Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam – a direct challenge to my liberal values

[Note: I am moving this post up because I invested a lot of energy/emotion in it and don’t want it to drop off the homepage yet.]

Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance is a slender volume with big type and lots of white space that nevertheless forced me to challenge some of my most cherished liberal principles. I loved this book because it made me think. It showed me a side of life in contemporary Europe that I didn’t know much about. Yes, I had an idea of the Muslim ‘ghettoes’ that have become a standard feature of many great European cities, but I must admit, I hadn’t realized how serious a threat they now pose.

That was a dangerous sentence I just wrote, and a reluctant one, too: it hurts to have to acknowledge that we can be too tolerant, that in fact being too tolerant is just as dangerous as accepting intolerance.

This is a point Buruma drives home forcefully. Even today the Dutch remain traumatized by the extermination of most of their Jews during WWII. Why didn’t more Dutch citizens speak out? Why did so many of them collaborate? How could they have allowed this to happen? The ghost of Anne Frank is alive and well in the conscience of just about everyone in the Netherlands, Buruma tells us. In reaction to that horrible time when the Dutch closed their eyes to intolerance, they have since gone off in the opposite extreme, tolerating anything and everything. We all know Amsterdam is famous as the city where you can smoke hashish in the bars, as a ‘gay Mecca’ and as a city where absolutely anything goes.

Okay, so far I’m fine with that. But let’s look at the darker side of this toleration. The Netherlands became known, also in thanks to its tolerance, as the easiest place for immigrants fleeing despotic regimes to enter. For a variety of reasons, huge numbers of Muslims from many different countries chose to settle there. Now, the US, too, was the recipient of millions of Muslim immigrants, also due in part to our own policy of tolerance and welcoming immigrants. But there the comparison ends. Most of the Muslims in the US are famously well integrated, which explains why we have never seen the kind of mini-civil-wars now going on in France.

In the Netherlands and other European cities, however, something different happened. The Muslims stayed together and failed to integrate, eventually becoming the majority is various neighborhoods, creating what are known as “dish cities” – large neighborhoods that in every way look like they could be out of the Middle East, with Muslim restaurants, signs and menus and documents written in Arabic, with all their citizens connected to the outside world mainly by satellite dishes tuned in to Middle Eastern satellite TV. Even at this point, my liberal side tells me we must be tolerant. Isn’t it their right, after all to live as they please? Is it any different from the Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg or the Amish in Pennsylvania?

But Buruma goes on to describe the unique feature of many Islam immigrants in Europe that does indeed place them in a special category – a disrespect for the laws and values of their host nations. Living in Amsterdam’s ‘dish city’ is one thing, but when young Muslims start to throw bricks through the window of a gay bar on the fringe of the nieghborhood and threaten their patrons, a great big red flag is raised. It’s one thing to bring your culture with you. It is quite another to disrespect the culture and laws of your host. In the eyes of the radical Muslims Buruma describes (and he describes many types of Muslims, from the most tolerant and liberal to the most obsessively deranged), homosexuality is expressly denounced in the Quran and it cannot be tolerated. Do we welcome into our borders those who can rationalize the murder of gays?

Even more alarming is the attitude within dish city toward women. Do we welcome with open arms those who treat women virtually like animals, who force them to undergo female genital mutilation and who believe if a woman is raped she is entirely to blame for having tempted the rapist? A good portion of this book is spent telling the story of Ayaan Hirsi, a Muslim immigrant from Kenya who has devoted her life to trying to expose what she sees as the built-in insanities of the Quran, especially its rationalization of treating women as second-class citizens and worse. (Her father was against female circumcision, but when he was away Hirsi’s grandmother had her circumcised. ‘Circumcision’ is really a misnomer – it is a barbaric form of human mutilation. )

[I]t is Ayaan’s conviction that the social, economic and political problems that plague the Islamic world – terrorism, poverty, dictatorship, lack of scientific progress- can be explained, at east in part, by something suffered by all Moslems, regardless of their culture, and that is a warped view of sexuality. It comes down to…the obsession with the family’s honor resting on the purity of the women

Ayaan Hirsi writes about Muslim sexual morality that it “is derived from premodern tribal societies, but sanctified by the Koran and further developed in the stories about the life of the Prophet. For many Muslims this morality is expressed in the obsession with virginity. Such value is attributed to virginity that people are blinded to the human and social catastrophes that result from this obsession.”

So I am forced to ask myself: In my tolerance, must I accept that certain Muslims welcomed into the Netherlands can bring with them notions that go directly against the principles for which the Netherlands stands, like universal suffrage, women’s rights, gay rights, etc.? What about the preaching of anti-Semitism in a manner that can incite young people to burn synagogues? The Dutch fell into their own trap, laid by their collective Anne Frank guilt: In seeing any questioning of another people’s culture as ‘fascist’ and ‘Naziistic,’ they permitted a large group of people to take root on their soil that actively and violently rejects Dutch values.

These basic Enlightenment values are absolutely non-negotiable: There will be no female genital mutilation or honor killings; there will be no gay bars burned down; those who criticize Muslims, like Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi, cannot be murdered for their beliefs. All of these things can, in the mind of fanatical radical Islamists, be justified by their culture and by the Quran. So must we, as a liberal society, open our arms to those who espouse values that are in direct contradiction to our own? Obviously, the answer is absolutely not. There are limits to tolerance. And as these dish cities grow to become majorities in several European cities, we damned well better be prepared to come to grips with this crisis. (And no, I don”t know what the answer is, aside from insisting on integration – a concept that goes against my liberal tendencies but toward which i am increasingly leaning. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to become less tolerant of veils and hajibs and insist students all wear the same school uniform. Yes, I know that’s a big fuck-you to my cherished multicultrual ideals, but we are living in the real world, as Theo van Gogh would tell you if he hadn’t been murdered.)

