or Muslim leaders call Jews pigs and apes, everybody in the civilized world just says “what an asshole”, and moves along. But draw a cartoon about Mohammed, and people are slaughtered in the street.

    Michael Moore ridicules conservatives just as ruthlessly as anyone is ridiculing Muslims here. Yankee fans yell obscenities at the Red Sox fans. Why is it only religion that is held to be utterly beyond criticism? Why the free pass, especially when so much that is so harmful is being done in its name? Why shouldn’t we jeer at a mentality that sees women as property, cuts girls’ throats for daring to go to school, tolerates suicide bombings in crowded marketplaces, and flies planes into skyscrapers?

    Simma,

    Well, we can start digging up statistics, I suppose; you think I am overestimating Europe’s demographic slide, and I think you are underestimating it. I’ve seen estimates that within 20 years half of all people under 18 in the Netherlands will be Muslim; we can wait and see. I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.

    So the argument, then — let me make sure I understand this correctly — is that if this film comes out, there will be people who won’t like it, and that rather than panning it in their film reviews, or boycotting it (like we’d expect civilized people to do, and would do ourselves), they will murder Dutch citizens abroad. All perfectly understandable, of course, because they can’t be expected to control themselves and behave within civilized norms. They’re Muslims, after all, and we all know you just mustn’t criticize Islam, no matter what horrid things people do in its name. So we’d better ban the movie.

    And yes, there are people committing nasty acts in other part of the world. The tribal strife in Kenya comes to mind. But, as Mark Steyn points out, a pattern emerges:

    There are many trouble spots around the world, but as a general rule, it’s easy to make an educated guess at one of the participants: Muslims vs. Jews in “Palestine”, Muslims vs. Hindus in Kashmir, Muslims vs. Christians in Africa, Muslims vs. Buddhists in Thailand, Muslims vs. Russians in the Caucasus, Muslims vs. backpacking tourists in Bali.

    As Samuel Huntington noted, “Islam has bloody borders.” And, of course, there’s no love lost between Shi’ites and Sunnis, either.

    I really don’t wish to seem xenophobic or unduly reactionary. As I’ve said, I have no gripe whatsoever with any ethnic group, or any race. What I do react to is a type of behavior, and the virulent “memeplex” that perpetuates it. All are welcome to participate in the great Western experiment, to enjoy its openness, its boundless opportunity, and its ennobling emphasis on the freedom and dignity of all people. But it is up to us to value it enough to actively resist those who see it as a foe to be subverted and destroyed.

    What you said in the middle of your comment, Simma, is exactly right:

    The problem is that progressive politicians in a number of countries have a somewhat skewed notion of tolerance that paradoxically includes tolerating intolerance.

    To which I would add a strange and dangerous reluctance to see their own cultures as respectable enough to be worth preserving.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 12:32 am | Permalink
  12. Simma says

    Mal,

    I’m not arguing that banning the film or compromising anyone’s liberties out of fears of barbaric extremists of any stripe is something any politician should propose.

    And I’m not necessarily disagreeing with your statistic, although it sounds rather like the kinds of statistics designed to alarm. Predicting demographic trends over 20 years in a time when populations are so mobile and countries can go from rural backwaters to economic powerhouses in a decade seems like an exercise that depends heavily on the what the person projecting those statistics wants them to be. But nevertheless, they could prove to be true.

    My disagreement is with your characterization of demographic change as a “slide”, as though a Europe full of Muslims would somehow be “baser” than a Europe full of Christians or Jews. Or that it must necessarily be any less European.

