Campus Watch, but better – Freedom Party and politics of obstruction

Guest Author: Maurits Berger

The conference Applying Sharia in the West organized by me was reason for Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) to make use of the parliamentarian right to ask questions to cabinet ministers, in this case the Ministers of Interior and Education. Some questions were based on faulty assumptions (that our conference was organized in conjunction with the European Council for Fatwa and Research, for instance), other questions required some exegesis (for instance, whether the Ministers agreed that the central questions of the conference would be ‘a sign of progressive Islamization in education’).

The way the whole issue was launched by the PVV was typical of this party’s pr-policies: they hurl as set of statements and assumptions into the public domain, which are then quickly reproduced by the media. Insofar as media is interested in facts and backgrounds, they usually do not inquire with the PVV (because they never respond), but to those who stand accused. The no-response policy by the PVV was very effective, because it brought about the wondrous situation of journalists asking what we thought that the PVV ‘may have meant’ by questions that were either lies or incomprehensible.

What took the PVV three seconds to say, took us three days to rectify by means of press releases and answering journalists and the Ministry’s civil servants who had to formulate the formal answer to the parliamentarian inquiries. Why would you respond at all, colleagues asked, why bother if it is all lies anyway? But that was exactly the reason why we had to react: the lies would stick if we did not deny them. And denying lies, it turned out, is not easy.

This method is as effective as it is perverse. It is as if I would call someone on the radio a whoremonger and would then refuse any comment. In normal life I would have been the person who would have to corroborate such a serious accusation. But not in this life, not here in Holland. Not reacting to insinuations is accepting guilt. And accusing, even insulting, has become part of the freedom of speech. So bring in the mud and the slings.

This method is also successful for other reasons. Imagine that your name is mentioned as part of a parliamentarian question. It happened to one of my colleagues at university. He is a specialist of Islam and I had urged him to write more newspaper articles because we, as academics, had a duty to take part in public debates, especially in issues as sensitive as Islam and Muslims. It was our obligation to make the public aware of what is fact and what is falsehood, so I told him. And then one morning he walked into my office, white as a sheet, stuttering that his name and article were subject of parliamentarian questions posed by the PVV. Their statements were – again – false, their arguments – as usual – nonsense, but that was not the issue. The game of blaming and shaming was played, and my colleague will never write again. One-zero for the PVV.

The ingenuity of the perversity gets better. Many colleagues will shrug their shoulders: as long as it does not affect your academic freedom, let them talk their rubbish. But it is not what they say, not even that they say it, but the prolific way of saying it. The incredible repetitiousness of these kinds of nonsense – the PVV is the party that asks by far the most parliamentarian questions – and the constitutional obligation of the Ministers to answer has made people cautious or even fearful. Better not to have such kind of conferences like ours, because it may cause questions being asked in parliament. Civil servants suffer from the same inhibition: we know there is nothing against such conferences, but perhaps it is better not to subsidize such an event because… you know. The self-censorship has kicked in, and the nonsense has become a measure stick in real life.

The most frustrating aspect is that the PVV is not interested in the content of what they criticize. They were of course immediately invited to attend the conference. But none of them appeared, and no one asked for the conference proceedings. It is Islam, Muslims, Sharia and therefore: bad. And who is interested in badness? I used the argument that our rejection of genocide, fascism or serial killers does not preclude our academic interest in these issues. So, even if a party like the PVV abhors Islam as a ‘totalitarian doctrine aiming at domination, violence and oppression’ (from the PVV’s latest election programme), one would expect that they would like to know their enemy. But no.

This puts scholars of Islam in a particular difficult position. At Leiden we have established the Leiden University Center for the Study of Islam and Society (LUCIS) that aims at catering to the societal and political need for background information on Islam and Muslims. We academics at LUCIS want to leave our ivory towers and step into society. But the only arms we have is knowledge, and the only skills we have is to disseminate that knowledge. We are not prepared at all for the kind of onslaught that we receive from organizations like the PVV.

How to respond? And – more important – how do we get the time to respond? How can we turn the tables so that we can give a quick answer in three seconds and oblige the PVV to spend three days substantiating their ludicrous remarks? At present we are not equipped to do so, and as a reaction we mostly retreat back into our ivory tower where we can continue working on our peer-reviewed articles that ultimately will get us more credits within the university.

