In Defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali & Afshin Ellian

by Ibn Warraq (February 2011)

Paul Berman's book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, which was neglected or dismissed  by many in the liberal press without its reviewers seriously engaging with its arguments, deals essentially with two matters. First, there is the unpleasant spectacle of liberals, such as Ian Buruma, making excuses for, and even defending, illiberal ideologies and their apologists, while at the same time attacking, often in a shamefully ad hominem manner, the defenders of such classical liberal causes as freedom of speech, and religion, and the rights of women suffering under theocratic tyranny. Second, Berman endeavours to disentangle the true ideas and intentions from the subterfuge and prevarication of Tariq Ramadan. I hope to address soon Berman's arguments against Ramadan, but here I offer my own critique of one of Ramadan's defenders, and an object of Berman's critical analysis, the writer Ian Buruma.

Ian Buruma and Murder in Amsterdam.

I have admired Buruma's writings for many years for their clarity and tough-mindedness; he was not afraid to dissect the fashionable. Furthermore, he endeared himself to me for three reasons. First for his fictional biography[1] of the great Indian cricketer Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji Jadeja Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar [died 1933]. Like Buruma I was a cricket fanatic, and like Ranji, a Gujurati, born not far from the Indian Prince's Princedom. Second, much to my delight Buruma skewered the pretensions of Arundhati Roy, the Indian novelist who was suddenly given, after the success of her first novel, far too much space in the Western press to spew out anti-Western hate. Third, Buruma was not impressed by Edward Said's autobiography; he found it self-pitying. I quoted Buruma's review in my own critique of Said, Defending the West.

Hence my disappointment, even dismay, at reading his Murder in Amsterdam, where understanding of what some call “Islamism” and “Islamists” such as Mohammed Bouyeri has given way to apologetics pure and simple; one noted Dutch scholar of Islam went so far as to call his account an apology for murder.

Buruma's book, easy to read, informal and chatty, is a kind of anecdotal, personal journalism much in fashion that leaves many doubts as to his methodology and reliability. Did he tape record the extensive conversations, or did he take longhand notes? A closer look at his style reveals some troubling aspects.[2]

Many people interviewed later complained, in the leading national daily, NRC Handelsblad, that they had not been informed that he, Buruma, intended to publish their comments, and furthermore, some of them said, he had misquoted them. These included journalists such as Theodor Holman and Bart-Jan Spruyt, and academics like Paul Scheffer, Frits Bolkestein, and Afshin Ellian. Philosopher Paul Cliteur also had a chat with Buruma, and was not at all “aware of Buruma's plan to use the information to be quoted in the book.”[3]

Max Pam, a writer and friend of Theo van Gogh, writing in the national daily broadsheet de Volkskrant complained that there were 125-150 factual errors- in a book of 264 pages of text. Abigail Esman in Radical State, her recent book on the Netherlands, also claimed to have found some errors herself. I noticed two significant mistakes to which I shall return later. Buruma dismisses the inaccuracies as “ridiculous in their pettiness”- displaying a cavalier attitude to the truth, and it bespeaks scant professional ethics. There are differences between the Dutch edition of the book, and the two Penguin editions in the United States. Buruma seems to have taken some of the complaints seriously enough to make the changes, others he has refused to rectify.