    First of all, religion is not immutable the way skin color is. The question is not how to prevent Islam from gaining a foothold in Europe. It’s how to ensure that the the kind of Muslim who may eventually become commonplace in Europe is to the radical Jihadi what your average Methodist is to the abortion clinic bomber. I think we agree that appeasing violent and radical elements is not the way to go. However, I disagree that a Europe in which Muslims constitute a large segment of the population must necessarily be seen as the tragic degeneration of a “superior” culture, since if nice, churchgoing, progressive Christians can contribute harmoniously to a free society (Has anyone actually read the Bible lately? You have to ignore an awful lot of it in order to be a nice, progressive Christian), there’s nothing to prevent nice, mosquegoing progressive Muslims from doing so either.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 2:03 am | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    Simma, I appreciate the open-heartededness of your position. I think, however, that a majority-Muslim Europe would indeed be a very different place, and that the hope that in such a Europe the average Muslim cleric would evolve to be no different from the average Anglican vicar is strikingly unrealistic. If demographics in a democracy slide far enough in the direction of those who disfavor democratic norms, democracy itself can be set aside. Already there are areas in Europe where law enforcement simply won’t go.

    The very core of the Enlightenment – the secular, free society, where reason, not religious superstition, is ascendant – is entirely at odds with both the history and the core traditions of Islam. Imagine the wine country of France under a ban on alcohol. Imagine the view taken of the artistic heritage of Europe by a religion under which depictions of the human form are taboo.

    Do I think that European culture, our tradition of free liberal democracies, is “superior” to what I can see of Muslim societies as I look around the world? Why, yes, I most certainly do. Look at Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive or vote. Look at Iran, where fingers are broken for smoking, where limbs are amputated for theft, and women whipped and hanged for “lewdness”. Look at the depredations of the Janjaweed in Darfur. Look at the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban, and their slaughter of schoolgirls for being so audacious as to seek an education. And finally, look at the destruction wrought in my home town on 9/11 by Muslims who were neither poor nor uneducated.

    Are there nice, progressive Muslims? Yes, of course there are, though I would argue that to the extent that they are tolerant of non-Muslims, do not insist on continuing the struggle to expand dar-al-Islam in the secular world, and so forth, they are already rejecting core tenets of their religion. But the tendency in Islamic societies is most certainly not toward greater secularism and tolerance.

    So would I see an Islamification of Europe as a tragic degeneration? Yes, I most certainly would. Without question, yes. And I can’t believe you are serious when you suggest that a majority-Muslim Europe would be no less “European”, when the cultural history and traditions of Europe and Islam are so diametrically, utterly different.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  14. the one eyed man says

    1) It is not only religion which “is held to be utterly beyond criticism.” Among other things, simple decency requires one not to ridicule people because of their race or ethnicity, and decent societies can erupt with firestorms of criticism when that happens. Just ask Don Imus.

    2) The fact that “so much that is so harmful is being done in its name” is a reflection on those doing harm, not on Islam itself. The fact that the Holocaust was committed in the name of Christianity does not mean that the Christian religion advocates genocide. It simply means that barbarous people twisted the religion to suit their beliefs.

    3) We should “jeer at a mentality that sees women as property, cuts girls’ throats for daring to go to school, tolerates suicide bombings in crowded marketplaces, and flies planes into skyscrapers.” No doubt about it. However, there is quite a distinction to be made between Islam as practiced by the vast majority of its believers and the acts of a small minority of them. The largest Muslim country is Indonesia: ever hear of girls getting their throats cut for going to school there? There are millions of Muslims living here: hear of any beheadings lately? The fact is that any religion with hundreds of millions of adherents will have extremists who commit barbarous deeds in its name. To imply that the acts of extremists are emblematic of the religion as a whole has no basis in fact.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    Peter,

    You might like to browse this website if you think there is no Islamic terrorism in Indonesia. And since you asked, here’s a nice item about Muslim beheadings of Indonesian schoolgirls.

    To imagine that “true” Islam is not doctrinally committed to the spread of the religion, quite explicitly by the sword if necessary, is to deny reality. That there are many Muslims who choose to reject this aspect of their doctrine, particularly in the US, is a welcome fact, but does nothing to ameliorate the fact that terrorism in the world today is an almost exclusively Muslim phenomenon. In no other societies are women’s rights so restricted; in no other culture is random violence against civilians so glorified. To paraphrase Sam Harris, imagine a young man on a bus, wearing an explosive vest. You don’t know his name, his age, his place of birth. But can you guess his religion?