The glue that binds the story together is the life and death of Theo van Gogh, which I won’t go into here (read about him on wikipedia if you aren’t familiar with his tragedy). Yes, van Gogh was in-your-face about his fury at radical Muslims, whom he referred to as ‘goat fuckers.’ But he always reached out to Muslims who were willing to talk and be reasoned with. Needless to say, his murder is utterly unacceptable, and it is not surprising that it was a pivotal event for the Netherlands, forcing the country to look hard at itself and its famous policy of tolerance above all. He saw the dish cities, correctly, as a direct threat to all Amsterdam stood for. There are, as the book’s subtitle says, limits to tolerance, and the one positive thing to come from van Gogh’s tragedy could be the awakening in the Netherlands that sometimes being blindly tolerant is just as bad, just as destructive, as being blind to intolerance as they were in the Anne Frank days.

The book is a page-turner. You will read it in just a few sittings, and you will walk away asking yourself a hundred questions, and wondering how such an obviously dangerous situation could have been allowed to fester as long as it did. It’s a great piece of literary journalism and a must for anyone who wants to seriously examine the global threat of radical Islam, especially from a European perspective. It’s not pretty, and there are no rosy solutions offered. But we have to understand the beasts who would murder Theo van Gogh, and we must ask ourselves whether they are welcome additions to our communities. And as a serious liberal, it hurts me to write that, but it hurt me even more to read what many of these people are capable of, and how they threaten to turn parts of Western Europe into a moral cesspool, where women are treated no better than dogs.

And again, for my liberal readers, I refer not to Muslims in general, but to the alienated, angry, fundamentalist, radical Muslim who takes the Quran literally. Make no mistake – these murderous thugs threaten us all, and pose today’s greatest danger to civilized man. There must be zero tolerance for those who would commit honor killings of raped women, who would perform female genital mutilation on their daughters, who would justify the persecution and murder of homosexuals, and who see any critic of the Prophet as deserving a violent death. Zero tolerance. Absolutely zero.

The Discussion: 38 Comments

That’s also the message of Sam Harris, the atheist whose recent books have been big hits.


October 23, 2006 @ 2:32 pm | Comment

Well said Richard.

October 23, 2006 @ 3:31 pm | Comment

I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read a few different reviews and came away with a slightly different impression. Timothy Garton Ash’s review in New York Review of Books stood out. The difference in my impression, Richard, is that I neither believe the Netherlands or other European nations have been so “tolerant”, “liberal” or “multicultural” as you suggest. You talk about “our values”, but I wonder if these are countries whose citizens really do believe the same things you do. From Ash:

Van Gogh’s murder was, Buruma writes, “the end of a sweet dream of tolerance and light in the most progressive little enclave of Europe.” Yet part of his answer seems to be that the reality always differed from the myth of Dutch tolerance�if one looks, for example, at wartime and postwar attitudes toward the Jews. And he quotes a remarkable statement by Frits Bolkestein, a leading Dutch politician and former European commissioner: “One must never underestimate the degree of hatred that Dutch people feel for Moroccan and Turkish immigrants.” Not “Muslims,” note, but immigrants from particular places.

Another aspect of this is a sentiment Pim Fortuyn expressed and I’ve seen repeated again and again:

Questioned about his hostility to Islam, Fortuyn said “I have no desire to have to go through the emancipation of women and homosexuals all over again.”

Legal emancipation for gays and women should, of course, not be rolled back. But as for fighting ignorance and intolerance, I’m sorry but it’s a neverending struggle. There are always going to be new generations and new members of society. It is a continuous struggle, like it is for everything else good and right. There is something dangerously self-congratulatory about this sentiment, especially when

Much of the discrimination in France, for example, is the result of decisions by individual employers, who are going against the grain of public policy and the law of the land. It’s the personal attitudes and behavior of hundreds of millions of non-Muslim Europeans, in countless small, everyday interactions, that will determine whether their Muslim fellow citizens begin to feel at home in Europe or not.

Many have argued the intolerance is new, a reaction to the intolerance and extremism of certain immigrants. But as lifelong New Yorker who admires Jane Jacobs and hates Robert Moses, I can’t help but look at the Le Corbusier neighborhoods in Amsterdam and Paris without being reminded of the superblocks of the projects, with their dark empty spaces, neutered street life, populated with dark skinned people. The riots in France echo the race riots of the 1960s in the U.S. What has been termed “multiculturalism” and deemed a “liberal failure” has always appeared far more to me like segregation, with politicians eager to throw money at mosques and other projects provided those different from the “natives” stay on their side of the tracks.

There should be no tolerance for smashing bars, burning cars, abusing or mutilating women, or murdering people on the street. But nations like Holland and France will one day have to look in the mirror at the structural racism their societies have carried out since day one.

From the IHT:

Ketting, the 31-year-old bartender, is Jewish. His mother was born in hiding in 1944. The Dutch are hypocrites, he said. “Get 20 of them together,” he continued, “and they talk about how to get the stupid Muslims out. But they never dared say it directly, until Fortuyn gave them an outlet.”

October 23, 2006 @ 3:52 pm | Comment

Long years in the salt mines of Catholic school taught me much about the evolution of the faith over time. Clearly, over time there has been carved out a variant of Catholicism (and Christianity in general) that’s tolerant, ecumenical, and even humanistic, for reasons way too complicated to go into in a blog posting.

What does a humanistic reading of the Quran look like? I don’t mean that as a sarcastic question, but rather as an admission of ignorance. Anyone out there care to enlighten me? Are there theological grounds for an Islamic Enlightenment?

October 23, 2006 @ 4:04 pm | Comment

Oh, boy, the Islamic Enlightenment question. Personally, I think that you can read a religious tract to mean just about anything – but then again I like Richard Dawkins (firebrand atheist), so take that as a disclaimer of sorts. I don’t think islamic humanism exists as a canon of important philosophical works all bundled together (like European Enlightenment is packaged) but I think there are a great deal of Muslims in the world who live in a manner that could be described as Islamic humanist or some such thing. I’d ask one of them.

