Politicians and the media warn that militant Islam is the most serious threat of our time. This essay attempts to critically assess these claims and counterclaims. To do so, this essay will perform a highly topical case study of the Netherlands.
It will be on March 15th this year that the Netherlands will have the national elections. Leading up to this date the polls show that a very significant shift in power will take place. As in other various European countries the Netherlands is expected to see a larger support for the right wing populist party “The Freedom Party” than ever before. Its leader, Geert Wilders, would become prime-minister if his party becomes the biggest. Wilders will likely need to form a coalition since a majority (76 seats in parliament) is generally never reached. These past few months Wilders has been gaining ground in the polls in anticipation of the election.
The latest poll was conducted on November 27th in which the Freedom Party came out as the largest party with 33 seats in the lower house (The Post Online, 2016). The Freedom Party has been existing for 10 years but never before was expected to have a chance of winning the national election.
The party program was published earlier this year and was only one page long, with one goal set out: “Make the Netherlands ours again!”. The first form of action the Freedom Party wants to execute is to de-Islamise the Netherlands. It wants to do so by refusing all refugees and immigrants from Islamic countries by closing the borders, withdraw the current temporary asylum visas and closing all refugee camps set up in the Netherlands. Furthermore it wants to:
- Ban ‘Islamic headscarves’ in public work positions;
- close all mosques and Islamic school;
- ban the Quran;
- ban any other Islamic outings that are against public order;
- preventively arrest all radical muslims;
- refuse anyone back in the Netherlands that has travelled to Syria;
- criminals with a double nationality have to leave the country.
According to Wilders this program is based on the context of 1,400 years of jihad (du Pre, 2016). The objective of this essay is to critically assess the claims on militant Islam and Islamisation of the Western society that are made by Wilders. The argument of this essay will further explore the exposure of setting out Islam as an existential threat and in what way this is mostly inaccurately performed. In order to reach this, this essay will start with the argument on the claim that Islamism is happening in Europe through the growing population of muslims and interference in everyday society. Secondly this essay will assess the relationship with Islam and threat and whether Islamism is interfering with the sovereignty of the Netherlands. The second part of this essay will use International Relations theory on these examples to provide this phenomenon with academic context.
Part 1: claims made in ‘The Freedom Party’ discourse
This section of the essay will explore different claims made by Geert Wilders on Islamism and militant Islam. This chapter is set up by different claims that are presented followed by report.
- Society is Islamising
In these last years we have seen on several occasions that populist leaders in the West are warning the public that the society is being threatened by Islamism.
Wilders is in this case not unique but presses this issue with extra emphasis now that the refugee crisis has hit Europe (Ritzen, 2016). A key example of this claim is the ‘large’ number of muslims that are living in the Netherlands which has terrorists brewing right inside the Dutch borders. After the ISIS attacks in Brussels Geert Wilders said the following:
“In our country we have numerous neighbourhoods where non-western immigrants are the majority… The dictatorship of silence is ruling. That silence is the best friend of the Jihad. That’s why jihadists are winning and that is why Islam is winning. The truth is that the cause of Islamic terrorism is Islam and nothing else.” (PVV, 2016).
Amongst the populist party leaders in Europe, leaving the European Union is one of the objectives in their campaigns. Geert Wilders is not an exception. He is actually claiming that by imposing the migration policies set up by the European Union the Netherlands are creating an existential risk to Dutch sovereignty and freedom. The existential threat of letting in immigrants from Islamic countries would cause in country radicalisation. Geert Wilders said the following in an interview with the National broadcast channel:
“I am afraid for the existence of our free country. We are letting in an ideology that has bad intentions. […] We are losing the right to decide on our own migration policies. We are losing authority over our own borders. […] We are risking our country. This is not a temporary problem but an existential threat to our country. It’s our freedom that is at risk,“ (NOS, 2016).
As the Freedom Party program proposes Wilders is determined to deny any immigrants from Muslim countries. These claims on both the politicians and on the media behalf might have even caused the public to think that the population of muslims in Europe are actually larger than they are. This is proven by a market research bureau called IPSOS which took a survey of 27,000 people in more than forty different countries and asked how large the muslim population in their home country was by percentage. The figure on the next page shows the anticipated population (in blue) and the actual percentage of muslim population (in red).
To fully understand the dynamics of this claim from an academic perspective it’s important to question what Islamism actually means. According to Bayat (2006) Islamism has been described in such different ways that its complexity has so been proven. Islamism is a social movement where a plausible narrative would take account of heterogeneous layers of perceptions, discourses and practises at any given moment (Bayat, 2006).