    As for refraining from jeering at people about their race or ethnicity, the important distinction there is that those are simply inborn traits, whereas being a Yankee fan or a Muslim is a voluntary adoption of a belief system. Criticizing a religion should be no more off-limits than criticizing a political viewpoint. And again, I will call to your attention that even when the boundary of acceptable speech was crossed by Don Imus, the result was not suicide bombings, but a boycott and a firing. That’s how these things are supposed to be addressed in a civilized society.

    Finally, do you see the Holocaust as being committed “in the name of Christianity”? Certainly it went on with the approval of Pius XII, but I think to see it as a Christian crusade is a bit of a stretch. But that’s another discussion altogether; by no means do I make any brief for Christianity here. I’m rather down on religions generally, as you know.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    One other thing, Peter — here’s you, a while back, on sexual orientation, which is arguably as innate as ethnicity or race:

    My position on gay rights is simple: if these pillow-biters can handle the guilt feelings their disgusting habits must inevitably cause, then more power to them.

    Now I know you were just kidding around, but this is the level of humor that, if directed at Muhammad, would get your throat cut in much of the world. If this is OK, why not a few cartoons? Especially considering that gay people don’t go around beheading anyone; the worst thing they inflict upon the world is Broadway musicals. The difference, of course, is that we accord religion special immunity from criticism, and furthermore that we are cowed into submission by the fear of Muslim rage.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  17. the one eyed man says

    1) Quoting from the article you cite: “The beheadings triggered an outcry across Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and beyond.” If beheadings are intrinsic to Islam, then why was there an outcry?

    2) “Terrorism in the world today is an almost exclusively Muslim phenomenon.” The IRA, Shining Path, Basque separatists, Timothy McVeigh, North Korea, Maoists in the Philippines, bombings of abortion clinics, Chechen rebels, Tamil Tigers, and the burnings of homes in Washington earlier this week, allegedly by environmental wackos. And in terms of scale, nothing comes anywhere close to the Holocaust.

    3) “In no other societies are women’s rights so restricted:” I’m not sure if this is factually correct – you hear stories of Chinese aborting females to have boys instead of girls – and it’s useful to remember that our country was around for well over a century before women were allowed to vote. You don’t have to go far to find someone who is convinced that our society places women in a second class position. I also would give some latitude to other cultures in having different values than we do. I don’t find it to be a heinous offense if Saudi society wants to only allow men to drive: it’s not the choice I would make, but in the scale of things I don’t find it to be so awful. I wouldn’t want them to impose their cultural values on us, and I would be reluctant to impose our values on them.

    4) “In no other culture is random violence against civilians so glorified:” if the New York Times is to be believed, a recent article in the Sunday magazine disputes this meme. It reports a robust controversy over the ethics of suicide bombings and portrays widespread disgust with the practice as the consensus opinion among Muslim clerics. If you were a foreign observer reading your local newspaper, you might think that after Columbine and Virginia Tech, that we are a nation of lunatics itching to commit mass murder.

    5) I disagree that it is OK to criticize other religions. I personally think that religion is the opiate of the masses, but if people want to worship Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or Bruce Springsteen, that’s their business. The business of saying that our religion is better than their religion has started too many wars throughout history. Live and let live.

    6) Re Hitler: I’m no expert, but a quick Google search reports that Hitler “justified his fight for the German people and against Jews by using Godly and Biblical reasoning. Indeed, one of his most revealing statements makes this quite clear: ‘Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.’”

    7) If you take the number of people who get their throat cut by Muslim extremists and divide that by the number of Muslims, I think you would find these incidents to be black swan events. The only instance I’m aware of is the van Gogh guy. To me, taking the side of the cartoonists and the film makers is no different than taking the side of the KKK against blacks in the South. If you ridicule and intimidate people, some of them will react violently. However, the great majority of people will simply get on with their lives.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  18. Simma says

    Malcolm,

    I think you’re shortchanging the transformative nature of liberal democracy. You keep insisting that Muslims coming to Europe will never change, as though being raised in a society that is so different will have absolutely no effect on people. That’s simply unbelievable to me.