Even more disgraceful has been Buruma's vilification of human rights activists, especially his attacks on such heroic figures as Afshin Ellian and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The entire aim of the book is to make excuses for Islamists and at the same time to portray Ellian and Ali as equally fanatical as the worst Islamists. Buruma achieves his goals in a most insidious manner – hinting, insinuating, but never engaging with their arguments. He accuses Ellian of ranting, and finds in Ali “hints of zealousness, echoes perhaps of her earlier enthusiasm for the Muslim Brotherhood, before she was converted to the ideals of the European Enlightenment.” Notice how smoothly he slides from the Muslim Brotherhood to the European Enlightenment – implying that Ali has simply “converted” from one form of fanaticism to another, a quasi-religious conversion, rather than being prompted, as she is, by the spirit of rationalism, keen observation, skeptical analysis, and free inquiry. Ali and Ellian have “embraced a radical version of the European Enlightenment,” writes Buruma. His ambivalence is nowhere more apparent than when he asks, “How could one not be on the side of Frits Bolkestein, or Afshin Ellian, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali? But a closer look reveals fissures that are less straightforward. People come to the struggle for Enlightenment values from very different angles, and even when they find common ground, their aims may be less than enlightened.” So Ellian and Ali have, it is slily implied, less than enlightened aims. What aims? We are not told. Instead, Buruma wants us to believe that their intellectual, philosophical and political positions are only the result of psychological inadequacies, hence his insistence on various aspects of their personal history. First year students of Logic and Philosophy will easily recognize the Genetic Fallacy. Thus, Ellian was “traumatized by Khomeini's revolution,” and Ali suffered equally under “an oppressive Muslim upbringing in Somalia.” The notion that Ellian and Ali may have come at their philosophical positions by choice, after much intellectual effort, and rational deliberation, and not merely in unthinking reaction to events in their own lives, never occurs to Buruma. Rather, we are served up pop psychology and psychological determinism.

As Paul Cliteur and Geoff Gordon, in their superb article[4], in defense of the Radical Enlightenment, pointed out, Buruma does not dwell on the personal histories of the Dutch intellectual, Frits Bolkestein, and the Amsterdam professor Paul Scheffer since his shallow psychologizing does not work in their case. He dismisses Dutch philosopher Herman Philipse, whom he remembers from his kindergarten days as “pompous,” as someone both pretentious and privileged, born and educated into a civilization that taught him the Enlightenment values of universality and individualism, and hence, by Buruma's bizarre logic, Philipse is not to be taken seriously. Buruma puzzles over why a rich businessman should want to get rid of Moroccans since he was unlikely ever to come into contact with any of them. Does it never occur to Buruma that Moroccans might represent certain political and cultural values that the businessman might find unacceptable? What would personal contact have to do with it?

Particularly reprehensible is Buruma's misrepresentation of Afshin Ellian's story: his flight from Iran, his sojourn in Afghanistan, and his arrival in The Netherlands, an extraordinary story of courage, resilience, and adaptation, which, nonetheless, Buruma dubbed “as bogus as Ayaan's refugee story.” Thus Buruma's portrayal of Ellian as cunning, deceitful, someone who manipulated the UNHCR can only be regarded as character assassination, harmful professionally and hurtful personally.

Buruma also claimed that the Soviet-backed Communist regime allowed Ellian “to run a propaganda radio station.” Buruma suggests Ellian was a communist who had to flee Afghanistan after the expulsion of the Russians, and arrived in the West under false pretenses as an “East-European-style dissident.” Ellian's colleague at the University of Leiden, Frits Bolkestein was also misquoted, and both he, and Ellian, wrote a joint letter to The Penguin Press, USA taking issue with Buruma:

                “We are writing to advise you that the book Murder in Amsterdam, the Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Buruma contains many inaccuracies. Although we will not speak for others who have claimed in the Dutch media to have been misquoted and misrepresented (see second appendix), we would like to point out the inaccuracies that concern us.

              “On page 64, Frits Bolkestein is quoted as having said: “One must never underestimate the degree of hatred Dutch people feel for Moroccan and Turkish immigrants. My political success is based on the fact that I was prepared to listen to such people.” This is patently false. Bolkestein has never made any such statement to Mr. Buruma. Nor was the quote submitted to him for approval, which is unprofessional.

              “On page 156, Buruma writes of the ‘bogus story’ that Afshin Ellian fled to the West under false pretenses as an ‘eastern-European style dissident’. He suggests that Ellian was a communist who had to flee Afghanistan after the expulsion of the Russians.

