Radicalization Series – Part III The state, secularism and securitization

The second type of radical Islam emphasises the resistance against Western cultural oppression. The focus is primarily on the ‘baneful’ Western lifestyle, which is considered a threat to ‘pure Islam’. This type of radical Islam can be described as radical-Islamic puritanism. Its adherents loathe the way in which human relations are given shape in Western society. They despise Western views on equal rights of men and women (in particular the right of women to participate in public life on an equal footing as men), freedom of speech, respect for ideological multiformity, autonomy in privacy, the secular nature of society, et cetera.
From Dawah to Jihad – AIVD

In the Netherlands Islam has grown into a religion with a large constituency. Accepting this as a reality is not always easy for the strongly secularized native population. This is partly caused because of the much more manifest expressions of Islamic faith, than ‘we’ were used to from other religious groups during the last decades. In combination with a constant threat of radical currents within Islam, people experience the changed societal positions as a threat of their safety. When people are also confronted with criminal or intimidate behaviour or migrant youth groups, tensions arise.
Integration policy report 2007-2011 Make sure you belong!


In this third part of the radicalization series, I will take up an issue raised in part II; the need for critically analyzing the role of the state in counter-radicalization. The above quotes are exemplary for the point I’m trying to make here. In the first quote radical Islam (mainly pertaining to Salafism) is contradicted with Western lifestyle and the ‘secular nature of society’. In the second Islam is treated as something from the outside and besides Islam also ‘radical currents’ and ‘more manifest expressions’ of Islam are noted. Since 9/11 and the murder on Dutch film director Van Gogh in 2004 by a young Muslim, radicalism among Muslim youthis perceived to threaten the security of a society based upon liberal, democratic and secular values (AIVD 2006; AIVD 2007). Such a dichotomy between the secular and (radical) Islam usually leaves the secular order uninvestigated and unquestioned. This post will contribute to ongoing efforts to problematize an unquestioned opposition between the secular and the religious by critically investigating the secularist assumptions of Dutch state’s counter-radicalization policy.

Secularism and the moral community

As Asad (2003, 25) argues the secular and the religious are not fixed categories. In secular societies particular modes of reasoning and argumentation, behaviours, knowledge and sensibilities are seen as the embodiment of a universal reason which religious people have to comply to, while only modestly expressing their religiosity (cf. Asad 2006, 515). This brings us to the notion of secularism as a political doctrine. Secularism is thought to create a neutral and objective arena where people with different religious viewpoints can meet on the basis of subscribing to the same political principles (cf. Taylor 1998). Secularism is also the product of a specific history and embedded in a complex of influences that reflect and influence national political and religious culture (Amiraux en Jonker 2006, 16). Different nation-state conceptions, different historical experiences with immigration and different models of church-state relations lead to different trajectories of secularism and (related to these different trajectories) differences in people in self-positioning and claiming recognition, and different modalities of the public sphere (Amir-Moazami 2005, 211). Secularism then is more than just a political stand about the place of religion in society or just the label for the alleged decline of religion. Secularism can be seen as a particular kind of a cultural repertoire with its own beliefs, practices and experiences that can be organized, activated and mobilised by social actors to defend their interests and give meaning to the social world (especially the state) surrounding them (Gorski en Alt?nordu 2008). Asad (2006) has been an important inspiration for research into the ‘cultures of secularism’ for example by Mahmood (2006, 327) who argues that secularism proffers a political solution. This solution lies not so much in a neutral state tolerating difference and diversity but in remaking certain kinds of religious subjectivities to render them compliant with prevailing liberal political rule. Research into the cultural repertoires of secularism and its uses by social actors is therefore important in appreciating the challenges posed by migrants and the second generation to the nation-state and its citizenship politics on the one side, and the debates about multiculturalism and the management of religion on the other side.