The claim states that Islamism is causing larger groups of muslims to breed terrorists in Dutch society. According to Dalgaard-Nielsen (16-08-2010) terrorist attacks of the years before 2010 indicate that younger Europeans who did not spend extended periods outside of Europe have become involved with militant Islamism and “apparently radicalised over a very short time span.” Scholars like Kepel, Khosrokhavar and Roy are scholars that have offered some valuable insights on violent radicalisation in Europe (Dalgaard-Nielson, 16-08-2010). There is not a single explanation for violent radicalisation nor a single profile of radicals. These three scholars do contribute why a radical and violent interpretation of Islam is appealing to muslim individuals that are in fact well integrated middle-class Europeans.The key issue that is discovered is the need for an identity (Dalgaard-Nielsen, 2010). “The overall conditions of modernity and life in Western democracies, individualisation and value relativism, prompt a search for identity, meaning, and community for a number of individuals.” Third generation muslim immigrants have become Westernised to the extent that they do not feel part of the community of their parents their home countries. But at the same time they are experiencing different forms of discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantage in Europe which causes a double sense of not belonging (Khosrokhavar 2005, 185; Roy 2004, 193).
A demonstration of radicalisation can actually be visualised by a counter-terrorism measure in the suburbs of London. After the London bombings in 2007, a community-based approach to prevent young people in muslim communities to radicalise showed some interesting numbers (Briggs, 2010). The British government decided to work with these muslim communities and to target individuals that are prone to radicalise who are really well integrated in their communities (Briggs, 2010). The results of this showed that over a dozen planned terrorist attacks were prevented between 2001 and 2008. There were also more than 200 individuals prosecuted for planning, supporting or inciting terrorism.
There is not sufficient data of the Netherlands that could give us an idea of prevention methods effectiveness. The ministry of foreign affairs does not publish any statistics on this matter. However we do know that municipalities in the Netherlands are getting extra financial resources to tackle radicalisation and jihadism. There was a total budget of 6,3 million euros for 18 municipalities (Nationaal Coördinator Terrorismebestrijding en Veiligheid, 2016). This budget is available to focus in 2017 on developing expertise of professionals, support for the environment of young people prone to radicalise, building of strategic networks of people and strengthening the role of education in recognising radicalisation. This does show that preventing radicalisation is considered important. It’s hard however to place it into context of the actual threat the Netherlands might be dealing with.
- Islam is the cause of danger
A peculiar aspect of Wilders’ statements on Islam is to separate muslims from the religion when he speaks about danger. In an interview with the Dutch national broadcast channel he said the following about the role of Islam and violence:
“Islam has declared war to us, which we witness every day in the living room on television. Muslims are not by definition the problem, it’s Islam. Islam has a violent character. When you look at countries where Islam is important or dominant you can see the overload in lack of freedom for women, journalists, homosexuals and where the Sharia law is being implemented. We are importing this to Europe. My task is to drive out Islam from our daily lives. That is needed if we want to exist as a free country in the next decades.” NOS (2016).
One is to wonder if Islam would be something without muslims or whether muslims would be muslims without Islam. Generalising all the outcomes of Islam is something that according to Christina Hellmich we could call neo-Orientalism. “The most important particularity of neo-Orientalism to be that it neglects local and specific aspects of regional movements and instead attempts to portray a homogenous Islamist terrorist enemy.” (Hellmich, 2008). According to Said and Kepel (2003) the coverage of Islam in global mass media and the internet played a large role in building in neo-Orientalism.
Again, Wilders claims that muslims are not the problem, but Islam is. He said the following to a national Dutch newspaper (Telegraaf, 2015): “Not every muslims is a terrorist, but almost every terrorist is a muslim.” And relying on statistics on terrorism deaths, this is partially true. According to the Global Terrorism Database a number of 32,685 people died because of terrorism. Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria are around account for about 78% of this number. The most important actors in those countries are Boko Haram and Islamic State (NRC, 2015), both claim to operate in the name of Islam. However this is a global perspective, not Western numbers. In the West ‘Islamic terrorism’ was not the most important cause terrorism deaths. Around 70% of terrorism death were the consequence of so called ‘lone wolves’ with far right extremist ideology (NRC, 2015). These statistics can also be questioned in another way. It’s unjustified to generalise what islamic terrorists are. Islamic State is for instance for many not recognised as a part of Islam. In September 2014 around 120 muslim religious scholars published their “Open Letter to Baghdadi” to establish that Islamic State can possibly be described as not Islamic (Hussain, 2014). According to them, their behaviour can be viewed as un-Islamic because of the treatment of women, religious minorities, non-combatants and its use of violence and aggression. According to the scholars this can be seen as fundamentally opposed to traditional Islamic belief and practice.
