The Islam debate in the Netherlands

On Tuesday evening, the day before the Van Gogh commemoration, a debate on Islam was held in Amsterdam. Amidst tight security, some of the most prominent participants in the continuing Dutch Islam debate came together to discuss their views.

Perhaps the most remarkable contribution came from left-wing thinker Paul Scheffer, who put forward an argument he elaborated the same day in a commentary in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper. Muslims, he said, rightfully demand freedom of religion in Europe. The enjoyment of this right to freedom of religion, however, necessarily entails the duty to defend this right for others, both fellow Muslims and non-Muslims. Paul Scheffer argues that political Islam in particular is not ready to accept this basic democratic principle and is, therefore, in need of reform.

Paul Scheffer is one of the most reasonable and moderate voices among Dutch critics of Islam. More radical ones, such as Arabist Hans Jansen and Somali-born liberal-conservative MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, are less hopeful about the prospects for reform. They both argue that what they call “pure Islam” cannot be reconciled with the principles of democracy. In order to be democratic, Muslims therefore have to “dilute” Islam and strip it of some of its essential teachings.

According to Hans Jansen, Theo van Gogh’s murderer was primarily driven by verses of the Koran. Speaking at the debate in Amsterdam, he said: “Pure Islam has everything to do with terrorism. The Sharia advocated by its adherents always contradicts human rights”. Similar views can be regularly heard and read in the Dutch media.

Radio Netherlands, 3 November 2005