By Barry Rubin
One should not generalize in describing European states. Still, the case of the Netherlands shows interesting points regarding both attitudes toward Israel and Islam.
Let’s start with the Israel issue. I’ve been closely following the new Dutch government, formed after an election in which 55 percent of the voters supported explicitly pro-Israel parties.
When the new foreign minister Uri Rosenthal was asked about the country’s policy toward Israel by the extremist (and virulently hostile) Green Left party, he replied that he thinks it’s necessary to develop further the relationship with Israel because the right to exist of Israel, the only democracy in the region, is still put in doubt by some nations and groups. “The Netherlands want to push back against attempts of delegitimizing Israel. Israel’s right to exist must be very clear and Israel should should feel supported in this by the international community.”
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If the Netherlands wants to support the peace process, even in pushing for Israeli compromises, this can only be done, he explains, if the country engages in more intensive cooperation with Israel.
We should remember that in most countries there is a strong–and party partisan–debate on these issues. Government policy often depends on who wins the elections. The clearest differences exist in Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands; to a real if somewhat lesser extent in France and the United Kingdom, but this point is true everywhere in Europe.
Another development in Europe, however, is rising antisemitism. Here’s an article providing examples of both sympathetic and unsympathetic reactions on the issue by various Dutch figures.
Having reliable statistics at last regarding the number of Muslims in Europe also makes it timely to discuss that issue. The European left often argues that Muslims face imminent persecution and even massive repression. One of the more sophisticated versions of this theme comes from the Dutch Labor Party journalist and intellectual Geert Mak in one of the country’s leading newspapers:
“No, in the comparison between Jews and Muslims it’s not about deportation and mass-murder. It’s about the beginning, about the 1930s, when Jews felt themselves excluded and when it was spoken about them as it is now about Muslims.”
Yet how can one deal with this issue without noting the fact that Islamists who are Muslim have committed more than 10,000 terrorist attacks in the last two decades? Or the fact that in many mosques in the West, preachers systematically incite hatred for Jews and Christians? Or that a whole series of special privileges are demanded by local Muslim leaders that break the Western democratic tradition of equal treatment under law? Or that the overwhelmingly main cause of growing antisemitism in Europe comes from the Muslim sector of the population?
Needless to say, Jews in the 1930s weren’t doing any of these things. There was not a single incident of violence by Jews against the Christian majority. While Jews were sometimes accused of religiously preaching hatred against Christians, those claims were always false. And far from asking for special privileges, most Jews were trying desperately to assimilate culturally while the rest only wanted to be left alone. If one ignores these differences it is impossible to understand the situation today.
Here’s one little detail reported by the French press agency, AFP that provides an ironic example of the problem. A Lebanon-born Swedish citizen named Munir Awad was arrested in Somalia in 2007 and again in 2009 in Pakistan on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. The Swedish foreign ministry helped get him freed on both occasions. Awad expressed his gratitude. Now Awad has been again arrested–in Sweden–after participating in a plot to “kill as many people as possible” in an attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons he found objectionable.
There is a real problem here and–as the Awad case indicates–neither generosity nor appeasement will make it go away.
But let’s go back to what Mak said: “It’s about the beginning, about the 1930s, when Jews felt themselves excluded and when it was spoken about them as it is now about Muslims.”
In the 1930s though, when “Jews felt themselves excluded” the next step was that Jews were attacked by Nazis, fascists, and extreme nationalists. Isn’t there, however, something hidden behind Mak’s words? There’s the implication that if Muslims feel “excluded” they will attack Christians and Jews. In other words, the situation is exactly the opposite of the Jews in the 1930s case.
From Indonesia through Thailand and India and through the Middle East and Europe and into the Americas, by the end of 2010 there had not been a single large-scale attack, much less massacre, of people targeted as Muslims by Jews, Christians (with the exceptions of Lebanon, Kosovo, and Bosnia during civil wars in those countries), Hindus, or Buddhists.
Of course, Islamists and many Muslims portrays such things as the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or Israeli policies as wars against Muslims. But we know that this is not true. There is no deliberate desire to kill people as a goal; no targeting of Islam itself. Instead of incitement, there is a kneejerk stress in the West and Israel to avoid offense to Muslims at almost any cost.
In contrast, there have been plenty of such incidents the other way around. Indeed, in the last week there were major terrorist attacks against Christian churches in Baghdad and Cairo, with dozens of people murdered.
What is the response? Christian priests and ministers are not giving sermons telling on their flock to hate and kill or even to be rude to Muslims. There are no calls for revenge, no reprisal attacks on Muslims, and no real comprehension in many political, media, and academic circles of what is happening in the world.
Might these facts have something to do with reality? After all, “Islamophobia” means fear of Islam. This is quite different from anti-Islamic genocide. In other words, the concern is that making Muslims feel “excluded” (that is, unhappy) is more likely the prelude to them killing you than it is to you killing them.
In literal terms, then, it is the appeasers and Multiculturalists who are “Islamophobic.” They fear Islam so much that they are eager to make concessions to avoid being attacked verbally or with violence.
What we are seeing today in the West is a definitional struggle: Is the principal danger to European society “Islamophobia” or radical Islamism? If it is “Islamophobia” then it is possible to rationalize a policy ignoring the roots of terrorist attacks and radical forces in the Muslim community while tending to appease demands for more power, funding, and privileges. Otherwise, it is claimed, Muslims will be tortured, murdered, expelled, and mistreated.
Even a refusal to limit immigration, promote assimilation, deny special privileges, or ban polygamy can be justified as ways to avoid making Muslims feel “excluded.”
Indeed, this is largely what is happening in Europe.
Yet if the main threat is revolutionary Islamism and the collapse of national identity, stability, and democracy, then Europe is in a lot of trouble.
There is also a different way to look at the situation: By following these policies European governments are likely to increase not only the threat to their own stability, culture, and society from Islamism but also to increase the likelihood of antagonism toward Muslims. After all, increasing power, demands, extremism, and violence from Islamists is going to echo on the other side far more than would a more moderate strategy in dealing with these immigrants and citizens.
In other words, the Multicultural, Political Correct, criticism-of-Islam-equals-hate-crime approach is the worst possible policy, undermining the host country and simultaneously stirring up mutual hatreds. There is nothing more likely to create something that might be called “Islamophobia” in the future than kowtowing to fears of this largely non-existent phenomenon in the present.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).