    I have to remind you that the Christianity currently “practiced” (or not) in northern Europe today is very different from the Christianity practiced 50 years ago in those same countries. I don’t understand how you could think that Muslims–provided they are given fair access to education and opportunity–will not also radically change their practices and beliefs.

    “True” Christianity is pretty damn intolerant, too. I was raised in a fundamentalist family, and it’s not quite the religion of love that many Christians claim it to be. I am also an immigrant, and I know very well the transformative nature of living in an open society.

    I think incidents such as van Gogh’s murder are a warning that host societies may need to be more proactive when it comes to integration of their immigrant minorities. However, since Europeans by and large insist that equality means that people cannot be labeled as a minority, ethnic or racial, they have great difficulties tracking the progress of immigrants and their descendants, investigating incidents of systemic racism, etc. Thus, many countries have tried to ignore that they had a problem with their Muslim minorities which I believe was race- and class-based before frustrated populations latched on to religion as an identity and an organizing principle. As I always try to point out to my European friends, one can be racist and discriminate against people without ever mentioning race. However, to address the problems of racism, to seek redress for racial discrimination, you must point out that race as a social category exists and that people modify their behaviors according to their perceptions of it.

    Van Gogh’s murder only means that European democracies must take off their blinders, not that liberal democracy is too weak or does not have the tools to include Muslims.

    As for the incidents in Indonesia you mention, I would remind you that Matthew Shepard was lashed to a fence, tortured, and beaten to death because of the “Christian” hatred of gays in this country and Lawrence King was shot and killed by a fellow child because of the same. That doesn’t mean that the majority of Christians are inherently incapable of living in a liberal democracy.

    I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this issue, since I don’t know that dragging it out further will really accomplish all that much. But I just wanted to say that, if Europeans find that immigration has been a failure to the detriment of their societies, they might want to look at how their refusal to engage with those immigrant enclaves brought them to that point instead of deciding that Muslims are de-facto unalterable barbarians. I also wanted to point out that “European” is not an immutable set of qualities. With the exception of the recent anti-immigrant backlash, which compared to the nativist rage of the past is more of a hiccup, Americans have constantly been redefining themselves and becoming no less American for it. I doubt European cultures are so fragile that they cannot do the same, but to do it, they must take off their blinders about racial dynamics in their societies instead of pointing the finger solely at a few hardcore Muslim immigrants and fixating on religion, which is as much or more a symptom as a cause of problems.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Peter,

    1) If there was an outcry, good. You asked for examples of schoolgirls beheaded in Indonesia, as if such a thing was unimaginable in such a moderate nation, and I had no trouble recalling an example. There’s plenty of Islamic terror over there.

    2) The IRA? done. Shining Path? done. Tim McVeigh? dead. Abortion clinic bombings? Come on; this stuff is all years or decades old. I can’t recall an abortion-clinic bombing in this century. Chechen rebels? Muslims. Burnt houses in Washington? OK, that’s one. No injuries. Tamils vs Sinhalese? Yes, other religions can get into the terrorism game too, I guess. OK, Basque separatists. And of course there is violence in Africa too; mostly tribal. But are you seriously arguing that it is wrong to suggest that fundamentalist Islam isn’t the primary engine, these days, of what we think of as terrorism?

    3) If the Saudis want to keep their women from driving, that’s one thing. If Iran wants to hang women for lewdness, that is quite another. And if the Taliban wants to butcher girls for going to school, that is yet another. Yet you say “I would be reluctant to impose our values on them.” Are you seriously saying such barbarism is supposed even to be beyond criticism?? You’ve got to be kidding.

    4) If there is indeed a growing discontent in the Islamic world with the brutality of its fundamentalists, I’m all for it. It’s high time. I recall cheering in the streets after 9/11. But as the article I cited in this post shows, there are indeed those who are beginning to see this toxic worldview for what it is. Three cheers for that. Those are the Arabs I’d want in Europe, or America; they are most welcome. Young Arab atheists who have cast off the stifling dogma of fundamentalist Islam, and seek to join the Western experiment, are just what’s needed. More power to ’em.

