The Netherlands & Islam

Aziz points me to this article over at alt.muslim which reviews Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma. It is a fair review, but this caught my attention:

...Buruma's parallelisation of the careers of both Fortuyn and Van Gogh and their capitalisation on Islamophobia begs the question of how the Enlightenment virtues of freedom and reason could have been politically perverted to justify hatred for a racial underclass. This crucial question, posed repeatedly, if not directly, by Buruma through his coinage of the term "Enlightenment fundamentalist" represents the most intellectually fascinating aspect of the book.

I have commented on the problems, from my vantage point, of analogizing the Muslim religion with race. To me it seems trivially obvious that though some of the animosity toward followers of Islam is derived from race-hatred, there is a fundamental difference between race-hatred and religious-hatred. I am extremely wary when Muslims focus on race-hatred as the essential core and sufficient condition for the tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims because as I've noted before, racial oppression is conceived of as a particular evil in the West. In contrast, religious hatred is generally seen is a less critical light, and the exceptions often prove the rule, as attacks upon Judaism are often assumed to be attacks upon the Jewish ethnicity, as opposed to the religion (Jews were exterminated on racial grounds, not religous ones, during the Holocaust). Of course, there is a large elephant in the room when it comes to the conflation of racial and class divisions and Islamophobia: the Netherlands has a large non-Muslim colored minority! The Netherlands is home to Hindu Indians from Suriname, blacks from Caribbean, and Indonesians of various hues and faiths. On physical and genetic grounds all of these populations are rather more distant from the native Dutch than the Muslims from Morocco and Turkey, and yet none of these populations are the locus of such anomie. Similarly, the United Kingdom is also host to a diverse colored population of various religious orientations, and again the social tensions are greater between Muslims and non-Muslims than between non-Muslim minorities and the native population. Spain is host to a substantial illegal immigrant population from Latin America of mestizo origin, arguably more genetically distinct from the Iberian population than the parallel population from North Africa, and yet again the social tension is greater between Muslims and Christian Spaniards. One might point out that the illegals from Latin American share a common language and religious with the white Spanish population, but this goes to my contention that cultural affinities can transcend or mute racism. In the Balkans the Bosniaks share a language with their Catholic Croatian and Orthodox Serbian neighbors, and are physically indistinguishable from them. And yet the lack of racial divisions did not prevent civil war based on ethno-religious differences in the early 1990s.

My point is not to reiterate the obvious, I hope readers of this weblog are aware of the general outline of the facts which I allude to above. Rather, it is to emphasize more starkly the facile nature of chalking up of the tensions between Muslims and native white European populations simply to racism and class divisions. The example of Bosnia shows that even without racial, class or linguistic differences, tension based on notional religious ideology can emerge rather quickly.1 The reality that genetically and racially more alien Hindu Surinamese, Ambonese and Caribbeans are not the same source of societal tension as Moroccans suggests that even if racial and class differences are necessary conditions, they are not sufficient for the culture-wars that we are seeing. Similarly, though the relations between Hindu and Sikh South Asians and the native white population are not without problems, they have not generated the veritable commentary industry which the Muslim population has.2 Across the English Channel in France there is a large non-white community which consists of Muslims and non-Muslims, the latter being predominantly black African. Though from my reading it seems both groups are subject to racism, the organized locus of cultural rebellion and conscious counter-reaction against the French social order comes from the lighter-skinned Muslims.

Clearly European racism is real. Clearly there are important issues of class at work. But putting the focus on racial and class divisions as the sufficient and primary conditions from which Muslim-native Christian tensions arise ignores the reality that the same problems exist to lesser extent with other communities who are even more visibly non-white. In other words, Muslim religious identity is a better predictor of tension with white Christian society than the shade of skin, and perhaps (though I am less sure of this) class. Girding Islamic identity with the same protection that racial minorities receive under the heading of "Islamophobia" is neglecting the fundamental germ of the problem, the root of the chasm, and that is the robust counter-cultural response which Islamic communities seem capable of engaging in vis-a-vis Western Christian and post-Christian cultural matrices. Note that culturally and religiously more exotic and alien groups like Hindus (England) or Jains (Antwerp) can "fit in" more easily that Muslims, who derive from a common Abrahamic root with Christian Europe. Pointing to the generic paradigm of racism misses the particularity of the Muslim problem that European nations are having to deal with. I do believe there are ways to handle the problem, the United States for one may be a long term template, but focusing on the prejudice of the native population is I think a false lead, because that is the basal and constant background condition. The true question is the variation which seems to track whether the minority population is Muslim or not.

Addendum: Also:

In reality however, the ramparts of political polarisation in the Netherlands have been drawn in such a way that even the most oppressive tactics against Muslim women, ones Hirsi Ali rightfully denounces, have become reinterpreted as marks of resistance that must be held onto as a sign of loyalty to faith and culture. When the same voices that enunciate racial taunts reinvent themselves as bearers of the virtues of the Enlightenment, it comes as a scant surprise that the Enlightenment itself is rejected as yet another imperialist tool of subjugation.

The past is not the present, and conditions differ, but it is important to note beacons of the Enlightenment often viewed Jews with great contempt as a superstitious and clannish people. Nevertheless, Jews embraced the Enlightenment offer of emancipation as individuals first and a nation second and became full partners of the West. Perhaps the Jewish example is not apropos, and Muslims are fundamentally different (I am frankly skeptical that the lumpen Muslim underclass could come within an order of magnitude of the cultural glory that the empancipated European Ashkenazim ushered in in the generations after Mendelssohn, but I would be happy to be proven wrong). Nevertheless, it is simply incorrect to behave as if European racism and prejudice will by its very nature deterministically give rise to a culture of violence and fury as opposed to one that rises up and makes the glory of Greece and Rome their own.

1 - My understanding is that the Bosniak dialect of Serbo-Croat is closer to Croatian than Serbian. Also, note that Bonsian "Muslims" in the early 1990s were very secular, and even the religious Muslims tended to be of a latitudinarian Sufi bent.

2 - It can be argued that the Muslims were from a lower social stratum than the Hindus and Sikhs. Likely so in the case of the Hindus, but perhaps not in the case of the Sikhs, who were derived predominantly from Jat peasantry, such as the Muslims were derived from the rural peasantry of Mirpur. This does not include the predominantly immigrant Bangladeshi community.


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I misread the title at first, I thought this was about "The Neandertals & Islam." Maybe you could put together a post about that some time. Meanwhile, "Enlightenment fundamentalist" - what a hoot!

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 14 Nov 2006 #permalink

"I misread the title at first"

I did that too. Near illustration of how our minds initially arrange the letters in whatever seems to be the most plausible order based on context, then only some milliseconds later arranges them in the actual order.

"Neat" illustration that is