- 1,400 years of Jihad
As mentioned before, Wilders’ party program is based on ‘1,400 years of jihad’. To analyse the argument of jihad it’s important to state what the term ‘jihad’ means. According to many Muslim scholars the idea of jihad is an inner struggle for self righteousness (IslamDaily, 2008 and Euben 2002). However there have been some other meanings given to the term ‘jihad’. The word ‘jihad’ has been somewhat manipulated to advocate violence and killing of unbelievers. On the website Quran-Islam (Muhammad) some translated quotes from the Quran have been provided phrases in which the message does not allow unlawful killing or violence. The following examples are available on the webpage:
- “You shall not kill – God has made life sacred — except in the course of justice. These are His commandments to you, that you may understand.” 6:151 Quran.
- “We decreed for the Children of Israel that anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. ” 5:32 Quran.
- ” If they leave you alone, refrain from fighting you, and offer you peace, then God gives you no excuse to fight them” 4:90 Quran.
- “If they resort to peace, so shall you, and put your trust in God. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.” 8:61 Quran.
According to Euben (2002) the relationship between jihad and fighting in the Quran are according to scholars more about bringing religion into practice. “Even in contexts where jihad seems to entail some use of force, divergent verses render it unclear whether jihad is justified only in defence or in circumstances that include expansionist conquests against unbelievers.” (Euben, 2002).
Sayyid Qutb is known for his influence in militant Islam and has changed today’s meaning of jihad (Zimmerman, 2004). He was an Islamic scholar born in Egypt. After spending time in America he developed militant views and processed these in his literature such as his book ‘Milestones’ (1964) that today has provided motivation for terrorist attacks in the West. According to Ross Valentine (2008) his doctrine of jihad was firmly based critique of Western culture. He described American society and the West in general as ‘jahiliyyah’ which means, ignorant and barbaric. His anti-Americanism was formed after he studied in the United States for nearly two years (Zimmerman, 2004 and Islamdaily, 2008). Qutb defines jihad as ‘striving through fighting’. According to Zimmerman (2004) Qutb has three important functions for current radical Islamist movements. Firstly, as a scholar, he writes intellectual justification for extreme anti-Western sentiment on cultural and political level. Secondly, he provides a validation of establishing an Islamic society based on Islamic law. Finally, he defines the justification for overthrowing all world governments including Muslim governed ones. This would be executed by means of a worldwide holy war. According to Euben (2002) holy war is misleadingly translated in this case. Like other Islamic militants, Qutb found significant support in the Quran to support his jihadi views, although according to some he was ignoring the context if the texts (IslamDaily, 2008).
But it’s not just terrorists that are utilising the term for jihad in different ways. Wilders uses jihad to stress the threat of Islam and elaborated the word even more. After the mass rape in Köln on New Year’s Eve, Germany, he spoke of ‘sexual jihad’ (Sims, 2016). To save women from rape he preventively wants to arrest all Islamic asylum seekers and immigrants from Islamic countries. This is also an example for inaccurately utilising the word for jihad to present Islam as an existential threat.
- Islamic terrorism is most lethal and existential threat
Today’s world encounters many major challenges and threats such as global warming, overpopulation and others. However terrorism is often portrayed as the most important threat to the West, also in the Netherlands. After the attack in Berlin, Geert Wilders has warned that there is little doubt that 2017 will bring Germany and the entire West more violence, more attacks on women and daughters and more bloodshed (Express, 24-12-2016).
Maartje van der Woude, a professor at University of Leiden, said in an interview (nu.nl, 2016), that the fear of terrorism is not justified in the West or the Netherlands. The amount of terrorism deaths in Western Europe has reached a number of 152 out of 124 million people in 2015. That is the highest number since 2004 (nu.nl, 2016). However, on a yearly basis 18,000 people in Western Europe die in car accidents. The odds of a Western European citizen to be killed by a terrorist is more than a hundred times less likely than to be killed in a car accident. Being injured in an accident is in fact three thousand times more likely.
Fear of terrorism has actually been measured in the Netherlands. In a national survey where citizens had to indicate which disasters they feared, terrorism was in the lead with 67%. In the Netherlands around 36% is fearsome of a car accident (Nationaal Coördinator Terrorismebestrijding en Veiligheid, 2015). According to Van der Woude this also has to do with the fact that the terrorism attacks are basically happening next door in Belgium and are now easy to visualise at home. A circumstantial amount of the public also travels by planes and metro’s (nu.nl, 2016).
Part 2: What theory can portray the workings of this phenomenon?
The discourse of Wilders and general discourse of ‘The Freedom Party’ in the Netherlands can be analysed through the theory of constructivism. Analysing from a constructivist point of view, Geert Wilders’ warnings on Islamism is an example of securitization, a phenomenon recognised by the Copenhagen School (Williams, 2008) where the articulation of a threat is formed by speech act.
