A Response to Geert Wilders

Mr Wilders

I have just recently been following your political campaign in Holland and listening to some of your statements as well as ones made by your supporters. I am not actually surprised by successes made by right wing parties in the West-there are valid reasons for this. However when I heard one of your more recent statements in this interview I decided to write a response which I hope you may find interesting in some way. So here is my take on your statements/views;

First I would like to say that I totally reject any threats against yourself and any other person with similar views. The reason is simple; I believe that freedom of speech is a core and fundamental  principle of any democratic society-this is especially dear to me having lived the earlier part of my life under autocratic/authoritarian rule. So for a politician (or anyone for that matter) to have to move around surrounded by security because of their views is something I find utterly repulsive.

Establishing Context

Now with regards to your specific statements in the referenced interview on Islam let me first put some context to my comments for the sake of clarity;

  • Though I have been raised a Muslim I am no religious scholar and my knowledge about the Islam beyond the basic core’s are limited. That said I do have my own views on religion in general every since I was in my teens which I mention briefly below.
  • I’ve also have concerns about some of the teachings in Islam which I do not particularly understand and have always questioned. I am also quite concerned about the aspect controlling the teachings/narrative of religious script where interpretations seem to vary widely and no effective authority overseeing this, which in of itself is a recipe for disaster-as we are all witnessing. So considering the above caveats I move on to my comments about your statements here;

Comments on your Interview Assertions

  1. Religious Script: With regard to the perception of aggressiveness in the Quran let me suggest that this is a character of most religious scripts and you can easily verify this on the Internet and other sources-there is plenty of materials out there about aggressive scripts in all Abrahamic religions (and probably others) to one extent or another. You, and anyone else, can pursue this further because the intention of this post is to focus on the big picture rather making it a punching game and more importantly out of respect to this very sacred aspect of human spirituality.
  2. Script without Context/Common Sense is Conflict in the Making: It follows from the point above-at least in my view-that if we were to follow religious script literally we would be in constant conflict/war not only between followers of the different religions but also between the followers of the different sects of the same religion-that’s where we come across things like Jihad in Islam and the Crusade in Christianity as well as more recent conflicts that are rooted on religious beliefs; Northern Ireland, Middle East Conflict(s) to name a few. In my mind-and I am a big believer in the importance of faith/religion-religion is more about spiritual enlightenment than a text that is to be followed blindfolded simply because context matters and the context that existed at the time when these great religions were documented (based on the knowledge we have of these periods) has fundamentally changed. So the bottom line is that one needs to apply common sense and context when reading religious script and applying it in daily life-and guidance in interpretation is key. We also need to remember that people are drawn into the faith they are born into, and don’t tend to change it-so there are biases built into our system irrespective of teachings which we tend to view from this limited perspective. It is therefore important that we avoid passing judgment on others strictly for following a different religious narrative. The more important aspect is behavior towards others and abiding by basic human values/rights.
  3. Objective Analysis of Migrant Crime Levels: In terms of crime levels among migrant communities in the west it is undisputed there is an issue of high rates of crime though analysis are not consistent nor are they constant. However in order to be objective in our assessment of this trend we need to look at actual data into whether such crimes are related to religious or to socio/economic factors and deal with the issue pragmatically NOT hysterically. The data that I have seen point in the direction of socio/economic reasons as the main cause of such criminal activity.

Extremism in Islam; A Historical Context & Determining Source

Extremism in Islam is based on literal interpretations of text without applying context and in many cases manipulating interpretation of scripture as a means of following a specific extremist narrative. More importantly I can tell you for a fact that the main source of extremism/recruitment in Islam are more about Political/Social forces than they are about religious teachings. In simple terms it is about reactionary attitudes adopted due either to suppressive authoritarian rule as is the case in the Middle East or lack of effective immigration/integration policies as is the case of Muslim (and other minority) communities living in the West. To clearly demonstrate this point one needs to ask this question; when/where did this extremist Islamist ideology occur and what were the trigger points? A very relevant case here is my native Egypt (and other countries in the ME) in the early 1900’s where societies were by and large secular and Multicultural; native Egyptian Muslims/Christians/Jews lived in complete/utter harmony-a story replicated throughout the Middle East (I include links to additional relevant posts on this site). Once things evolved on the political scene in the region and authoritarian rule reined as of the 1950’s onward 3 things happened;