    5) If people want to worship various gods, or hold various superstitions, that is indeed their business. And if I think they are delusional, and want to say so, that’s mine. Again: why should a religious view deserve any more immunity from criticism than a political one? This is freedom of speech we are talking about here, a principle you usually stick up for.

    6) We can take up Hitler’s religious views (I actually am fairly up on the subject, and there’s plenty to say about it, much of it truly bizarre) some other time. It’s too big a topic for this thread. Suffice it to say that suggesting that he imagined the extermination of the Jews as merely a blow for Christianity is incorrect, in my opinion.

    7) You can not be serious when you suggest that the only person you know of who has been killed by Muslim extremists in retaliation for perceived disrespect of Islam is Theo van Gogh. We had 3,000 of them right here in New York just a few years back. Sure, most Mulsims are not fanatical killers. The point is that there is something in particular about fundamentalist Islam that serves as an ongoing incubator for those who are.

    Again, people ridicule and intimidate each other over political differences all the time. Al Franken, for example wrote a book called “Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot“. Imagine if it had been Muhammad instead of Limbaugh. Why is one OK, and not the other. (And please, resist the temptation to respond with “Because Rush Limbaugh IS a big fat idiot!”) I’ll say it again: both religion and political views are simply voluntarily held opinions, and they both affect society in important ways. There is no reason that one should be any more off-limits to criticism than the other.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  20. the one eyed man says

    1) One event in a nation of 234 million people looks like a black swan event to me.

    2) If by “these days” you mean the past few years: then fine. If you want to take a broader view of history, then I don’t think you can make the case that Islam is the primary driver of terrorism. Nor do I think that terrorism caused by non-Muslims is dead and extinct. Islam has been around for centuries: when you put it in an historical perspective, things look very differently. If you want to compile a list of the Top Ten Atrocities of All Time, I’m not sure if any of them would have Muslims as the cause.

    3) Hanging women for lewdness and butchering girls: of course it is barbarism. No different than lynching blacks because of the color of their skin or killing gays in hate crimes. I don’t think these are everyday events in the Muslim world. Also, the phrase “women’s rights” implies to me things like suffrage, marital rights, job opportunities, and so forth, which is what I was responding to.

    4) Agreed.

    5) I completely agree that you have the right to criticize any religion you want for any reason you want. I just don’t see the point of it, and I think your criticisms of Islam reflect the anti-Muslim hysteria which permeates America more than a clear-eyed look at a religion with hundreds of millions of followers. It certainly doesn’t apply to any of the Muslims I know, or to my experiences in Muslim countries, where I have been treated uniformly with respect.

    6) Not an expert here, but it seems to me that the Nazis distorted Christianity to suit their purposes just as Muslim extremists distort Islam to suit their own purposes.

    7) Of course I’m aware of the 3,000 dead from 9/11 – I know one of them – however I was responding to your statement that “this is the level of humor that, if directed at Muhammad, would get your throat cut in much of the world.” I think 9/11 was much more than a reaction to the Western sense of humor.

    8) The difference between Rush Limbaugh and Muhammed (never thought I would see a sentence starting with that) is that one is mortal and the other is viewed as a God. I would imagine that a book entitled Jesus is a Big Fat Idiot would be offensive to many. While I don’t think a book with that title should be banned, I also think it would be irresponsible to publish something which is incendiary and offensive. No different than publishing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The fact that it can be published doesn’t mean that it should be published, or that its publication isn’t repugnant.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  21. Malcolm says

    Simma,

    I hope you are right about the transformative power of liberal democracy. Perhaps you are. There are certainly areas of Europe where this seems not to be the case, such as France, but also examples where there is reason to be hopeful, like the US. As for how this will play out in Europe generally, we’ll just have to see. I’m not as optimistic as you, but I’d love to be wrong.

    I think there are some intrinsic features of Islam that make your suggestion of its softening over time less likely than in the case of Christianity. It is important to keep in mind that the separation of secular and religious power does not exist in Islam, and that the very concept of modern liberal democracies come to us from Athens by way of Christian societies.