Even if there isn’t, just to reiterate, it doesn’t change a thing about European hypocritical tropes about “tolerance”.

October 23, 2006 @ 4:31 pm | Comment

Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg? You know, there’s also these people who dress up in funny wigs and puffy clothes and speak in wierd accents in Williamsburg… I met a really nice blacksmith there once.
But seriously, Buruma, who used to (or might still) teach at my ole alma mater, is one of my favorite authors, seeming always forcing me to look at things in ways that I hadn’t expected I would. Occidentalism, Bad Elements, and Inventing Japan are all great reading. However, as I haven’t read this book yet, this mostly worthless comment of mine will have to end here!

October 23, 2006 @ 5:19 pm | Comment

First let me put on my asbestos flame suit, because I’m going to give a link to a very Catholic author – but for good reasons, because way back in the 1930s – when another rise of Islam was the last thing on anyone’s mind – he was very prescient in predicting the recrudesence of an Islamic menace to Western civilisation.

But if our friend Michael can cite relevant atheist authors here, it’s fair for me to be free to cite a very Catholic one – Hilaire Belloc (French/Englishman, 1870-1953) who addresses the issues of this thread in a very provocative way, which I think even non-Catholics can appreciate.

Belloc was something of a kindred spirit of mine:
Sometimes maddeningly stubborn and histrionic, and always scornful of what he considered to be bullshit – and I don’t always agree with him, but there are some times when his insight is just astonishing, as well as his deconstruction of commonly believed historical myths.

Well, in his book about “Heresies”, he offered a very provocative (and by today’s standards, “offensive”) viewpoint of Islam as being not a new religion, but a Catholic heresy. (I think he was right about that.) Now, if nothing else, that’s very provocative food for thought, and worth reading. But what interests me most is the end of his chapter on Islam, in which he writes (circa 1930s):

“….It has always seemed to me possible, and even probable, that there would be a resurrection of Islam and that our sons and grandsons (that literally included the middle aged population of 2006) would see the renewal
of that tremendous struggle between Christian culture and what for a thousand years has been its greatest opponent. …the recrudescence of Islam, the possibility of that terror under which we lived for centuries reappearing, and of our civilisation again fighting for its life against what was its chief enemy for a thousand years, seems fantastic….but that is only because men are always powerfully blinded by the immediate past….”

And more:

“Cultures spring from religions (he’s right about this); ultimately the vital source which maintains any culture is its philosophy. …there are enough signs in the political heavens today (in the 1930s!) of what we may have to expect from
the revolt of Islam at some future date – perhaps not far distant.”

Link to the whole chapter at:


Now, before I end this comment and jump behind some asbestos, a few disclaimers and qualifications:

1. I do not agree with everything Belloc says in that article, but he says too much too reasonably
for me to ignore.

2. He equated “our civilisation” with “Christendom”, but you don’t have to agree with that to acknowledge that Islam has been hostile to European civilisation for most of its history, not least including a deep hostility to the ideals of the Enlightenment, which in turn were informed considerably by Christianity – no matter how hard some of us might want to gainsay that obvious truth. It could not have been otherwise; the Enlightenment did not arise in a vacuum, and it arose in Christian Europe, and so in some essential way, “Christendom” gave rise to the Enlightenment. (With considerable contributions from European Jews – who, after all, one could argue were always an essential part of “Christendom.”)

3. Make no mistake: Belloc had nothing in common with today’s American “Christian” fundamentalist neo-cons such as GW Bush and his acolytes. They would have horrified him, not least because he was passionately opposed to their very UN-Catholic form of radical Protestantism, which he considered to be just another heresy. Thus, a personal disclaimer: I don’t want any of the readers here to react in a knee-jerk way and presume that by citing Belloc, I’m in any kind of accord with the American Neo-Cons very UN-Catholic, irrational belief in themselves as “Christian Crusaders.” Belloc would probably call GW Bush a kind of Antichrist.

But that does not mean that Islam does not pose a menace to Western civilisation.

4. I agree with Richard about tolerance – as much tolerance as we can offer without commiting civilisational suicide – toward Muslims in the West. But I’m also impressed with – and I agree with – Richard’s recognition in this post, that “tolerance” is not a suicide pact, and tolerance is essentially a European idea after all, and (contrary to fashionable belief), this Western ideal of tolerance does have deep roots in Judaism and Christianity. And on that note, so does any aspect of Islam which preaches tolerance – because Islam is a derivative of Judaism and (especially of) Christianity – but in my opinion, a very corrupted one which retained the Judaeo-Christian beliefs in “revealed truth” while it threw away other Judeo-Christian beliefs in restraint and, most of all, belief in DOUBT!

And I’ll end on that note: Some readers (like Michael etc) might disagree with me about this, but let me suggest: A “belief in doubt” has been a characteristic (one among many) of Catholicism (and of related traditional Christian sects) for many centuries, but not of Islam. And here are two contrasting symbols, to illustrate the difference: Jesus (a Jew), came close to despair in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died. But there are absolutely no Muslim stories about Muhammed ever having any doubts at all. And that’s the main difference between Islam and Christendom (and Christendom’s heirs, including putative atheists among them.)

October 23, 2006 @ 6:21 pm | Comment

Ivan, thanks for the best comment you’ve ever made on this site. A masterpiece.

Dave, Buruma addresses the issues you bring up, of the simmering resentments of the Dutch toward the Muslims. But political correctness caused many – though not Pim and not Theo – from expressing these resentments, and when they did they were indeed called fascists and all sorts of other names. Another fine review of the book can be found here. I’m not sure I agree with your comparison of “dish city” to the ethnic neighborhoods of NYC. Yes, I see similarities, as I tried to convey with the reference to the Hasidim and Amish. But these ethnicities didn’t dweclare war on their hosts or show scorn for its laws. The brick through the gay bar window was an ominous foreshadowing. Ignore it, tolerate it (as the Dutch did) and soon you have a real crisis.