              “This too is false. Although Ellian had joined a left-wing movement when he was in Iran, he had quarreled with the neo-Marxist Iranians in Kabul as early as 1984, a year after his arrival there, and it was in 1986 that he had broken with them completely. The absence of protection by a political association left one vulnerable. For this reason, he appealed to the UN representative in Kabul for protection in 1987. Shortly afterwards, around seventy other liberal (pro-Western) Iranian intellectuals and their families followed suit. Through UN mediation, and in his case, invitation to The Netherlands, they were ushered to different Western European countries in 1989. The timing had nothing to do with the expulsion of the Russians. Buruma gets these basic facts upside down. Ellian never misrepresented his identity or his past, nor did he arrive in the Netherlands under false pretenses.

           “These facts are well documented with the UNHCR, the Dutch Ministry of Justice and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs – documentation that Buruma neglects. It is also regrettable that he deliberately neglects to take any of the many criticisms that have appeared in the Dutch media into account in order to make corrections for the paperback release. Magazines have fact-checkers. Why shouldn’t books be held to the same standard?

           “Buruma seems to capitalize on the ‘language gap’ to cover his inaccuracies to his publisher and English-speaking audience. Please see the appendices for the Dutch media sources of others who have made similar complaints.

         “We kindly request you to remove these inaccuracies in any future edition.”

Yours Sincerely,

Frits Bolkestein, L.L.M.                                                                   Dr. Afshin Ellian, L.L.M.

Professor                                                                                       Professor in Jurisprudence

Former European Commissioner                                                     University of Leiden

Former Dutch Minister of Defence



See Appendix 1: Translation of a letter by Mr. Hoeksma concerning Afshin Ellian.[5] 

Buruma was forced to make many changes but he was unrepentant about the quote attributed to
Bolkestein since it re-appears verbatim in the Penguin Paperback edition, where Buruma also persists in claiming that Ellian ran a radio station. In reality, Ellian gave summaries of Radio Teheran's Friday sermons; at the age of 19, he could hardly have been expected to run a radio station. Ellian was not even aware that the station for which he provided such summaries was situated in Kabul.

Others not happy with Buruma's cavalier attitude to fact include Paul Scheffer, author of “The Multicultural Drama,” whom Buruma describes in the first English edition as a “romantic Maoist.” But Buruma was forced, once again, after complaints to change this description to “Once a communist….”.

Ahmed Olgun, who co- wrote a book with Jutta Chorus on the murder of Theo van Gogh accused Buruma of plagiarizing their book.

Throughout his book, Buruma has recourse to that favorite stratagem of post-modern relativists, and multiculturalists: moral equivalence. Ellian and Ali are described as “warriors” (an Arabic translation of this word would be “mujahidun”; singular, “mujahid,” from the same root that gives us “jihad”) so that later they can be more easily compared to “jihadists” or, more precisely, mujahids. Our warriors are “struggling against oppressive cultures that force genital mutilation on young girls and marriage with strangers on young women. The bracing air of universalism is a release from tribal traditions,” “But”, Buruma astonishingly continues, “the same could be said, in a way, of their greatest enemy: the modern holy warrior, like the killer of Theo van Gogh. The young Moroccan-Dutch youth downloading English translations of Arabic texts from the Internet is also looking for a universal cause, severed from cultural and tribal specificities.” Can there be any more grotesque comparison than that? Or does he think the qualifying phrase “in a way” protects him against such charges? For anyone who has not lost his moral sense, there is no possible equivalence of someone who tries to uphold the values of the Radical Enlightenment and advocates the use of reason to arrive at objective truth; rejects all supernatural agencies; believes in the equality of mankind, irrespective of race or gender; argues for secular universalism in ethics; upholds toleration and freedom of thought, and personal liberty of life-style; defends freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press, in the public sphere; and sees democratic republicanism as the legitimate form of politics; with an Islamic fundamentalist, that is, someone who wants power to coerce mankind into obeying God's commands; wants to bring politics and religion together; demands the death penalty for apostasy; insists on the inferiority of women to Muslim men, and all non-Muslims to Muslims; does not allow Muslim women to freely choose their husbands and nor to marry non-Muslims; wishes to apply a number of fixed punishments, orhudud, derived from the Koran, for five acts: unlawful sexual intercourse, false accusation of unlawful sexual intercourse, drinking wine, theft and highway robbery, and the punishments being death, flogging or amputation; in short, desires to impose the Sharia, Islamic Law, on the entire world; to submit mankind to a totalitarian system in which the individual must sacrifice his personal freedom; does not accept freedom of expression or speech or conscience, and who legitimizes violence- always and everywhere- in the name of God, and who frequently demand the destruction of that part of the world that gave rise to the Enlightenment. Islamists indeed have universalist ambitions but their ideals are not the same universalist ideals of the human right activists inspired by the Enlightenment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 enshrines principles derived from the Enlightenment, and this declaration was anathema to Muslims who set about promulgating their own Declaration, oxymoronically called the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights – either they are universal or Islamic, they cannot be both at the same time. This is a clear cut demonstration by the Muslims themselves of the incompatibility of the two set of principles that Buruma tries to conflate or equate.