The central issue of the Dutch state in managing in its relation with religion in general and churches in particular has been an attempt to monitor, regulate and set the parameters for the participation of religious groups in public life; not by banning religion altogether from the public sphere but by creating a framework within which religious groups could work to construct and define their collective identities. The result has been an attempt to ‘change’ the development of a Muslim community into a ‘more liberal ‘Dutch’ direction that is according against orthodoxism, aimed at dialogue and organized in a manner that the Dutch were accustomed to. And this is exactly what has happened in the 1980s and 1990s. Most claims and demands by Muslims were (in particular because they fitted into the system) acculturative instead of dissociative and controversial and based upon a consensual style of politics instead of a politicization of culture and religion as occurred after 2000.

Furthermore, the idea of the Dutch nation-state was constituted by the idea that every member of society, irrespective of their background and religious affiliation, should subscribe to an imagined moral community; an imagined community based upon ideas about what constitutes a good and virtuous life. Rather than a strong sense of national pride, this idea of the moral community seems to be central in opting in the Dutch national project (cf. Sunier 2000). The Dutch public sphere, in particular since 2001, has partly been dominated by controversies about competing perspectives on moral citizenship and moral order, and about the need of educating and assimilating migrants to comply to an idealized vision of the Dutch moral community consisting of citizens who find virtue in secular freedoms and tolerance (cf. Mepschen 2009).

The Dutch Moral community

While in the time of pillarization (and before) nationalism was in part based upon belonging to a religious or ideological community (and vice versa), now belonging to the Dutch moral community seems to be more and more based upon the idea of a ‘shared culture’ in which sexual freedoms, emancipation of women and the freedom of expression are believed to be the hallmark. It is in particular Muslims who are feared because of the alleged opposition against these freedoms and because of their religiosity. They remind native Dutch people of the (religious) constraints of the past with regard to these freedoms (Van der Veer 2006).

The focus on ‘Dutch’ values is part of a trend emerged in the Netherlands and throughout Europe during 1990s as argued by Stolcke (1995). Stolcke (1995: 7-12), focusing on new rhetoric of exclusion and inclusion based upon cultural essentialism (a rhetoric she calls ‘cultural fundamentalism’) shows how in the process of building nation-states, national belonging and identity are interpreted as cultural singularity. Internal differences are homogenized and cultural identity and sameness become the prerequisite to access to citizenship rights. With this interpretation of citizenship, the need for migrants to accept ‘Dutch norms and values’ became central. Therefore the need to educate and mould migrants into assimilated citizens came about. Migrants should abide by the same ideas of virtuous citizenship and a good life as native Dutch citizens are believed to hold in high regard (see: Tonkens, Hurenkamp, en Duyvendak 2008; Verkaaik 2008; Mepschen 2009). The rhetoric of culture produces an homogenized and idealized vision of the national moral community and exclusion of migrants (Butler 2008). The ongoing emphasis on Muslims as outsiders who need to be adjusted to this unquestioned idea of a shared Dutch culture, has been maintained over the years and produced what Schinkel (2007) describes as ‘the paradox of integration’ This paradox of integration means that migrants are inevitably part of society but re-casted as outsiders who have to be transformed in order to fit into the moral community. At the same time they remain outsiders since even second and third generation are categorized as such.

Radicalization of secularism: liberal Islam vs. Radical Islam
After 9/11 the debate shifted to key themes as violence, fundamentalism, intolerance, hidden agendas, religious tensions, and an orientation on the Islamic world instead of the European world. This has led to a dual track approach in Dutch policies. On the one hand the emphasis on integration remains, albeit with an almost exclusive focus on Islam and Muslims. What is new since 9/11 and especially since the murder of Van Gogh is a radicalization of secularist discourses. In these discourses we see a changing focus: particular trends in Islam are not incorporated, changed and adjusted, but are deterred and fought against by a counter-radicalization policy.