Thanks for all the intelligent comments here. Read the book; whether you agree with Buruma or not, you will walk away with some fresh perspectives on the clash of cultures.

October 23, 2006 @ 7:03 pm | Comment

Richard, thanks for the compliment, but actually, the FOLLOWING comment is the “best one” I have ever posted here:

“Why did Ernest Hemingway cross the road?”

“To die. In the rain.”

THE…best….”bad”….joke….ever………. 😉

October 23, 2006 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

Damn, that IS funny, though not everyone’s gonna get it.

October 23, 2006 @ 7:27 pm | Comment

I agree we must be intolerant of those who seek to wipe out our tolerance, but I also have to agree with Davesgonechina who essentially asks why are things so different in Europe than in the US and I do think much of that is the racism there. To grossly oversimplify, one can become an American by thinking of oneself as an American, but one can really never become French unless one’s parents, grandparents and ancestors were French. I suspect the same is true in the Netherlands with respect to becoming Dutch. I lived in France for two years and it never ceased to amaze me how the Jews there were never considered to be French, even if their families had been living in France for 300 years. I would ask the French what nationality they were and the French would, when pushed, call them Israelis. Is that the difference? Where does England fit in with all this? I am not so sure England fits my theory so well.

October 23, 2006 @ 9:45 pm | Comment

I honestly don’t know. Americans can be mighty racist, too. Could there be some other factors distinguishing those who came to America vs. Europe, such as coming en masse as part of a guest worker program? I’m willing to buy Dave’s argument, but I don’t have the knowledge to make any kind of definiteive judgment. If I remember, Buruma touches on the uniique nature of the Muslim community in Amsterdam and why it evolved as it did, but I’ll have to revisit the book (which is sitting in my office right now).

October 23, 2006 @ 10:41 pm | Comment

The reason that immigrants (legal kind) are generally accepted in America but not readily accepted in Europe is that America is an immigrant country while European countries are not. Americans are more tolerant toward immigrants. It is something that the Europeans can learn from its American cousins.

October 24, 2006 @ 12:26 am | Comment

I don’t think the difference is racism. The difference is that the American society is an immigration society and over time has developed social mechanisms to cope with the challenge. For European societies immigration of a huge number of people from totally different cultural background is a very new phenomenon.

October 24, 2006 @ 12:54 am | Comment

Actually, I’m gonna try and post on this topic to flesh out my ideas a bit more, because frankly there’s really alot being said here that I disagree with and find counterproductive. But I would suggest everyone interested read this:


It’s by a Dutch-Jewish woman who grew up in Colonial Indonesia and as a child survived the Japanese internment camps there. This is not simply about racism; it is about identity. Unfortunately, when identity becomes threatened, people tend to look for generalizations, such as racial (“these kut Marokkanen”, or fucking Morroccans as one Dutch politician was caught saying) or religious (Islam is deficient of tolerance or doubt) differences, to clarify who they are.

In another article, Mrs. Wertheim quotes a young boy in her granddaughter’s class in Holland:

A dark-skinned boy says everyone is always asking him where he comes from. “And when I say I am from Amsterdam, they go on asking me!”

Now I ask everyone laowai here to stop a minute and think about how familiar that sounds.

October 24, 2006 @ 1:36 am | Comment

Dave, as usual I agree with most of what you say. But you are going too far when you suggest that my above comments are in any way “counterproductive” 😉

October 24, 2006 @ 1:45 am | Comment

I haven’t read that particular book — but my conservative parents have tried to push four different similar volumes onto me, e.g. “While Europe Slept”, and they do so explicitly to ‘prove’ that we need to exterminate all Muslims like cockroaches or else they’re gonna do the same to us. If the wingnuts pick up on an argument so enthusiastically — “Look, this author is a liberal! It’s not just George Bush who feels this way!” — then you have to ask yourself where the flaw is. I haven’t actually read the books they’ve been pushing on me, but the online analyses I find generally seem to agree that they all exaggerate and use anecdotal evidence (of which, unfortunately there is too much, but still, anecdotes) to make overbroad generalizations.

I don’t know how much “Murder in Amsterdam” has in common with those other books, but I beg everyone to keep those points in mind when they read it: anecdotal evidence does not prove a generalization.

A few “bad apples” in our military are apparently no indictment against our brave and noble democracy, yet a few “bad figs” among Muslim immigrants apparently constitute an indictment against a worldwide religion which encompasses several different cultures and races, according to some of these authors.

I think first we have to pay attention to the common thread in the very intelligent comments under this post: lawbreaking among immigrants must be punished with exactly the same fairness as we punish natives for that. No rocks through gay bar windows. If a woman wants to sue her family or doctor for genital mutilation, she should receive the same resources as for a malpractice suit.

But tolerance is part of the answer to the problems as well. First, we Westerners need contacts inside the immigrant communities in order to pursue lawbreakers (and terrorists for that matter), and displays of intolerance, or dismissal of their culture, shut-off that tap real quick — whether it’s Muslim immigrants, Mexicans, Asians, or whatever.

Secondly, if our media and politicians allow, promote, and represent the best aspects of foreign viewpoints in their actions — there are plenty of interesting Muslim music, stories, arguments, cooking, etc. — it will entice “enlightened” immigrants to come out of their “Dish Cities” and interact with the Western system. When they do so, they cannot help but assimilate some of our better ideas. (Probably our worse ones too, but that’s a different discussion.)

You could indeed argue that “fundamentalist Islam” is a _threat_ to Western civilization, in the same way that Naziism or the USSR or Japanese Imperialism were, at times, each “threats” to our civilization. Yet today each of those countries is our ally. More important than anything else, is to keep a realistic assessment of the threat in mind. Fundamentalist Islam possesses none of the military capabilities nor ownership of natural resources which those other threats owned. Fundamentalist Islam, at present, is only a “threat” to our culture in the realm of ideas. They are not going to “take us over” militarily, nor are these Islamic “dish cities” going to suddenly expand through population explosion and blot out the entire country of “upright, normal” Americans (or Dutch, or whatever. Remember, Catholics breed pretty quick too).