Buruma insinuates once again that there is a similarity between Ellian's Enlightenment and Bouyeri's jihad, since they are both radical, “one radically secular, the other radically religious.” But  having “radicalism in common does not make them the same”[6] anymore than having a common surname makes Groucho and Karl the same. Only someone in the grip of post-modern relativism could possibly come to such as a conclusion as Buruma's. Jonathan Israel has emphasized over and over again in his truly learned and magisterial studies of the Enlightenment the importance of distinguishing the two broad opposing tendencies running through the Western Enlightenment – there was an unbridgeable chasm between the Radical democratic Enlightenment and the Moderate antidemocratic Enlightenment. “Radical Enlightenment is a set of basic principles that can be summed up concisely as: democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state.” Radical Philosophers such as Diderot, d'Holbach and Helvétius believed in and argued for truly universal moral values which enabled them to make cross-cultural criticisms without contradiction, whereas the Moderate Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire, and those influenced by them had constant recourse to relativism, which made such cross-cultural judgments impossible. Here for instance is Sir William Jones, a Moderate mainstream Enlightenment figure, arguing that the “aim of the British judiciary in Calcutta in 1780s was to ensure that the 'British subjects resident in India be protected, yet governed by British laws; and that the natives of these important provinces be indulged in their own prejudices, civil and religious, and suffered to enjoy their own customs unmolested.'”[7] As Israel adds, “This meant preserving the caste system, among much else. That such hierarchies of customs, morality, and law were being extended in the world were anathema to the radical thinkers.”

Buruma is proposing the same kind of indulgence for the prejudices, civil and religious, of the Muslims, and wishes to allow them to enjoy their own customs unmolested. He erects taboos, to protect the tender sensibilities of the Muslims, “And it's true that discrimination of Muslim women by their own fathers and brothers causes much suffering, but it is hard to see how an attack on the Muslim faith would help to solve this problem. The revolutionaries are no longer open to compromise, and apart from giving protection to young women who are subject to male violence, there is little the government can do to change the habits of conservative patriarchs. Attacking religion cannot be the answer, for the real threat to a mixed society will come when the mainstream of non-revolutionary Muslims has lost all hope of feeling at home.” [8]

Buruma's attitude to Islam would not only be anathema to the Radical Philosophers such as Diderot, but the entire European Enlightenment project would not have been possible without Spinoza- a Jew and a Dutchman, no less- daring to attack the Bible in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670]. “By contrast,” writes Jonathan Israel, “the Enlightenment—European and global—not only attacked and severed the roots of traditional European culture in the sacred, magic, kingship, and hierarchy, secularizing all institutions and ideas, but (intellectually and to a degree in practice) effectively demolished all legitimation of monarchy, aristocracy, woman’s subordination to man, ecclesiastical authority, and slavery, replacing these with the principles of universality, equality, and democracy.”31

