Dit is de
Nedernieuws van 12 november 2005. Ik pak het deze keer weer eens een
beetje anders aan, en maak het mijzelf een beetje makkelijk. Het geval
wil dat ik ook correspondeer met anderen met een redelijke
intelligentie, die mij wel eens dingen vragen over "de Nederlandse
samenleving", die hen soms nogal verbaast, zoals bijvoorbeeld inzake
Theo van Gogh en Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Hier volgt dus een
Engels verhandelingetje n.a.v. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, geschreven voor een
Amerikaanse, die wel redelijk ge´nformeerd en in het geheel niet dom
is, maar ook niet veel weet van Holland.
Here is a little
more on Ayaan. It comes from two sources.
The first is an open letter that was published Nov 2, 2005 by her. This
was the first anniversary and commemoration of the murder of
Theo van Gogh, and although Ayaan did not speak in public, she
wrote this letter and had it published, in a paper I don't normally
read, called "de Volkskrant" ("the people's paper"). The second
is from a review of a book I read yesterday, by two Dutch investigative
journalists, in the paper I read normally, "het Handelsblad"
("the business paper"). The reviewed book has just been published, and
is called in translation
"In the name of
god. The year of Theo van Gogh".
The review is by an
emeritus professor of sociology.
1. The open
letter of Ayaan is a curious production for quite a few reasons, two of
which are that she uses it to quote quite a lot of the words of Theo's
murderer, who is indeed a religious fanatic, and that she mostly
addresses Theo's "very dear parents", but by way of a letter that is
speaking directly to Theo, as if he can read and approve it all from
his heavenly cloud. I could quote a lot from it, but I here quote only
this more measured bit - and the "you" and "your" addresses the dead
"There is left
only an extra-ordinarily tiny minority in pŘblic opinion that dares to
speak out about the tension between your conviction - namely free
speech - and the faith of your murderer, namely the koran and the way
of acting of the prophet. There is, but you knew that already, a
surfeit of evidence that the islam is essentially incompatible with the
western value of freedom and certainly with freedom of speech."
But that is not so,
or not quite so: What she confuses here, and in the whole open letter,
are the beliefs of the murderer of Theo van Gogh, and the beliefs of
"the" islam, as if the convictions of all believers in "the" islam can
be identified with or reduced to the beliefs of the murderer of Theo
van Gogh. This is no better, logically speaking, than the pretensions
of Osama to speak in the name of "the" islam - and there is no "the"
islam, there is only a collection of faiths and practices more or less
loosely based on the koran, just as there is no "the" christian faith,
but only a collection of faiths and practices more or less loosely
based on the bible.
Next, there is no
"surfeit of evidence that the islam is essentially incompatible with
the western value of freedom". No doubt certain interpretations of it
may be incompatible with "the western value of freedom" (which also is
not a very clear concept, since there are several distinct kinds of
freedom) but the same is true with interpretations of the christian
faith, and yet the western value of freedom arose in the context of
religious faith, largely, it would seem, through the insight that you
can't have much of a human(e) society if you use religion to try to
kill or persecute your religious opponents, and that it is quite
feasible to live peacefully together and yet disagree about many
things, and that indeed peaceful cooperation is in the interest of all,
except perhaps a few fanatics, extremists or disturbed persons.
And no doubt any
religion is difficult to combine with secular freedoms. But "the islam"
undoubtedly, like christianity, is a house with many mansions, and a
creed with many interpretations and versions, and if you want to help
people to see through it or get rid of it, it doesn't help to represent
it as if it coincides with the beliefs and interpretations of its most
extremist proponents, as if all islamists must be extremists, and as if
any believer in "the" islam thereby cannot believe in or practice
freedom or freedom of speech.
Indeed, such a
position makes the relative freedoms of the Dutch Republic of the 17th
Century - for which see e.g. Schama's "The Embarrassment of Riches",
at least if you are capable of either reading or skipping occasional
rather purple historian's prose - completely incomprehensible, for the
Dutch Calvinists then were certainly not more enlightened or liberal
than most of the European islamists now, and yet they allowed a great
manner of relative freedoms, for various reasons, many of which had to
do with realism and shrewd self-interest, and indeed also with the fact
that - then as now - most Dutchmen were not willing to murder their
religious or political opponents, at least if they lived in the Dutch
society, and most knew and understood that almost all had considerable
personal interest in keeping the peace and preserving toleration.
review is titled "In a dark mirror", and compares Ayaan with
Mohammed B., Theo's murderer, and makes both appear as
extremists, if from opposite camps and convictions. I learned from the
review that Ms. Ali is 36 now, and only converted from islamism to
atheism age 32, after 9/11 and after reading the booklet "Atheist
manifesto" and after getting the personal help of its writer. Here
are translations of the penultimate paragraphs of the review, that
follow after the statement that the motives of the murderer remain
"Hirsi Ali by
contrast is an open book. It has been described hundreds of times,
especially in the literature of ex-communists: The great impotence to
leave behind oneself the 'wrong' past, and the anger that years of
self-deception have generated. The God that failed shows itself to be a
revengeful god that cannot be thought away.
The book by Jutta Chorus and Ahmet Olgun gives in simple words the
story of a tragedy such as Holland has known seldomly. The most painful
are the completely incompatible positions both parties have chosen.