A response to an ideological threat should not be physical in nature, or else we risk far worse consequences. I should think that Goebbels, the USSR, George Orwell, and indeed George Bush have all proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by now, that when a government becomes afraid of an idea, and takes physical steps against it, that government becomes a far more clear and present danger to its own citizens than the original idea ever was. Because ideas are everywhere and yet nowhere. You can’t hit them with bullets. The citizens themselves immediately become the substitute target.

October 24, 2006 @ 2:20 am | Comment

@Ivan: Sorry, I’m not trying to be personal about it, but I really do think that generalizing about any faith, especially one with a billion members, as lacking some concept or idea, is impossible unless you believe there’s some actual uniformity amongst all those people. Muslims, like Christians, are scattered across different nations, cultures, traditions and individuals. To say that there is an inherent lack of doubt seems unsupportable. Likewise, to speak of contemporary Western civilization as being about the Enlightenment seems equally indefensible. We both know TONS of Westerners who are, well, unenlightened. To conglomerate approximately half the worlds population into two basic groups and claim one is capable of absorbing the concepts of tolerance and doubt and the other is not, well, that’s ridiculous. There has to be a clear distinction between theory and people here, and I don’t think you can overstate that in todays climate.

Now if you want to talk scripture, that’s another thing. And I’m no Qu’ran expert, but I’m willing to bite that Muhammed didn’t show any doubt, or even tolerance (as in the kind I like). But just like not every Catholic I know reads the Catechism, not every Muslim emphatically follows every Hadith. And tons of both never crack a Bible or a Qu’ran. I just think it’s absolutely necessary, at a time when tons of people are shooting their mouths of about a clash of civilizations, that we aim with precision – are we talking about the book or the people? Otherwise it’s really going to be a global religious war, and there are no winners in that one.

And finally, I’m frankly taken aback by Richard’s position that the Dutch are “blindly tolerant”. The more and more I read the more painfully obvious it is that the Dutch were never the manifestation of the Enlightenment. Right now I’m reading CIDI’s 2006 report on anti-semitism in the Netherlands. That’s the organization the State Department went to for figures on anti-semitic activity in Holland. True, some attacks timing coincide with the Israel-Hezbollah war, and roughly 40-45% of the incidents were committed by those of North African or Surinamese descent, and was dropping in 2005. But the other 55-60%? White supremacists, and they’ve been on the uptick. That’s just one example I’ve seen, and there’s examples on the flip side as well; second and third generation immigrants doing what all second and third gens do – mixing cultures. But if the atmosphere increasingly becomes one of “which side are you on?”, then its those kids, and the real liberals with them, who lose. Because real liberals do multiple identity. Choosing sides is for Huntingtonians and Stormfront.

One last thing: In the person of Baruch Spinoza, Amsterdam (not just his sephardic community, which was an oppressed ghetto under the Calvinists) treated the Enlightenment like crap.

October 24, 2006 @ 2:21 am | Comment


…my friend, my good man…

…I agree with SOME of what you said here.
I will take up the rest of it with you on a PM which I will send to you in the Duckpond, so go and look for it… 😉

October 24, 2006 @ 2:27 am | Comment

This review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book suggests that you shouldn’t take everything she says at face value.

This lumping together of various Islams–the geographical region, the Abrahamic religion, the historical civilization and the many individual cultures–is symptomatic of the entire book, and makes it particularly difficult to engage with Hirsi Ali in a useful way. Her discussion of female genital mutilation (FGM) is a case in point. […] Hirsi Ali is aware that the practice predates Islam, but, she maintains, “these existing local practices were spread by Islam.” According to the United Nations Population Fund, FGM is practiced in sub-Saharan Africa by Animists, Christians and Muslims alike, as well as by Ethiopian Jews, sometimes in collusion with individual representatives of the faiths. For instance, the US State Department report on FGM reveals that some Coptic Christian priests “refuse to baptize girls who have not undergone one of the procedures.” And yet Hirsi Ali does not blame Animism, Christianity or Judaism for FGM, or accuse these belief systems of spreading it. With Islam, however, such accusations are acceptable.

In any case, it’s probably a good idea to be sceptical about anyone who makes claims about what “all” Muslims think or believe.

October 24, 2006 @ 3:32 am | Comment

I’m biting my tongue now.

Carry on, all of you, with your fantasies – your fanasies which are part and parcel of your long term careers.


October 24, 2006 @ 4:01 am | Comment

In my post, I went out of my way, more than once, to be clear this is not about all Muslims. It is about those Muslims who, through a sense of alienation and not belonging, either in their own home or the land to which they immigrate, turn to the Quran for answers and find it in a primitive, literal reading of the book. Anyone who know me and this site knows I’m not one to recommend extermination of any race or religion. I do, however, now believe that too much tolerance can be dangerous. I knew as I wrote this that it was risky, that any reference to religion and the problems it may cause can ignite charges of racism. Looking at some of these comments, I worry that we might be saying the French and the Dutch are to blame. We are now rationalizing evil, and the murder of Theo van Gogh was evil. We can rationalize 911 too, and find all sort of reasons why they did it. But that’s not enough. Yes, we should understand it. But we cannot then let off the hook those who would commit such atrocities. There might be many reasons why the Muslims set up their hermetically sealed ethnic neighborhoods, and French or Dutch racism may be at the heart of all these reasons. However, I see the same pattern of violence among young alienated Muslims in many other parts of the world, and if you read the book Looming Tower, which I read in conjunction with Buruma’s, you’ll see that the kind of psychopath who murdered van Gogh is being fashioned in many other parts of the world, from Indonesia and Malaysia to Somalia and Saudi Arabia. The one thing that binds them is a belief that the Quran must be taken at its word, and that if you aren’t a believer, it is actually justified that you be put to death. I know a lot of us don’t want to think about that, and we want to say it’s a few bad apples. Unforunately, it’s a lot of bad apples – a tiny minority within a religion of more than a billion, but enough to set the world on fire and generate immeasurable bloodshed. It’s the guiding philosophy of the Taliban as well. You may say they are a few bad apples, but they are on the verge of recapturing Afghanistan. We can look in all kinds of places for the underlying reasons and we can blame a lot of it on the White Man, with his colonialism, racism, sense of religious superiority, etc. But we must not ignore the elephant lurking in the corner of the room – the Quran does, specifically, call for infidels to die by the sword, and tragically a small but highly dedicated faction of the religion embraces this concept of jihad. I urge all of you to read Looming Tower as soon as you can, then come back and argue about this with me.