Dutch counter-radicalization policy can be seen as an attempt to exclude those religious practices and beliefs (labelled under ‘radical islam’) that are deemed to be incompatible with liberal political rule (cf. Mahmood 2006). Both the debate and policy primarily target the Salafi movement. This movement aims to revitalize Islam based upon the life of the first Muslims and strives to live according to that idealized vision which its followers find more just and satisfying than the present (De Koning 2009). During the 1980s and 1990s the Salafi movement emerged in the Netherlands via transnational networks, mosques and Islamic schools. Although this movement initially remained quietist, after 2002 it became more visible after incidents with youth trying to go abroad to fight jihad, the murder of Theo van Gogh, Friday prayer sermons whereby imams attacked the Dutch government and politicians and stated that it is allowed to ‘correct’ women with force (De Koning 2009). For the Salafi movement and its participants religion is not and should not be private. Moreover particular modalities of going public as Muslim by Salafi participants are controversial, such as refusing to shake hands and wearing the niqab by women.

Before going into the construction of liberal vs. radical Islam, a few remarks concerning secularism and liberal Islam are in place. As Haddad and Balz (2008) explain: the overall tendency in Europe with regard to integration, security and secularism is a convergence towards the French model with a more rigid separation of church and state and a stricter approach of Islamic authorities. We should not forget however that the overall secularist outlook is shaped by compromises and remains contested because, at least in the Dutch case, there is no agreement over the management of (public) religion by the state. Orthodox Christian parties try to defend the status quo while the Christian-Democrats try to defend the status of religion in public by making the laws more apt to a pluralistic society. The Green Left, progressive and conservative liberals try to further limit the public appearance of religion. The conservative and progressive liberals seem to opt for a stricter separation of church and state while the right wing PVV seems to be mainly interested in banning Islam. The ideas about the correct secular outlook for Dutch society therefore differ and do not only pertain to Islam although Islam is the center of all debates. There is also no agreement on what liberal Islam is. With the exception of the PVV (for which there does not exist a moderate or liberal Islam) generally speaking we can argue that ‘liberal islam’ is perceived by most political parties as a social-cultural and religious phenomenon (much in the same way as Christianity is perceived as a Dutch cultural tradition) with no political aspirations, kept private or with only a modest public appearance.

The background of this debate about radical or liberal Islam involves the ethics of going public by religious groups. As Casanova (1994) has convincingly shown, secularization of a society does not necessarily lead to a decrease in religiosity nor does it necessarily lead to a privatization of religion. The emergence of groups that are unwilling to comply to the frame of liberal Islam and to the secular political culture has been labelled as radicalism (for example:AIVD 2006; AIVD 2007). An important characteristic of this labelling is categorizing and lumping together all (Islamic) ideologies that threaten the democratic order of Dutch society. The distinction liberal Islam and radical Islam pertains to ‘good Islam vs. bad Islam’, a distinction made by Mamdani (2004). ‘Good Islam’ can be relegated to specific areas in the public sphere, but when Islam is experienced as entering into in the public sphere in an assertive or even aggressive way it can be typified as ‘bad Islam’. ‘Radical’ Islam divides the Muslim community and separates them from their identity as an integrated, tolerant and liberal citizens (cf. Birt 2006: 294). As such in particular the Salafi imams are denounced. A well-known incident is that of Salafi imam Ahmad Salam refusing to shake hands with the then Minister of Integration Rita Verdonk. After his refusal she asked the imam “are we not equal?” and stated “well we have a lot to discuss then”. Later on the ministry explained that Minister Verdonk wanted to make clear shaking hands was a conventional Dutch habit. In her view it is important for imams to be aware of this and adjust to it. Refusing to shake hands but also for example wearing the niqab are seen by the Dutch government as symbols of a form of Islam that does not fit Dutch society (In: Moors 2009, 401). What is at stake here is not only rejection of a public display of religion or an Islam that is expressed in ways that people experience as strange and different. It is also a denunciation of what is felt as an assertive and intrusive expression of Islamic religiosity and as an ostentatious, provocative rejection of the Dutch moral community. While for the right wing PVV there is no thing as a moderate Islam, other parties (including the secular ones) tend to support the establishment of a ‘moderate’ or ‘liberal’ Islam, albeit this support is contested within their own ranks. With regard to radical Muslims however all parties oppose their practices out of a firm support for liberal principles or in order to neutralize the PVV and co-opt its constituency (cf. Moors 2009).