  • Sectarian violence erupted, Jews were evicted due political developments post 1949 creation of the state of Israel and religious leaders who dared to voice decent against the authority were killed or tortured in jails.
  • From the mid-1960’s onward radical religious teachings began to gradually spread underground and there was no effort by the government-only concerned with maintaining rule-to counter this trend by allowing the main religious institutions like (Al Azhar University in Egypt) independence/guidance to develop religious teachings in a manner consistent with a more progressive religious interpretation one that evolves with time and addresses current socio/economic considerations. So in brief issues pertaining to this kind of religious teachings as well as emphasis on moral values remained static/disconnected from the mass population creating kind of a religious/moral vacuum in society.
  • In the early 1990’s Egypt (and probably other countries in the region) were flooded by conservative religious scholars/clerics who had been mainly based in the gulf and returned to promote a version of the Quran which was much stricter and followed more Wahabi (ultra-conservative) teachings. This had a detrimental effect on national identity which has become more inclined towards religious conservatism. The main reason in my view that this phenomenon was allowed/encouraged to spread by the state is 2 fold;

a. It allowed a more passive form of religion that is benign /non-confrontational with the state authority to spread as the better of 2 evils with the second being the more hostile/extremist version of religious teachings that challenged the authority of the state.

b. It allowed the state to move focus of the population from issues pertaining to democratic governance & equality to religious conservatism, which served the purpose very well.

The Real Question of Faith

I am a big believer that applying basic principles of humanity/morality, compassion and empathy is in itself a practice of faith irrespective of differences in message/messenger. So no matter what your faith is, if you hold these core principles to heart and in action this is the ultimate demonstration of the strength of faith. It seems to me that we’ve taken religious symbolism to the extreme and lost sight of true/core values that all religions share-that should be our focus moving forward if we are to avert religious warfare in this 21st century. Religion has been transformed from a personal/spiritual enlightenment to a multi-billion dollar industry specifically geared towards profit making through promoting religious conflict/segregation and influencing national policy-we should no longer stand for subverting such an important aspect of human spirituality to a source of business/power .

Back to Europe

When we talk about Immigration in Europe a subject that became more prominent post the influx of immigrants from North Africa & the ME let me tell you that, though I am an immigrant myself I was one of the first to call on the British government not to rush to an Open Door policy, partly because of security concerns but mainly due to failure of subsequent governments to address seriously the issue of Integration. So in my view we needed a better policy to handle the influx of immigrants primarily by developing/utilizing assets at regions of exit rather than at countries of entry.

The Way Forward

So based on the above comments/observations let me make some suggestions to solve the immigration crisis which is a big part of your political agenda if you and/or your followers are looking for pragmatic solutions and not merely focused racial issues as a fundamental/inflexible posture;

Effective Immigration/Integration Policy: What is needed is a more effective Immigration/Integration policy-one that ensures the secular/pluralistic nature/identity of a modern western society. In my own view attire, language proficiency, and adaptability to culture are key elements for an effective assessment of new immigrants, but so are religious freedoms and embracing the realities of a multicultural society. We also need to establish orientation programs for new immigrants to provide them with elements related to code of conduct as well as educate them on basics national history. These programs also need to involve engagements/interactions with the native population to ensure they do not see immigrants as a threat to society but rather an enrichment to the national identity/culture, after all there are many success stories of nations around the world built on migration.

Promotion of Democratic Governance & Economic Incentives in Conflict Regions: One of the key attractions of the west in the developing world is democratic governance & economic prosperity/opportunity-these are the key drivers to immigration. It follows that in order to control levels of immigration and bring them back to acceptable levels Western democracies need to terminate any level of support for autocratic regimes and provide economic incentives to states that choose a Democratic path one which addresses both issue of immigration as well as fundamentalism. The economic & security incentives for the West are far greater with a stable, democratic and prosperous region-particularly the Middle East. It is also important that western governments take full/direct responsibility of reversing their tried/tested policies in conflict regions by appeasing dictators and turning a blind eye towards repressive rulers for the sake of promoting their national business interests-this is a failed policy and completely counterproductive on many levels in the medium-long term. This is NOT a question of being responsible of state building but rather NOT being responsible for destabilizing states & undermining regional security/stability in the process something that eventually lands on our shores.

So beyond questions of Integration & Security which we all agree on we really need to move away approaches intending religious segregation whether in the context of communities, schools or nations. It is precisely this concept of religious/cultural segregation/nativism that promotes conflict and runs completely counter to our Democratic/Liberal values and what we witness on a daily basis of an interdependent/interconnected world we live in today. Globalization is a reality though reform of this reality is critical/urgent. The idea that we can reverse Globalization is fiction and can only prolong our agony in the process of finding pragmatic solutions to challenges brought about by realities of the world we live in. If on the other hand there are truly alternatives to Globalization let’s go beyond the rhetoric to understand/debate in detail what these alternatives provide in terms of real solutions to problems we face today based on reality-NOT Virtual reality.

I suspect I probably have NOT have changed many minds at your side of the political space but at the very least it may be considered an alternative view/approach that may be useful in how we choose to solve current/future challenges; particularly by linking extremism to both internal failures on integration as well as failures in foreign policy.

Enjoy yourself.

Links to Other Relevant Posts

Non Muslim Americans wear hijab in solidarity for World Hijab Day (Commentary)

“Multiculturalism”: The Elephant that Overtook the Room

Racism is Alive & Kicking

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