Hirisi may be crazy, she may be bad, she may be unreliable. But she is a Muslim, and a black Muslim at that, and she went to the same country that spawned “dish city” and faced all the same racist Dutch people and she reacted differently. Instead of surrendering to fundamentalist dogma she sought solutions to improve the plight and the alienation of her people. She may not be perfect, but I respect her a whole lot more than the thug who murdered van Gogh. Imperfect as she may be, she is the type of Muslim who gives me hope, the kind who can look into themselves and into their religion to see what’s gone wrong and offer suggestions for improvement. I hate to see the blame now fall on her. She didn’t kill anybody or advocate anyone’s murder. After reading this book, I am increasingly intolerant of the notion of blaming the victims and justifying the criminal acts against them.

October 24, 2006 @ 9:19 am | Comment

Dave, you are absolutely right that the generalization you so often hear about Islam are wrong but on the other side you can’t deny that some forms of Islam are just obstacles to integration into modern Western societies.

European countries for a long time in the best case ignored their immigrants in the worst treated them as second or third class citizens. At the same time a wrongly understood form of tollerance made it difficult to say anything against a differnt culture or religion. If you did you’d be labeled a racist, Eurocentric or perhaps a Nazi.

I think a lot of this political correctness stems from the bad consiousness of European societies about their colonial history (or in the German case of the II. WW and the Holocaust). In the extreme form this evolves into a cultural relativism and a denounciation of everything Modern (yes I’m aming at you you Postmodernists) that became quite fashionable among some Leftist circles.

Islam had no Enlightenment. This is a problem and leads to the collision of a premodern worldview with a modern society. For some men Islam is perhaps only the excuse to justify their rejection of emancipation of women. But they are only able to do this because a lot of Imams are preaching Islam this way.

Don’t have time for more now, but here are two articles of authors which try to understand young men with an Isalmic background think it’s fashinable to blow themeselves up:

October 24, 2006 @ 6:03 pm | Comment

Folks here are worried about generalizing when we speak of Muslims (Muslims feel….) but how much should we be worried about that? Honestly, I think the extremists have the floor for a reason, they are closer to majority opinion than anyone in the west would like to admit.

Saudi Arabia has for 30 years used its oil money to build scores of madrasses all over the Muslim world designed to teach its own narrow medievel version of Islam. And while Islam in Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia may spring from different branches of Islam, all those societies have taken a hard turn toward Saudi style conservatism (extremism?) in recent years. Muslim extremists may be extremists but I haven’t seen anything to convince me that their views are anywhere near as far apart from majority opinion in the Muslim world as the views of Neo-Nazis are from the views of the majority of people in the Western world. I’m not convinced that there is some kind of “silent majority” of Muslims out there who are just too disorganized or scared to speak. I think they are out there, but I’m not convinced they are a majority. If anybody can prove me wrong, I will sleep better.

October 24, 2006 @ 9:28 pm | Comment

I’d like to add a perspective from ‘Dish City’ itself, where I happen to live. I’m actually a foreign student, but I recently moved into an apartment in one of Amsterdam’s predominantly Muslim sink estates (sometimes students are offered vacant apartments as an anti-squatting measure before the housing is refurbished and a new family moves in).

Above is quite an extensive debate, and I don’t want to try to address all the points. But having what I hope a relatively neutral point of view on things, I have to say that much of the idea that Holland is a society on the brink of collapse is overblown. Two murders do not a revolution make.

I sense no danger at all of tensions exploding into riots. The Muslim community here is not integrated, for sure, but it seems to be quite self-contained. Not only are there halal butchers and mosques around, but I’ve even noticed hijab-wearing driving instructors teaching hijab-wearing students. It’s a town within a town and there seems to be little actual contact with the native Dutch populace. Very few of the women seem to be working, though every single checkout girl wears the hijab around here; but I think that on the whole, the men are in employment (or at least not around during the day). In a country that spends enormous amounts on welfare, that is a positive sign.

On the other hand, incidents do occur. I myself am dark-skinned and blend in well, but my roomie is from Louisiana and has the misfortune to look like a bit of a redneck. He has reported on a couple of occasions gangs of youths trying to drive him off the road while cycling. Could this be racially motivated? Hard to tell.

While several native Dutch people I know do have concerns about the situation, the debate has been inflamed not just by the murders but by the rhetoric of figures such as Frits Bolkestein and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. What they are saying is not necessarily wrong, but just the way that they say it. It’s designed to feed the media frenzy.

I witnessed this for myself a couple of weeks back, when I attended an academic conference in New York where both Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Frits Bolkestein spoke. Anyone interested in reading my draft report on what was said can find it at:


It was an interesting discussion in its own right to say the least, and could be a useful extension to this discussion here. Though I havent read the Buruma book yet, I have read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book The Caged Virgin, and I’d recommend that you also try to pick up since it adds even more flesh to the issues above.

October 25, 2006 @ 7:21 am | Comment

IMO, any modern society that allows a fundamentalist religion with a medieval mindset to play too large a role in public discourse is going to have problems. Modern societies and fundamentalist religions simply aren’t compatible. Look at how much time we’ve wasted in the US, re-debating evolution and putting up with hate speech about how gays and feminists are going to hell.