“Spinoza and Spinozism were in fact the intellectual backbone of the European Radical Enlightenment everywhere, not only in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Scandinavia but also Britain and Ireland.” And the work that did more than any other to bring about this profound revolution in human history was Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, published clandestinely but nonetheless courageously by the Dutch publisher Jan Rieuwertsz (c.1616–1687) in – irony of ironies –Amsterdam – in 1670. For Spinoza the Bible is purely a human and secular text, theology is not an independent source of truth. “Spinoza offers an elaborate theory of what religion is, and how and why religion construes the world as it does, creating a new science of contextual Bible criticism. Analyzing usage and intended meanings, and extrapolating from context, using reason as an analytical tool but not expecting to find philosophical truth embedded in Scriptural concepts.” In his attack on the very possibility of miracles and the credulity of the multitude, Spinoza’s Tractatus made a profound impression everywhere—in England, Italy, Germany, and France. In effect, Spinoza denounces clerical authority for exploiting the credulity, ignorance, and superstition of the masses. Spinoza’s ideas were easy to grasp in one sense even by the unlettered: ideas such as “the identification of God with the universe, the rejection of organized religion, the abolition of Heaven and Hell, together with reward and punishment in the hereafter, a morality of individual happiness in the here and now, and the doctrine that there is no reality beyond the unalterable laws of Nature, and consequently, no Revelation, miracles or prophecy.”

Buruma's insistence that Islam should be left alone -“attacking religion cannot be the answer”- smacks of condescension at best, and is a far cry from the universalism and egalitarianism of the Radical Enlightenment. Buruma is in effect treating all Muslims as children or immature or undeveloped, and beleaguered, to be forever protected from critical eyes, lest their tender sensibilties suffer. Just below the surface of Buruma's and Sir William Jones', and indeed all multiculturalist liberals' “tolerance” of other cultures lies a patronizing attitude that refuses to see the “other” as they, the liberals, see themselves. Jones and liberals see “the natives” or “Muslims” as peoples who will never attain their own level of attainments or civilization, and hence must be left alone and tolerated. It took the robust common sense and moral decency of Lord William Bentinck to ban formally, in December 1829 in the Bengal Presidency, the practice of sati, where a widowed Hindu woman is forced to immolate herself on her husband's funeral pyre. There was no moral relativism here – the British interfered in Hindu customs and imposed a new set of values. The ban stands, at least formally, to this day.

Buruma has created a taboo: criticism of Islam -“it is hard to see how an official attack on the Muslim faith would help to solve this problem”- but in doing so he contradicts his own principles, for earlier [p.34] in the book, Buruma wrote, “But an essential part of Enlightenment thinking is that everything, especially claims to “nonnegotiable” or “fundamental” values, should be open to criticism;” and again when Buruma thinks, “Europe provides the freedom to explore, to reform, and to challenge.”[ p.259] As long as the values criticised are not Islamic, apparently; but notice how Buruma uses the word “attack” and not “criticise” when applied to Islam. And how does he think Islam will reform without criticism?

Must all traditions, however barbaric, be respected? Are Muslims doomed to follow the traditions of the ancestors for ever simply because they are traditions?

Furthermore, it is not difficult to see the dangerous implications of what Buruma is advocating. Should all scientific research into the origins of the Koran, using all the resources of philology, and hermeneutics be stopped? With such an attitude, the very notion of truth, objective truth suffers – and we are back to the cultural relativism that Julien Benda criticized.

And incidentally, if he wants to see a “reformed Islam,” how does he think such reform will come about without a critical look at the Koran and all other founding texts? Perhaps he has no desire to see a reformed Islam? Is Islam a threat to democracy? asks Buruma. Then he confuses the issue by concluding that if Islam is a threat then “all Muslims are threats.” Buruma is confusing Islams 1, 2, and 3. It is important to bear in mind the distinction between theory and practice, the distinction between what Muslims ought to do and what they in fact do; what they should have believed as opposed to what they actually believed and did. We might distinguish three Islams: Islam 1, Islam 2, and Islam 3. Islam 1 is what the Prophet taught, that is, his teachings as contained in the Koran; Islam 2 is the religion as expounded, interpreted, and developed through the Traditions (hadith) by the theologians and jurists, and includes the sharia, Islamic law, and the corpus of dogmatic theology; Islam 3 is what Muslims actually did do and achieved, that is to say, Islamic civilization, as known to us in history, roughly equivalent to Christendom.