Mohammed B. is the only Dutchman and possibly the only European muslim
who has committed a ritual murder in the name of his god that did not
happen in anger but was coolly planned and carefully executed. Ayaan
Hirsi Ali is the only Dutch (ex-)muslima who keeps frontally attacking
the islam without cease and who moreover sought the company of
prominent Dutchmen who are, for different reasons, enemies of the
I am not claiming
this is the definite analysis, but it is along my own lines: Ms. Ali
seems to be an extremist, who is generalizing her own fall from her
faith, at age 32, in such terms that all must be with her or against
her - like Bush Jr., incidentally. And she seems indeed quite a bit
like an ex-catholic who looks upon all catholics as henchmen of the
catholic inquisition, and indeed the faith she left and lost also had
pronounced totalitarian dimensions, as do catholicism and communism,
which may explain at least some about her present cast of mind.
Now I never fell
from a religious faith, though it amazes me that an intelligent person,
who lives in modern Europe, and finished a university, albeit in
"political sciences", can have no or few problems with a faith like the
islam until age 32. But I do know that if you want to help others who
have been raised in a faith to see through its shortcomings, you will
not be succesful if you choose an extremist position. Here is a final
bit from Ayaan's open letter - and "your" is again Theo's, while "his"
refers to Theo's murderer:
"To bridge the
opposion between your conviction that free speech is the highest good
and his conviction that the holy command of Allah and his prophet comes
Civilization against barbarism.
Modernity against premodernity.
Citizens against tribalism.
Critical thinking against absolutism.
Progress against stagnation.
Equivalence against dominance.
A free individual against the tyranny of the collective."
Two difficulties I
have with this are, first, that it suggests that believers in "the"
islam are and cannot be anything but barbarians, pre-moderns,
tribalists and absolutists and must be stagnating, undemocratic
collectivists, and, second, that it is totally irrealistic about the
intellectual and moral gifts of most human beings - as if the stark and
only choice is between enlightened geniuses and saints or deluded
idiots and despots. Or in more ordinary terms: Between Us ultra-good
guys and gals and Them true eternal baddies.
Of course I think it
is good if one succeeds in giving up religion - but
then I am a philosopher; I had an academic education; I know quite a
lot of science; and I have been raised without any religious faith. So
for me there are no emotional or social pressures towards religion, and
lots of scientific, philosophical and logical arguments against, and it
is quite natural, self-evident and normal for me to be an atheist, and
to look upon all religions as misguided systems of wishful thinking,
that mostly arose in the dark ages, when there was hardly any
scientific knowledge - for which reason, incidentally, all almighty,
infinitely benevolent and omniscient gods of all faiths apparently
forgot to put even the slightest bit of real science in all their holy
books, such as could have enabled human beings to avoid, prevent or
cure e.g. pellagra, scurvy, cancer, polio, lepra etc. and such as would
have saved and helped millions of people from awfully painful early
In any case: For
most who were raised from childhood in some religion giving it up will
be difficult even if they are well-educated and intelligent; most are
neither very intelligent nor very learned, and you can't blame them for
either, since such things are mostly not in one's own power; there
always are many social and family pressures when one was born in a
religious family; it is obvious that the emotional strength and
advantage of any religion or political creed is that it mostly proceeds
wishful thinking, and thus will satisfy emotionally, if only
imaginatively and fictionally; and it is also obvious that the
emotional weakness and disadvantage of real science - the instrument of
human emancipation, through understanding natural reality and using
this understanding to further human interests - is that it proceeds by
evidence and rational argument,
and therefore may not at all satisfy one's emotions for a long time,
even if what one gets is the truth, e.g. to the effect that more
evidence is needed for the problem one investigates; and my personal
belief, finally, is that somebody with Ayaan's mindset does not have
the sort of approach that will help many to get rid of religion,
whereas it is perfectly fit for producing social tension, and for
inflaming extremists, and for generating fanatics.
And anyway it is
irrealistic to expect that most people, such as they are, with
such intellectual gifts and knowledge as they have, on average,
are well-equipped to give up religion. And the problem is not first and
foremost about the intellectual (non-)provability of god, or about
oppositions such as barbarism versus civilization. What it is first and
foremost about is that one must convince most of the religious
believers of any faith, and also most of the political believers of any
ideology, that it is possible to have a society in which there are many
of which the different proponents decided, in the interest of all and
of a peaceful society, not to fight out their religious differences
physically, and instead only to disagree by verbal argument. In such a
society there may be many freedoms, simply because almost everyone
agrees that differences of religion or philosophy
are not worth killing for, which indeed is a fundamentally civilized
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's
approach is not fit for this, and seems to derive mostly from her own
recent conversion experience from islam to atheism, and from her far
less than perfect understanding of Dutch society, and of the historical
foundations of civilized society in Holland: The freedom, civilization
and modernity she praises is and was the product of many succesful
attempts to ease and not to sharpen religious
tensions. And it was mostly designed and maintained by religious
people. That is not an argument for religion, but it is an argument for
moderation and civilization, for the civilized freedoms of Dutch
society are mostly freedoms of moderation.
Neither Ayaan Hirsi
Ali, nor Theo van Gogh nor Mohammed B. are or were moderate persons,
nor do or did they propose moderate solutions or approaches. And it is
rather disquieting, and not good for Dutch social peace, that so much
of the discussion about the integration of the muslims into Dutch
society, at least in the media, has been in fact to a considerable
extent in the hands of quite immoderate persons.
Nederlands-lezenden, zie ook een mail aan juffrouw Umar.