A country like Saudi Arabia has a corrupt oligarchy that uses fundamentalist religion to control its population. What is that country going to have when it runs out of oil? Where are its inventions, its innovations, its creativity? It already strangles participation in society by 50% of its citizens – except, are women even considered citizens? Can’t drive, can’t vote…

I visited my sister’s office up in SF yesterday. She works for the venture capital arm of a large multinational corporation. This office is very small, creative, interesting people. They have visiting associates from places like England and China. You look on their desks and it’s books about food chains in India and so on. They are looking for technological innovations to invest in and also how things work in other countries where these innovations might be applied.

I spent a lot of time talking to the fellow from Shanghai – who my sister tells me is generally rather shy – she couldn’t believe how much he wanted to talk when it was in Chinese. The most Chinese I’ve spoken in ages (yikes!). Anyway the young Brit who’s a visiting associate was talking to me about the Chinese study and joked, “Next I suppose you’ll be learning Arabic.”

I thought about this and said, “I’d learn some Arabic just because we’re going to be involved in that region whether we want to be or not. But as a place to look for innovation? I’m glad I learned Chinese.”

I put it a little less baldly than that, and I realize how arrogant that sounds. But I don’t see how any country that is dominated by a fundamentalist religion is going to manage to do much in the way of technological innovation.

Of course the West has its share of responsibility for the situation in Muslim countries, especially things like, you know, criminal and inept invasions of sovereign nations. Certainly that doesn’t help and it’s easy to understand why under such circumstances fundamentalist religions gain power – they are filling a gap.

Vis Europe, I don’t know very much about the failures of integration there, other than what I’ve read in the papers. I’d say off the top of my head that until very recently, European countries’ identities were so bound up in a particular ethnic/linguistic group – you know, Germany is made up of Germans, duh – that integration would have to be more problematic than in the US, where for all of our problems, our national identity is in part bound up with being a nation of immigrants. Maybe with the EU and European integration you’ll see more of a common European identity, and that will make things a little easier.

October 25, 2006 @ 9:04 am | Comment

Philip, I shortened your link – long links make the comments get very lllooonggg and hard to read. Definitely want to read your article and will when I get home.

October 25, 2006 @ 9:07 am | Comment

Thank you Lisa. And thank you Phil for giving us a bird’s eye view into dish city – that’s a great post.

Please understand, Buruma is careful not to take sides, or at least not blatantly (he’s too good a journalist for that – sometimes you wonder where he stands on things; as I said, the wonder of this book is that it forces you to think). Hirisi isn’t put forward as a saint and the residents of dish city aren’t represented as demons. It’s far more nuanced and complex than that. It’s not like you’re in downtown Baghdad. Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn, too, are not heroes in this book – far from it.

This post and its comments have been an emotional experience for me. I get so worried that any criticism of Islam, unlike criticism of, say Christianity, seems to ignite a lot of passion. This moved me to write one of the readers here an email earlier today, and I want to quote a section of that email in an edited form to make sure there are no misunderstandings. Here goes:

You know how much space I devote to slamming Michelle Malkin and Little Green Footballs – nothing sickens me more than prejudice against Muslims. What the book did was force me to acknowledge a growing problem in Europe involving that small group of Muslims who ignore the laws of their host countries. As always, I put the post up to encourage dialogue and to learn, not just to express my own opinion. In particular, the book alerted me to something I as a liberal often do myself, i.e., to rationalize things that go against my own values. I remember once reading a letter to the editor about female circumcision, insisting that most of the women who undergo the procedure do so willingly – it is part of their culture and we have no right to deprive them of it. Reading the book made me look at my tendency to accept such arguments, and to think that perhaps this attitude is unacceptable. Just because the action, like honor killings, is part of the culture they bring with them doesn’t mean we have to tolerate it in our country. When someone implied I was in favor of extermination, I became quite upset. I believe in outreach, education and reconciliation, not internment and ostracization and extermination. I should have remembered my own unwritten rule, never argue about three things – abortion, gun control and religion. They touch everyone’s nerves, my own included.

It’s not a matter of religious intolerance. It’s about coming to grips with our fear of offending minorities to the point where a twisted few feel they can cross a moral line. We had the warning signs in Amsterdam, and too much tolerance culminated in bloodshed. Again (because I have to keep repeating it), I don’t mean too much tolerance of Muslims. I mean too much tolerance of the radicalized Muslims who saw fit to throw a brick through the window of a gay bar (for example)

Speaking out against the JDL isn’t anti-Semitism. Speaking out against those who would issue fatwas kill Hirisi or Salman Rushdie isn’t anti-Islam. We must make a distinction. And we need to admit that that dark, radicalized faction of Islam exists. It is nothing like the AL Qaeda myth our leaders continuously thrust upon us. That is a falsehood. But the existence of a large number of angry Muslim men who feel alienated and full of a thirst for vengeance, nurtured by a crude and primitive reading of their holy book – that is not a falsehood, it’s something we need to come to terms with, first of all by recognizing the problem exists, something that is hard for some liberals (like me) to do, because simply raising the issue brings on pangs of guilt (“am I being intolerant? am I allowing the inner racist inside to control my thoughts?”). And yes, we have angry people in other fundamentalist religions and whitye supremacist groups. However, none have had the audacity to declare as a mission state ment their right to murder anyone at all who isn’t Muslim, and to excommunicate any Muslim who doesn’t adhere to their depraved misinterpretation of Islam. These few monsters have declared themselves judge, jury and executioner and have left thousands upon thousdands of dead in their wake. How can we not say we have a problem on our hands – a problem that is quite distinct
from the random abortion clinic bomber? I don;t believe there are sleeper cells in America waiting to attack us. I don’t really believe Al Qaeda exists, except as a loose and by now inconsequential network of career terrorists. But the angry people who can be manipulated by the Bin LKadens and Zawahiris – they do exist. I don’t know what the answer is, but I would start by making very clear what is and is not permissible, what will and will not be tolerated.