When I speak of Islam as being incompatible with several articles of the Universal Human Rights Declaration of 1948, I am speaking of Islam 1 and Islam 2. Sometimes Islam 3, that is, Islamic civilization, has been more tolerant than allowed by Islams 1 and 2, and vice versa. For example, Islams 1 and 2 quite clearly condemn homosexuality, and yet until recently, Islam 3 tolerated it far more than Christendom; conversely, Islams 1 and 2 are quite relaxed about circumcision, for it is not mentioned in the Koran. Many jurists recommend it, but without exception all male Muslim children are circumcised. In this case, Islam 3, Islamic civilization, follows a practice that is not made obligatory by Islams 1 and 2.

Islam, in the sense of Islam 1 and 2, is indeed a threat to, and totally incompatible with, democracy: Islam 1 and 2 do not accept democracy's core principles of religious tolerance; freedom of conscience, belief, and expression; the separation of church and state; equality before the law; and notions of citizenship and loyalty to the state. There may well be moderate Muslims [Islam 3], but Islam [Islam 1 and 2] itself is not moderate. The so-called Islamists or Islamic fundamentalists are acting canonically, that is, following Islam 1 and 2 to the letter. So yes, Islam is a threat to democracy but no, not all Muslims are threats.

Buruma does not show any knowledge about Islam – one wonders if he even took the time to read the Koran, and something about Islamic Law and history. I referred earlier without identifying to two errors I found in Buruma's book, and they indicate a laziness that is troublesome. On page 193, Buruma talks of Mohammed Bouyeri, and how “In March 2004, he announced that soon 'the knights of Allah' would march into the houses of parliament and raise 'the flag of Tawheed.'” After the Arabic word transliterated as “Tawheed,” Buruma adds in square brackets [God's sovereignty]. If this is meant as a translation of Tawheed, it is a howler. Tawheed is a term that expresses the unity or unicity of God, and is the great fundamental basis of Islam. Almost any introductory book on Islam dwells on this fundamental Islamic concept at length, and yet Buruma gets it wrong. On page 218, Buruma again transliterates an Arabic expression thus: LA ILAHA ILLA ALLAH, and then adds in square brackets “[Forsake all others and worship only Allah].” Again, the more precise translation is “There is no God but Allah” which is a part of the shahada, the declaration of faith expected of all Muslims- the rest being “and Muhammad is His Messenger.” Once more Buruma failed to carry out the minimum of research. Buruma will dismiss these errors as “trivial,” but they would not have been commited by anyone who had bothered to do some basic homework.

Then we come to this description of Mohammed Bouyeri, “Anything can trigger a mood of violent resentment and self-destruction: a job offer withdrawn, a grant not given, one too many doors shut in one's face. Such a man was Muhammad Bouyeri, who adopted a brand of Islamic extremism unknown to his father, a broken-backed former guest worker from the Rif mountains, and decided to join a war against a society from which he felt excluded. Unsure of where he belonged, he lost himself in a murderous cause.”

As an explanation of, Bouyeri's behaviour, it is laughable; though perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as an apology, in which case it is disturbing but typical of all liberal incapacity to understand such individuals. Bouyeri has been stripped of all moral responsibility for his actions.

It is in fact condescending and insulting to Muhammad Bouyeri since Buruma refuses to take Bouyeri's beliefs seriously. Bouyeri had had the same opportunities as other youth in Amsterdam, had studied, had written columns in a local newspaper and was all in all a well integrated migrant. But he had violent tendencies and had already been convicted for various violent offences. At his trial, he explicitly pointed out that he had nothing personal against van Gogh, he had not attacked the latter because he was Dutch or because he, Bouyeri had felt insulted as a Moroccan, rather, he had “acted out of faith.” “And', he continued, “I made it clear that if it had been my own father, or my little brother, I would have done the same thing.” He was obligated to “cut off the heads of all those who insult Allah and his prophet;” he only recognized God's law, the Sharia. Bouyeri ends his speech with words that seem to be directly addressed to liberals like Buruma: “You can send all your psychologists and all your psychiatrists, and all your experts, but I'm telling you, you will never understand. You cannot understand. And I'm telling you, if I had the chance to be freed and the chance to repeat what I did on the second of November, wallahi, I'm telling you, I would do exactly the same.” Bouyeri is right: Buruma will never understand, cannot understand.