This situation has been on my mind for years, and as of recent really started to worry me. Because it is not only academics that are being cornered. The self-censorship has become all-pervasive. That means that the PVV is gaining the upperhand with empty rhetoric that we all know to be nonsense. As academics we fail the means to fight it, but neither can we allow ourselves to rely on the smug assumption that truth will prevail. It won’t, because new truths are being created. We need to change logic and methods – the thing is that I do not yet quite know how and what.

Maurits Berger is Professor of Islam in the contemporary West at Leiden University. He was senior research fellow with the Clingendael Institute from 2003-2008. Before that he worked as a lawyer in Amsterdam, and was researcher and journalist in Egypt and Syria for seven years. His expertise is Islamic law (Sharia) and political Islam.

3 thoughts on “Campus Watch, but better – Freedom Party and politics of obstruction

  1. The contribution of my colleague Maurits Berger does not come as a surprise. Geert Wilders and the PVV party are not interested in facts, in discussion, in communication of Islam.

    Their policy is to express their disdain for Islam at all possible issues and events(not Muslims, how?) and as such they took the opportunity to react in Parliament on the conference prof. Berger organized.

    On internet I am working on a series of articles on “The ideology of the PVV” based on an analysis of the book “De schijn-elite van de valse munters” of Party Ideologist Martin Bosma, MP of the PVV as well.

    My analysis shows clearly that for the PVV everything that is Islam or Leftist (parties) is, as prof. Berger labels it correctly, bad.

    And as they are bad, why would you pay attention to them in a constructive way.

    The power of the PVV is rising and I think it is very good to raise ones voice even if it does not provoke any PVV reaction. I think prof. Berger did well to express his views on what happened.

    Whatever comes from all of this, not reacting is not an option and the people in our country can make up their minds. Do they prefer a society based on exclusion (of Muslims) or a society (multicultural or not, I do not care) where -real- equality prevails.

    Take a look at the “Ideology of the PVV” series at:

    http://www.nieuwwij.nl/index.php?pageID=13&messageID=6173 (scroll down for parts 2-6).

    It is in Dutch. I am sorry for the non Dutch readers.

    Jan Jaap de Ruiter

    PS: My website was hacked today.

  2. Brief comment: Berger’s last sentence is the point I want to reiterate here: ‘We need to change logic and methods – the thing is that I do not yet quite know how and what.’ The way you have reacted here via writing, along with the conferences you organize, is part of the deal. Scholarship has to turn into waht I can call ‘Applied Scholarship’ in the sense that academics have to gain back their place in the public and political space, not for the sake of space as such, but for the sake of that ‘unreached truth’ and ‘right attitudes.’ I can imagine that it is not easy at all…Scholarship as I see it is now following and commenting on what is circulated by some shallow politics, instead of being the engine that nurtures these debates. Scholarship is generally tamed and instead of leading, it is led…The way to get back to that role of ‘correction’ and ‘enlightening’ is to be engaged; that means sacrifices that can be costly to the persons involved…Well, truth is always bitter to accept by many, but it is worth the challenge…Good luck…

  3. How lovely that your weapon is knowledge. But I prefer the truth. If you have stepped over the line of researching a subject and accepting that subject in all of its appearances than truth will be far away, and never be reached. In the deepest basic of its existence islam is a form of fraud. Nothing more and nothing less. It was made to scare people and make the into slaves. It’s all about money!

    If someone accepts for instance the sharia as some sort of a law then the results will be that you have a crooked law based upon lies. Only to be followed by misery.

    If the sharia is based upon the islam, and the islam of made out of lies, then the sharia can never be trusted nor can it be used in a civilised society. Because the sharia is based upon the differences between people, the sex and the status of a person. Then there is no justification in that law. Does not matter how long this subject is to be discussed. When justice is not the base of a law it can not be a law. Therefor you are left with only a book of rules. Strange rules that differ from person to person. Unreliable rules made up only to favour one person and to condemn another person. If someone has all the knowledge in the world, and still no sense of dignity, no feelings for what is right and what is wrong, then there is no use in studying sharia or islam.

    Accepting islam and sharia is just as unethical as condoning its existence.

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