By YOUSEF DRUMMOND
RIGHT-wing Dutch parliamentarian and politician Geert Wilders is experiencing an uneasy relationship with his fellow European counterparts who say his incendiary rhetoric about Islam is fanning the flames of resentment among its Muslim inhabitants who reside uneasily in an increasing secular European society.
Mr. Wilders disagrees vehemently with his European counterparts who say that all cultures have a right to be treated equally. The European Union has in the past and still adheres to a sociological trend called multiculturalism; this trend encourages all of Europe’s nation-states adopt laws designed to treat its immigrants equally, thus adding to a successful trend of social integration and adding to Europe’s cultural diversity.
His political adversaries say that Mr. Wilders is displaying a “worst trait” used by Hitler’s regime against Germany’s Jewish population some sixty years ago by “wanting to get rid of Muslims”. The Netherlands, with a vibrant population of 16 million Muslims, has among the highest concentrations of Muslims in the European Union.
Mr. Wilders contend that Europe is suffering from an identity complex. He positions himself to be the champion of European culture or it will be over-run by Islamic culture. At a recent speech here on Capitol Hill in February he posed this question: will we leave Europe’s children the values of Rome, Athens and Jerusalem, or the values of Mecca, Teheran and Gaza?
Back in Europe Mr. Wilders stood up in the Dutch parliament last September and said this:
“Madame Speaker, the Koran (sic) is a book that incites to violence. I remind the House that the distribution of such texts is unlawful according to Article 132 of our Penal Code. In addition the Koran (sic) incites to hatred and calls for murder and mayhem. The distribution of such texts is made punishable by Article 137(e). The Koran (sic) is therefore a highly dangerous book; a book which is completely against our legal order and our democratic institutions. In this light, it is an absolute necessity that the Koran (sic) be banned for the defense and reinforcement of our civilization and our constitutional state…1400 years ago war was declared on us by an ideology of hate and violence which arose at the time and was proclaimed by a barbarian who called himself the Prophet Mohammed (sic). I am referring to Islam (italics mine).
In a recent interview he said this: “We need to stop the Islamisation (sic) of the Netherlands. That means no more mosques, no more Islamic schools, no more imams…Not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are Muslims (italics mine).
Lance Fairchok asserts that “Islamic supremacists” are undermining the rule of law and its democratic institutions in order to create “two separate societies, with Islam pre-eminent”. Islam has been “eating away” at the Netherlands “for decades”, and “the government fears them”.
What is the “European identity”? European identity is foremost a cultural identity. The French identity, for example, is its language, its culture, its history. People who don’t share the culture, history and language of France are not “truly” French. Much of Europe is largely concerned with its own cultural identity and its preservation, a “my-culture-is-better-than-yours” mentality that is deeply rooted in Europe’s historical development. Historical determinants tell us that this brand of “cultural chauvinism” doesn’t exist here in the United States.
I remember as a college student watching a young female Muslim college student prostrating on a prayer-mat one sunny afternoon on the lawn of a major university here in New York City, with fellow non-Muslim students walking casually to classes without staring at her religious forms of expression. This is because here in the United States the ethos of cultural identity is absent; it is an idea. Anyone can potentially rise to be an “American”. Culture, religion and ethnicity are irrelevant here in the United States.
Some time ago Pope Benedict XVI suggested that Europe regain its cultural identity by assigning to its constitution a solemn allegiance to its Christian heritage and its values. However, the philosophical Enlightenment that ushered in modern European political systems some three centuries ago implanted aggressive laws that elevated secular culture and marginalized the Christian religion instead. Dutch author Geert Mark explained, in an interview, that the European identity constitutes “the Christian world and its values, expanded by the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, and finally the constitutions and the basic rights established therein…”
There are two strands of thought, concerning the European identity, in motion today: one camp says that Europe should revert to its Christian roots, with another camp reject Europe’s Christian origins and assert a humanistic, secular perspective. The former camp may never see this idea becoming a reality in the near future. For the latter, this camp, consisting mainly of secular humanists, despise all religions, declaring instead that all cultures should be treated equally.
Mr. Wilders thinks that all cultures are not equal and therefore should not be treated as such, as he has branded Islamic culture “retarded”. He recently stated that he doesn’t have any problems with “Muslim people”, but with “Islamic tradition, culture, ideology”.
I know Mr. Wilders is using a rational method to separate “Muslim people” from “Islamic tradition and culture”. In reality, though, both are inseparable.
Some say that his views on “coercing” Muslims to be tolerant may run parallel to a modern view advocated by Professor Tariq Ramadan, now professor of religion and philosophy at Oxford University, who has gained some notoriety by asserting that Muslims in Europe must “re-interpret” Islam’s theological underpinnings in order to position Islam within a modern European social context, thereby allowing its Muslim inhabitants to co-exist peacefully among their non-Muslim neighbors.
Europe’s failure at accommodating or integrating Muslims within their societies involves its determination, through its legal codes, not to assign to religion a secure “zone of influence”.
Philip Blond, senior lecturer in philosophy and theology at the University of Cumbria and Adrian Pabst, who teaches religion and politics at the University of Nottingham, asserts that the European Enlightenment allowed European states to “protect the state from religion”. Its aim, therefore, was to circumscribe or contain religion and its expression through force of law. Europe’s failure to integrate Muslims in its societies stem from its determination to create an equal and just society through a “cultural prism” that neglects religious origins.
Oliver Roy, author of Secularism confronts Islam, has said that laicite, or the French doctrine governing the strict separation of church and state, “creates religion by making it a category apart that has to be isolated and circumscribed”. By circumscribing religious expression, laicite inadvertently “reinforced religious identities” rather than “allowing them to dissolve in more diversified practices and identities”. Guy La Roche has eloquently stated that by fighting a monster the wrong way, you actually make the monster much stronger.
The French doctrine of laicite is responsible for the nation’s decision to ban Muslim girls from wearing the hijab from its public schools. Laicite even allows the French state to encroach on individual lives regarding religion. France wants its Muslim inhabitants to become more “French” by stripping them, through legal action, of their Islamic practices.
Some time ago the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, the titular head of the Anglican Church, ignited a firestorm of controversy over a year ago because of what he said at a lecture at the Royal Courts of Law. He suggested that Britain should adopt certain aspects of Sharia law. Critics contend that Mr. Williams’ speech allow for Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims to adopt their own religious laws and thus “opt out” of secular common law, setting the stage for “one law for Muslims and another for everybody else”. The real message of the speech, however, is clear: it is concerned with the “increasingly authoritarian and anti-religious nature of the modern liberal state”. The primary motivation for Mr. William’s “controversial” speech began with a simple question: by what concrete methods can the British government implement to integrate its Muslim inhabitants and at the same time allow them to practice their beliefs within the public sphere?
Europe’s political actors must either adopt legal rules to accommodate Islam in order to successfully integrate its Muslim inhabitants, or risk unearthing the likes of another “Geert Wilders” in their midst.
The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org