To only recognize the Sharia, and to cut off the head of all those who insult Allah and His Prophet are the orthodox Muslim positions. And yet, Buruma blithely proposes that we accept the orthodox Muslims “as a fellow free citizen of a European country.” Does Buruma really know what he is asking?

Indeed, it is Buruma who fails to place the whole debate in the wider European context. A number of authors have written about implications for Europe and her values of freedom of speech and religion, equality before the law, among others, of greater Muslim immigration to Europe. They cannot be dismissed as right-wing paranoics; Bruce Bawer (While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within [2007], and Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom [2010]) and Abigail Esman (Radical State: How Jihad is Winning over Democracy in the West) are liberals, who have written serious works, amply documented, about the demands made by Europe's Muslim population, demands which if ceded to, will seriously erode Europe's hard-won freedoms. Chris Caldwell (Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, [2010]) is a conservative, who gives a superb historical overview of the entire subject of Muslims in Europe; it is impeccably analyzed, and a serious reflection on the problems posed by the increasingly exigent Muslim citizens of Europe. No other religious or ethnic group poses anywhere near the same problems, thus the alarms raised by these authors cannot be dismissed as racism; they are not worried about the French of Vietnamese origins, for example. I raised similar issues in a book that was eventually published in 1995 (though written in 1993), particularly in the last chapter, “Islam in the West,” which remains depressingly relevant. But I was not the pioneer in raising these issues: Mervyn Hiskett, Some to Mecca Turn to Pray, Islamic Values and the Modern World [1993] gave a comprehensive account of the implications of Western appeasement to Islam. Again, Hiskett cannot be dismissed as an Islamophobe, since the first part of his book is a veritable hymn of praise to the wonders and glories of Islamic civilization.

One example of the erosion of freedom is the dramatic rise in antisemitism throughout Europe in the last ten years, almost all of which can be attributed to Muslims. To give one statistic, derived from the Dutch police and published in on 7th December, 2010, The Netherlands has seen 209 discriminatory incidents targeting its Jews in 2009- a 48 percent increase compared to 2008. Jews are afraid to take public transport, and would not dare to walk in areas where Moroccans live. The picture is the same in France, Germany and Denmark. In France, the Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ) reported that 832 antisemitic incidents were recorded in France in 2009, as compared with 474 such incidents in 2008 – a 75% increase. These statistics were carefully gathered from records in the organization's Aid to Victims Department, which cross-checked the figures with data published by the French Ministry of Home Affairs. Included were “statistics, comments, analyses and extracts from sentences handed out by courts in cases involving anti-Semitism,” according to the Council Representing Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF).

Similarly, the anti-gay intolerance is also on the rise in Europe, and is coming entirely from Muslims. And as Abigail Esman summarised, “The search for the establishment of a sharia state, the growth of Takfir groups, the calls for the destruction of the secular West, the honor killings (more than one per month at average), death threats against politicians such as as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders, as well as private citizens like artist Sooreh Hera or Afshin Ellian, these are unique to Muslims”[9]

All that liberals like Buruma can offer in the face of such totalitarianism is nihilism; he seems incapable of seeing the difference between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Mohammed Bouyeri. Only someone without any moral sense could possibly equate the Enlightenment values of Afshin Ellian with the Islamofascism of Bouyeri. The doctrine of moral equivalence, as I wrote a few years ago, comes easily to a culture already infected with moral and cultural relativism. Other common characteristics of the apologists of totalitarianism include, denial of the evidence, of reality: leading to search for “real causes,” or “root causes,” which is bound to lead to conspiracy theories; contempt for Western institutions, but a willingness to exploit them for their own use; being ideologues they are immune to criticism, and contrary evidence, which they are able to explain away; masochism, since they are lacerated with feelings of guilt, ready to blame everything automatically on the West, take blame for all the ills of the world, and as a consequence wish to see the West punished, humiliated, denigrated, vilified and calumniated, the West deserves to be punished, we deserve to be punished, I deserve to be punished; exaggerations of the virtues of the Other, and the crimes of the West, denial the Other could be racist, imperialist, or colonialist, in short, evil; arrogance of the intellectuals who cannot be bothered to learn the facts, do the the hard research in archives, and primary sources.