I know this is only a simplistic look at an immensely complex problem. But I appreciate everyone’s viewpoint and I am not unequivocal in my viewpoint about radical Islam. I’m hoping from the discussion to learn from the rest of you.

October 25, 2006 @ 7:55 pm | Comment

Great post.

October 26, 2006 @ 2:55 am | Comment

I highly recommend reading Razib’s posts on this subject and related ones at gnxp.com

October 26, 2006 @ 9:35 am | Comment

Can you please offer a link to the specific post?

October 26, 2006 @ 11:04 am | Comment

I’m a bit late to this discussion, but here’s my €0,02 anyway:

IMO, the ethnic troubles plaguing the Netherlands are merely a European-style manifestation of the sort of gang culture we Americans are all too familiar with. It’s no accident that many of the “Moroccan youths” who are the bane of right-wing Dutch newspapers and politicians are attracted to US “gangsta” chic, and this leads me to believe that there is nothing more sinister at work than ethnic, rather than strictly religious, identification among members of a group that is almost universally despised — “Dutch tolerance” is an utter myth.

Walk around Amsterdam during Friday evening prayers sometime, and I can guarantee that you’ll see lots and lots of young Moroccan males — who, if they were really in thrall to Islamo-fascism as the fearmongers want us to believe, would all be at their mosque then.

It’s monstrous and tragic that some European cities now contain ethnically homogeneous “no-go” areas, but for every “dish city” in Europe there is a West Oakland or an East St. Louis in the U.S. I realize this looks like a “tu quoque,” but the only reason that the perpetual misery in American ethnic ghettoes isn’t splashed across the front pages of the Washington Times is that we’ve had a lot longer to get used to the idea.

Also, the American right-wing élite seems more than eager to exploit Europe’s troubles as a convenient way of deflecting attention from its own manifest failures at home.

October 26, 2006 @ 8:03 pm | Comment

Vaara, thanks so much for the very interesting perspective. I’m willing to buy most of it. But have the gangs in America done anything similar to the fatwas against Hirisi and van Gogh, i.e., declared that anyone who questions them (or, in the case of the Dutch Islamists, questioned their assesment of Islam) is fair game and can be murdered at the earliest convenience? The gangs in the US tend to wreak havoc in their own neighborhoods, killing other gang members. If they started killing politicians and film makers, I think the US media would most certainly cover it.

October 26, 2006 @ 9:08 pm | Comment

richard, I haven’t read all the comments, forgive me, I’m rushing off to class.

But the following occurs to me: Europe is tolerant without, fundamentally, being tolerant. America is fundamentally tolerant, but not in a lot of ways Europe is.

I’m always shocked how some Germans I know- my friends! – or a scottish bloke – also my friend! – talk casually about africans or jamaicans or turkish or jews. it’s not about political correctness – what comes through to me is that fundamentally they distance themselves from the people they talk about.

Now, there’s a lot of racism in the US. but among people who I identify as being bascially in the same class/education/political bracket as these said friends, this doesn’t exist. Black americans, Mexicans, Muslims are Americans. They might have bad things to say still if they’re a bit racist, but they basically, in my experience, accept something fundamental that Europeans (Let’s go with Bulgarians, Germans, Brits, French, Dutch, Swedish, Greek, Belgians and Spanish and Italians to be accurate, as my sample size isn’t much larger than these countries) just don’t accept.

the sense of “This land is MINE” extends much farther up into the upper echelons of European society. I think it makes all the tolerance a bit moot, in a sense, since it fundamentally separates “real” nationals from “fake” nationals.

Not to say that the US doesn’t have massive problems. But Europeans aren’t actually that tolerant, or are intolerant in a different sense.

I like to think that the Quakers are sort of the good model for tolerance. There’s a few things that have been questionable, but for the most part, everytime you say “Tolerance can be BAD too!” I think… well… what would the Quakers do?

European tolerance is predicated upon being able to tolerate something that is identified as different. Quaker tolerance isn’t, and identifies and basks in the glow of simple humanity and cross cultural differences.

October 27, 2006 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

I’m sorry, I’m not thinking.

cross cultural SIMILARITIES

October 27, 2006 @ 12:45 pm | Comment

Thanks LaoNei, and I completely buy your argument. And there’s a reason, of course: Unlike the US, these European countries are (or were) homogenous, while America was always a big salad bowl. So yes, it makes sense that we will process our immigrants differently than Europe. The ethnic phonomenon is extremely powerful, and it’s not suprising to see the French and the Germans and the Dutch go out of their way to preserve the “purity” of their ethnicity by only giving their immigrants a limited degree of entry – yes, they offer them a haven, a place to live, but they do not let them become french or German or Dutch, if you know what I mean. Thanks for the comment.

October 27, 2006 @ 1:14 pm | Comment

“it fundamentally separates “real” nationals from “fake” nationals”

Here in the Netherlands, the government makes a fundamental distinction between “allochtonen” (defined as people born outside the country, or who have at least one foreign-born parent) and everybody else. By this definition, Queen Beatrix herself is an “allochtoon” — because her father was born in Germany! And so is her daughter-in-law, and so are two of her grandchildren.

But in reality, the only people who are viewed as “allochtonen” are those whose racial background differs from that of the majority. Now that second-generation immigrants are starting to have kids, the Dutch are talking about “third-generation allochtonen,” which suggests that no matter what they do, Moroccans or Surinamers or Asians will never, ever be considered truly “Dutch,” nor will any of their descendents.

And people wonder why so many Moroccans are pissed off at Dutch society.

October 27, 2006 @ 4:19 pm | Comment

Just so everyone knows, vaara has lived in Amsterdam for years, so his insights are especially welcome.

I still think there’s more to it than old-fashioned European racism. There’s also the appeal of Islam fundamentalism, but I’m discovering that’s a nearly impossible topic to touch. It’s downright radioactive.

October 27, 2006 @ 7:14 pm | Comment

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