    I am well aware that fundamentalist Christianity can be every bit as oppressive as any other form of religious zealotry. I certainly make no defense of it here; you are, as they say, “preaching to the choir”.

    Your fourth paragraph is very insightful, particularly the first sentence, and I quite agree. This is exactly the opposite of the approach taken, say, by Rowan Williams in his spectacular capitualition to non-assimilation. It is my opinion that the very wellspring of religion itself is as an organizing principle, a unifying identity whose most important adaptive function is to form a framework for social cohesion; a way to differentiate “us” from “them”, and to delineate the group to which we are socially obligated. It is this lack of identification as members of the outer (secular) cultural group, and the corresponding lack of a sense of being enmeshed with them in a web of social and moral obligations, that is the most dangerous part of non-assimilation. Conversely, assimilation can be a very real threat to tightly bound religious groups; it is something of a zero-sum game, though it doesn’t have to be, as pluralistic societies like the US demonstrate. A sufficiently “denatured” religion can blend in quite well, once its adherents accept that they belong not only to the religious group, but to the outer group as well. This is what we must hope for with Islam in Europe, but fundamentalist Islam is dead-set against it.

    I think incidents such as van Gogh’s murder are a warning that host societies may need to be more proactive when it comes to integration of their immigrant minorities. …

    Van Gogh’s murder only means that European democracies must take off their blinders, not that liberal democracy is too weak or does not have the tools to include Muslims.

    Exactly right. But they must recognize how dangerous accommodating non-assimilating immigrant groups really is. Again: all are welcome, but you must join in.

    As for the incidents in Indonesia you mention, I would remind you that Matthew Shepard was lashed to a fence, tortured, and beaten to death because of the “Christian” hatred of gays in this country and Lawrence King was shot and killed by a fellow child because of the same. That doesn’t mean that the majority of Christians are inherently incapable of living in a liberal democracy.

    Right, and again another example of religious zealotry, and the exclusion thereby of the Outsider from moral consideration, at work.

    I disagree with your final paragraph on a couple of points. For the reasons I cited above, I think religion is very much a cause, and not a symptom, of the difficulties we are discussing. Also, I think that in the post-Enlightenment era “European” does indeed include an important set of characteristics, many of which are starkly incompatible with core doctrines of Islam. Likewise, America’s strength and cohesion up till now has depended upon a strong emphasis on assimilation, reinforced also by the fact that across its enormous geographic and cultural breadth we have all spoken one language. But these cohesive forces are weakening now under the erosive effect of multicuturalism, and a corresponding de-emphasis on assimilation.

    By the way, I just want to say, Simma, that I sincerely appreciate your joining our little group as a reader and commenter. You are civil, thoughtful and intelligent, and just the sort of person I have always hoped to attract.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    Peter, I simply have to do some work, or I will surely be sacked. More later. (Anyone lurking is welcome to weigh in.)

    But, in haste, as for your objection 8): you are missing the point. Why are opinions about gods to be immune from criticism? I don’t think Jesus, or Rush Limbaugh, or anyone else is a god. If I did, should Al Franken pull his book? Why are these opinions simply off-limits? Maybe I am just as offended when people say that neoconservatives are evil as a Muslim is when a Dane twits the Prophet. Why does he get a free pass, and I don’t?

    And while I’m at it, re 2): I said 9/11 was a reaction to “disrespect for Islam”, of which humor is just a subset. It happens that Islam is conveniently so constructed that one can disrespect it in a thousand different ways.

    Finally, re 6): Harris and others argue that it is the moderates, not the extremists, who “distort” Islam. The Koran is very clear about how to treat infidels, women, etc.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  23. Malcolm says

    Oh well, who needs to keep a job, anyway?

    Re 3):

    Honor killings. Harsh reprisals, including death, for adultery and lewdness. Female circumcision. Punishment of rape victims. Deprivation of education. Officially sanctioned spousal beatings. Compulsory wearing of the hijab. Forced seclusion.

    Do you really think these things are uncommon in the Muslim world?