[1]     Ian Buruma. Playing the Game. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 1st US edition, August 1991.

[2]                  Buruma's literary style has been well-described by Berman. I append my own observations here. Wanting it both ways is a common disease in Dutch intellectual discourse, Buruma tells us. But that is precisely what he exhibits throughout the book. Negative statements about Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Afshin Ellian are qualified by such clauses as “put SOME people off” [my emphasis]; the implication being: “Oh, you see it is not ME, who is claiming that, SOME people ….”.

                               Other examples: Buruma's use of “allegedly. This adverb allows Buruma to keep his distance; “some might say”; “critics of …”;  “one of the most frequent criticisms made against…;  “are sometimes called”; “…are often accused of …” [note the passive tenses]  serve the same purpose. He is able to hide behind unnamed others, who do the heavy lifting, without dirtying his own hands. Similarly, if it is a positive statement about Hirsi Ali, he still keeps his distance- “To some she is a heroine….”.  

[3]     Paul Cliteur and Geoff Gordon, “The Enlightenment in contemporary cultural debate”, in Bart C. Labuschagne and Reinhard W. Sonnesschmidt, eds., Religion, Politics and Law, E.J.Brill, Ledien/ Boston 2009, pp.311-331, p.320.

[4]     Paul Cliteur and Geoff Gordon, “The Enlightenment in contemporary cultural debate”, in Bart C. Labuschagne and Reinhard W. Sonnesschmidt, eds., Religion, Politics and Law, E.J.Brill, Leiden/ Boston 2009, pp.311-331, p.320.

[5]              APPENDIX 1:

                Letter from J. Hoeksma, NRC Handelsblad, September 23rd 2006

                             Ian Buruma publicly casts doubt on the integrity of the professor and columnist Afshin Ellian. He claims that Ellian, who came to the Netherlands in 1989 as a refugee, received asylum here on false pretences. Because I was on the legal staff of the Dutch representation of the UNHCR at the time, I would like to provide a short sketch on the context by which we could judge Buruma’s claims on their merits.

                            It was in that time the conscious government policy to invite several hundred refugees to the Netherlands each year. These refugees are proposed by the UNHCR and are selected by Dutch civil servants. The intention of this program was the resettlement of refugees, whose position in their first country of asylum had become untenable, providing them safety through legal means. Several other countries were cooperating in this program.

                              Although the program was initially set up to help refugees from Central and Eastern Europe, the same program benefited the Asians who were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, Latin American exiles and Vietnamese boat-refugees. For this reason it is patently incorrect to treat this merely as an instrument of the Cold War. Ian Buruma speaks without justification of an ‘asylum program of the UN for Eastern European dissidents.’

                               The establishment of the regime of the ayatollahs has led to an exodus of intellectuals and artists. They could barely find protection in the surrounding countries of Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The UNHCR had absorbed them in their regular program for the resettlement of refugees. Mr. Ellian has requested the UNHCR to move him somewhere else, when he had serious security problems in his first country of asylum, Afghanistan. The Dutch government had then invited Mr. Ellian to settle here. He was never asked to pretend to be someone else, and he has never taken any initiative in this regard. There is no basis to these claims of Ian Buruma.

      J.A.Hoeksma, L.L.M., Amsterdam

[6]     Cliteur and Gordon, op.cit., p.327.

[7]     Jonathan Israel. A Revolution of the Mind. Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp.46.

[8]     Buruma p.246.

[9]     Personal communication: Ms Esman gave me persmission to quote her.

Ibn Warraq is a visiting Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies as well as Sr. Editor for New English Review.

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