The International Relations theory of constructivism is an example of the world which is constructed socially through inter-subjective interactions. Important is to realise that the main core values of constructivists can vary a lot since values are believed to be decided by the context. This is why it is necessary to place our information in a theoretical context and to dissect the constructivist theory a little further.
The ideas that Wilders speaks about to combat Islam and to close the Dutch borders could be described by a critical constructivist to be dominant to legitimate states’ political actions. Another parallel with the critical constructivist’s theory, is established through the importance of particular settings and times being vital to justify state actions. For example, the latest terrorism attacks in Europe and the refugee crisis is key to validate Geert Wilders’ campaign, and to create more support.
Critical constructivists have in particular been trying to pin down the relationship between political leaders and domestic audiences by emphasising the role of representation (Williams, 2008), in this case the threat of islamic terrorism. The Copenhagen school’s securitization, is a textbook example of the Wilders’ tactics. The articulation of a certain issue as an existential threat comes in the form of a ‘speech act’. Geert Wilders is articulating Islam as a threat and therefore creating this threat as existential and urgent. The social network is vital to the strategy because the leader has to convince the public of the urgency of a threat in order to securitize it. As the public is seeing images of terrorism close to home on television, the threat of Islam is becoming securitzed.
The assumptions about Islam Wilders makes are also compatible with Edward Said’s analysis of ‘Orientalism’. Said defined Orientalism as the hegemonic view in the ‘West’ of the inferiority of the ‘East’. This hegemonic view both anticipated and justified the colonial relation between dominant and subordinate, manifest in culture, language, ideology, social science, media and political discourse (Marcuse, 2004). Orientalism reveals how Western cultures, traditions and people that represent the ‘West’ through binary oppositions depict the ‘East’ as irrational, backward, exotic, despotic and lazy, and themselves as rational, moral and the pinnacle of civilisation (Khalid, 2011 and Said, 1978). The non-European ‘other’ is portrayed in this way. Said also states that this can go even further to ‘Islamic Orientalism’. Said mentions that it’s likely that because European scholars continued to see the ‘Near Orient’ through the perspective of the its Biblical ‘origins’. Islam hereby forever remained the Orientalist’s idea of original cultural effrontery and aggravated naturally by the fear of Islamic civilisation continued to stand somehow opposed to the Christian West. It was assumed that Islam worked the way the Orientalists said it did (Said, 1978: p 260-261). An example of this is Wilders claiming the meaning of Islam and everything that comes with it as the absolute truth.
Another note that has to be made on this issue is about terminology that is used by politicians. Definitions like ‘terrorism’, ‘radical, ‘fundamentalism’, ‘Islamism’ and many others are used by politicians like the meanings are a given. It’s however impossible to state that these definitions have the same meaning for everyone.
This essay assessed the warnings and claims of Dutch politician Geert Wilders. As the Dutch elections are coming closer and with his ‘Freedom Party’ leading in the polls it’s an interest in time to assess the things he has said as his party program was mainly aimed at ‘Making the Netherlands ours again!’ with the context of 1.400 years of Islam, according to Wilders. Throughout this essay the party program objectives linked to Islam has been integrated in the research as well. The claim on the Dutch society Islamising can be seen as inaccurate. The perception of Dutch people of the amount of Muslims living in the Netherlands is more than double of the actual amount. However it’s hard to assess whether radicalism in the Netherlands is really growing and becoming a threat. The only data available on this is the budget spent on 2017 to prevent radicalism.
The following statement of Wilders is that Islam is dangerous and violent. Even though not every muslim is a terrorist almost every terrorist is a muslim. This is partially true from a global perspective, but with western numbers terrorism deaths are actually due to far right extremist ideologies, not necessarily Islam. Even if they were, it would be inaccurate to refer to terrorism groups as Islamic because this can be seen as misuse of the religion.
The same can be applied to the claims on jihad, the basis context of Wilders’ political program. Jihad in the Quran refers to the inner struggle for self righteousness and is against unlawful killing and violence, as quotes in this essay have shown. However there has been a big influencer, Sayyid Qutb, on militant Islam that has twisted the meaning of Jihad, which many terrorists are following.
Finally it’s factually incorrect to refer to Islamic terrorism as an existential threat. The amount of deaths due to terrorism in 2015 was 152 fatalities. However being killed by a car accident is a hundred times more likely. However according to statistics this does not reflect how the public feels. In a national survey, terrorism was the most feared disaster with 67% of the respondents vote, opposed to just 36% that is fearsome of a car accident. This can explained by the fact that the ISIS attacks that are happening close to home became easy to visualise in the Netherlands.
Theory wise it can be argued that this fear has been caused by discourse in the news and by Wilders. He has securitized militant Islamism as an existential threat, and the Dutch are believing it. The assumptions that are made are compatible with Said’s Orientalism, since they are Western biased viewed and unfortunately mostly factually incorrect.
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