    Read this.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  24. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – “… who needs to keep a job anyway.” I like your attitude. See you on the breadline.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 4:16 pm | Permalink
  25. Malcolm says

    Thanks, Bob!

    Yeah, I’m getting a lot done today…

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 4:19 pm | Permalink
  26. the one eyed man says

    Hope you are still a tax paying citizen.

    1) “Why are opinions about gods to be immune from criticism?” Because many people consider them to be sacred, and for that reason alone it ought to be respected. I am a Godless atheist and I have always regarded religion as a crutch for people who are unable or unwilling to think on their own. However, I recognize that many people have faith in their God or their religion, and it would be wrong to ridicule or criticize that. It’s something I ought to respect, no matter how much I may disagree with it. Why? Because I think part of human decency is recognizing that other people ought to have the latitude to make intensely personal decisions such as whether there is a God and who that God would be. There are many very, very smart people who believe in Jesus or Mohammed or the Jewish God: who am I to question this or to say why one set of beliefs is better than another?
    In response to the reduction ad absurdum argument (if someone wants to worship the Easter Bunny, do I have to respect that too?): well, yes. There is something unique to that which is considered to be sacred, and no matter how silly or stupid it may seem, if someone wants to believe in it then that’s their business. People ought to have the sphere to make those decisions for themselves without being second-guessed by others. I think that having the humility to recognize that none of us have all of the answers (present company excluded) is the first step to recognizing that others ought to have some leeway in what they choose to believe, especially when the choice is as intensely personal as this one.

    2) “The Koran is very clear about how to treat infidels, women, etc.” Well, so is the Bible and lots of other things written thousands of years ago. As for moderates vs. extremists: the schism in Christianity is probably just as large. The Pope would tell you that getting an abortion is a mortal sin which consigns you to Hell. Catholic women getting abortions may feel differently. One of the problems with religion is that everybody seems to feel that everybody else is off to Hell because they practice a different religion or a different version of the same religion. However, that is something which is endemic to religion, not just to Islam.

    2) Harsh reprisals etc.: do these things happen in Iran, Syria, or Saudi Arabia? Probably, but my guess is that they occur far less than your posts would suggest. Do they happen in Turkey, Indonesia, or Malaysia? Black swan events aside, I would be shocked if they did – I’ve been to all three countries and they are modern, secular countries. (Also, their population dwarfs the other three.) Islam has hundreds of millions of people in a broad variety of sects, and you conflate an extreme version with the religion as it is practiced by the overwhelming number of its adherents. Moreover, I’m not convinced that extreme Islam is as prevalent as you suggest even in the places where it is the state religion. (I know a number of people who left Iran for the US – my sense is that the great mass of Iranians just want to wear jeans and drink whiskey and be left alone – so blame its excesses on the totalitarian regime which enforces a theocratic rule, and not on Islam or the mass of its adherents.)

    So yes: when viewed within the context of the entire Muslim world, I do think that these events are uncommon. They receive a lot of publicity because they are shocking, but I have seen no facts which indicate that they are in any way commonplace events. Just as a foreigner could look at the US and infer from 40,000 murders every year that we are all gun-crazed lunatics, so could an American look at news reports of these things and conclude that they are central to Islam. If there is any basis in fact to come to this conclusion, I certainly haven’t seen it.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
  27. the one eyed man says

    Also the link in the 3:58 post doesn’t open up.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  28. Malcolm says

    Hi Peter,

    1) You still haven’t explained why the mere fact that you consider something “sacred” means that it is off limits to questioning or criticism, in a way that “intensely personal” political convictions aren’t. If I make an intensely personal decision that George Bush is such a uniquely gifted leader, so precisely in tune with the very essence of what it means to guide a human society, that the Constitution should be amended to make him President-For-Life, I doubt that many people would respect his sacredness out of respect for my belief. But have they got “all the answers”? Of course not.

    Absurd, right? But why does all that go out the window as soon as fantastic metaphysical superstitions are added to the picture? And anyway, what’s so “intensely personal” about being indoctrinated, by accident of birth, into a mass fantasy that has hundreds of millions of members?