It may appear to be self-evident for a democratic country to fight against intolerant ideas or for a secular country to try to contain religion, but it is not. Much of the ideas among Salafists for example pertaining to homosexuality and the rights of women, do not differ very much from orthodox Protestants and members of churches as Pentecostals. Even ‘conservative’ Catholics in the Netherlands agree on this matter. Also the visibility of religion in society and public sphere is not seen in the same way for Muslims as for Christians. Among orthodox protestants there are also groups becoming more visible in the public sphere and refuting the secular contract (cf. Roeland 2009). But that is not labelled as radicalization nor is there any other policy trying to contain for example the Pentecostal movement or active migrant churches. Left wing, right wing and animal rights radicalization are recognized but there is no policy countering radicalization from these sides, albeit that there are some efforts to counter right wing radicalization among native Dutch youth. Schools and other institutions report more incidents about right wing radicalization than radicalization among Muslims, the operationalization of radicalization policy is clearly aimed at Muslim youth given the inclusion of imams, ‘moderate’ Islamic organizations, activities aimed at integration. In plans combating radicalization the dichotomy between ‘Western’ and ‘(radical) Islam’ is central. The dual track policy with regard to Muslims, combining integration policy and counter-radicalization policy, shows that the main difference between orthodox Christians and right wing youth on the one hand and (radicalizing) Muslim youth on the other hand is that the first is seen as part of Dutch moral community while the latter is not.

Lacking in much of the analyses is a critical reflection on the role of the state and its institutions, the ethical-normative aspects counter-radicalization policies, and the discursive foundations which make ‘radicalism studies’ and counter-radicalization policies possible in the first place. Why do states and their institutions label particular individuals, groups and movements as radical and what are the consequences in terms of rights, policies and the position and daily lives of the targeted groups? A more critical and reflexive approach is urgently needed, whether it is about issues of radicalization or secularism.The Netherlands has witnessed an increasing Islamization of the public debate in which Islam becomes a standard for integration and that is combined with policies trying to make Muslims abide by ‘typical Dutch’ values. In particular secular freedoms pertaining to sexuality, women and freedom of speech are instrumentalized into a cultural program of inclusion and citizenship producing a demarcation between a free secular society and Muslim immigrants. These freedoms work as a modality of the secular governance of Islam and the need to protect them is more compelling since 9/11 and the murder of Theo van Gogh by Muslims who adhere to a ‘bad Islam’. The distinction between ‘good Islam’ (that still has to be adjusted) and ‘bad Islam’ (that has to be excluded) reveals a paradox within Dutch secularism and integration policy. While Islam is regarded as coming from outside and therefore it has to be changed, it is also acknowledged as a religion already institutionalized in the Netherlands (therefore it is also inside). Furthermore, radical Islam or ‘bad Islam’ has to be banned. These representation of Islam vis a vis Dutch society reproduces and nurtures the image of the Netherlands as a homogenous secular country, based upon a Christian tradition threatened by radicals, as has been noted by several scholars (for example Butler 2008). It does however do more than that. This becomes clear by looking at the practices of creating a moral community. The distinction between liberal and radical Islam produces unity among different political factions in society and therefore unity within the moral community. The Dutch moral community is created by excluding radical Islam. All parties share the same idea of Muslims and Islam as being outside the moral community and the need to fight against ’radical’ Islam. The main difference between the right wing PVV and others is that the first is convinced that a moderate Islam doesn’t exist, while others do regard Islam as something that can be accommodated to Dutch political culture and its management of religion. Regarding Islam as something from outside and the distinction between ‘good and bad Islam’ allows political parties to criticize and focus on problems with Islam and Muslims, without the need to take up an extreme position as that of the PVV which is regarded as unethical and counterproductive (cf. Schinkel 2008).


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Radicalization Series
1. The slippery slope of ethnic profiling
2. What is it? A plea for critical radicalization studies

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