    No, if people’s religious beliefs are going to intrude into the public sphere — and Lord knows they sure as hell do, conspicuously, obtrusively, and often lethally — then they have no right to insist that I cannot express opinions about them. It’s as simple as that.

    2) That there are many who don’t follow official dogma in Christianity has no bearing on my point, which was a response to your remark that Muslim extremists are “distorting” Islam. They are not.

    3) From Ali Sina, of faithfreedom.org:

    Let us see what the Quran says about women. It says “men have a degree (of advantage) over them” 2:228 ; that the witness of woman is worth half of that of man 2:282; that women inherit half of their male siblings, 4:11-12; that a man can marry two or three or four women 4:3; that if a women becomes captive in a war, her Muslim master is allowed to rape her 33:50; that if a woman is not totally submissive to her husband she will enter Hell 66:10; that women are “tilth” for their husbands (to cultivate them) 2:223; that men are in charge of women, as if women were imbeciles or minors who could not take care of themselves; that they must be obedient to their husbands or be admonished (verbally abused), banished from the bed (psychologically abused) and beaten (physically abused) 4:34.

    Are you seriously questioning that women are routinely oppressed in Islamic societies? Honor killings alone number in the thousands of deaths every year, and many many more women are beaten and maimed. Indeed, beating of women by their husbands is perfectly acceptable under shari’a, and I even linked to a video a little while back in which a mullah explained what sort of stick ought to be used.

    At any rate, Peter, you are going after a straw man here. Have I ever said that all Muslims are rabid extremists? Certainly not. The point of this post, so long ago and far above us now, was that the Dutch government should not cave in to threats of violence by those who are.

    You can try that link again. It just worked for me.

    Posted March 5, 2008 at 10:13 pm | Permalink
  29. Simma says

    Hi Malcolm,

    Thanks for your welcome. I’ve enjoyed participating here as well.

    Just a couple of small things that struck me that I’d like to comment on.

    You mention that “the very concept of modern liberal democracies come to us from Athens by way of Christian societies”. While this is mostly true, it’s also true that the Renaissance and its brainchild, the Enlightenment, would most likely never have happened without the Arab/Muslim world, which preserved a great deal of Greek antiquity that had been lost to the West for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Ironically, it was the brutality of the Crusades and the resulting cultural exchange and access to these texts and the cultural and scientific knowledge they contained that was a significant factor in sowing the seeds of the Renaissance and Europe’s transformation from a religiously brutal, feudal region to what it is today.

    As for France’s wine culture… well, it would suffer if American evangelical Christianity got a hold of it as well. Let’s just say that the very Christian-based Prohibition is entirely responsible for the fact that, until VERY recently, Americans were drinking utter crap, calling it beer, and not knowing any better. Extreme Christians and Mormons also have a tendency to teetotalism. At any rate, I know France is more terrified at the rise of American wine culture and the changing global tastes it heralds than of the possible impact of its Muslim minority on its viticulture.

    And one final note–yes, France has had a lot of trouble integrating its non-white immigrant minorities. Ironically, France is one of the European nations which has been notably anti-“multicultural”. In France, the prevailing thought is that, to have access to liberty, equality, and fraternity, you must shed your old culture and become fully French. I lived in Paris for a year during the mid-90s, when a lot of racial/ethnic tensions were building, and I came away rather frustrated by the very narrow-minded (to an East-Coast American liberal) attitudes of the Gallic French toward different races and cultures. And judging from the state of affairs in their country, I’m not the only one.

    Posted March 6, 2008 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  30. Malcolm says

    Hi Simma,

    As for the role of the Muslims in preserving much of what would otherwise have been lost in antiquity, you are absolutely right. Thomas Cahill has also argued that a debt is owed to the Irish.

    As for the teetotaling, well, I most definitely have nothing nice to say about Christian fundamentalists either. My point was simply about how the French culture might change under majority Muslim rule.

    Your final paragraph leads into your comment on Wednesday’s post, so we should probably discuss it there.

    Posted March 6, 2008 at 5:54 pm | Permalink