A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 5/5) – Discussion: Resonance and Amnesia

In a series of blogposts I will try to trace how the opposition between acceptable and unacceptable Islam has resonated throughout the Dutch history of Islam, yet has always remained unstable and open to changing contexts, circumstances and the pragmatic compromises made between the political elites and the Muslim community. This is part 5, the final part.

For part 1: From Turks and renegades to citizens and radicals: A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 1)

For part 2: A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 2) – On Moriscos, Turks and Renegades

For part 3: A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 3) – The management of Islam in the Dutch colonial empire

For part 4: A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 4) – Contemporary racialization and securitisation of Islam

Discussion: Resonance and amnesia

The research discussed earlier shows that there is increasing attention in academia about the influence of colonization on contemporary Dutch political culture and society. For some reason this has not impacted upon the public debates and policies on Islam. In this last part of the Good and Bad Islam series, I will turn to this amnesia in Dutch policies and debates about Islam. This historical amnesia serves not only to present Islam as something new to society, something from the outside but also as something that needs to be got rid of if Muslim culture is to be made compatible with Dutch culture.

Obviously, we cannot simply transfer the model of the management of Islam in the 17th century to this day and age. But, from the sketches I provided in the first four posts, we can discern a few patterns.

The historical resonance of acceptable and unacceptable Islam

First we find a recurring distinction being made that boils down to a simple opposition between acceptable and unacceptable Islam to a large extent determined by local and global interests of the ruling elites and their desire to maintain peace and order. Second, and related to the first, is the attempt that has been made to curb the trans-nationalist dimensions of Islam, of belonging, movements and so on. Third, are the concerns raised about merging political ideas with Islamic ideas. These patterns complicate, inform, but also destabilize the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable Islam. These patterns are not exclusively Dutch as, for example Maussen, Bader and Moors show in their volume on colonial and post-colonial modes of governance of Islam.[i] This is not to say that the model of the last decennia is the evolutional outcome of earlier models, but the current model with all its inconsistencies, does resonate with these patterns.

Securitization of Islam and the racialization of danger

Within the current model of securitisation there is no definition of what radical Islam is. In debates the term usually refers to the Salafism phenomenon. Although the categorisation of radicals is important, the definitions remain unstable and can be used and re-appropriated by those categorized as such. The Salafi preachers, for example, initially re-appropriated the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable Islam and turned it around: accusing the mainstream representatives of Muslims of trying to become ‘suitable’ recipients for subsidy money by diluting what they see as ‘true’ Islam. After 2010, it was the militant networks which used the same rhetoric against mainstream Muslim spokespersons as well as Salafi preachers. Yet, at the same time, through their conservative and sometimes intolerant speeches they also reconfirmed their problematisation and hypervisibility as a security phenomenon.

The distinction between acceptable and unacceptable Islam ignores not only the differences among Salafi networks but also the attempt by some to cooperate with the state. Furthermore, albeit that with the current foreign fighters phenomenon the debate about Salafism has become more compelling and less nuanced, municipalities have nevertheless cooperated with Salafi networks in order to fight radicalization and prevent Muslim youth from joining IS or Jabhat al-Nusra. The logic of the racialization of Muslims and its current distinction between radical and moderate Islam serves on the one hand as a repository of meaning enabling politicians, policy makers, but also Salafi organizations to mobilize people against what they regard as existential threats. On the other hand, it is open, ambiguous and unstable enough to allow for pragmatic engagements and solutions to be found against those perceived threats.

Amnesia: learning to forget

Furthermore, what probably counts even more than these patterns is the historical amnesia about Islam. As Anderson notes in his monumental book: Imagined Communities, in the process of nation building, the nation has to be taught to its citizens. In the process, some things are forgotten or denied, while other things are glorified.[ii] The Dutch historical amnesia with regard to Islam and colonialism serves not only to present Islam as something new to society and something coming from outside. For the debates on Islam this historical amnesia contributes to presenting an ideal image of a pristine Dutch culture without making any reference to colonial crimes of the past. Instead it glorifies a ‘VOC mentality’. On the other hand, it contributes to producing a doomsday scenario of an Islamisation that threatens Dutch innocence.[iii] Furthermore, the historical amnesia also means that Islam, as an outsider, is something that needs to be remade if the Muslim culture is ever to be made compatible with Dutch culture. Those aspects of Islam that are regarded as compatible (but still perceived as pre-modern) with the Dutch management of Islam and the ideal image of Dutch culture have to be recreated and incorporated whilst others have to be countered.



Bekim Agai, Umar Ryad and Mehdi Sajid (ed.). Muslims in Interwar Europe: A Transcultural Historical Perspective, Leiden: Brill publishers, 2015.

Essed, Philomena and Isabel Hoving. Dutch Racism, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014.

Gouda, Frances. Dutch Culture Overseas: Colonial Practice in the Netherlands Indies, 1900-1942, Amsterdam: Spinhuis, 1995.

Kaplan, Benjamin. Muslims in the Dutch Golden Age. Representations and realities of religious toleration, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2007.

De Koning, Martijn. ‘The ‘Other’ Political Islam. Understanding Salafi Politics’. In Whatever Happened to the Islamists?: Salafis, Heavy Metal Muslims, and the Lure of Consumerist Islam, ed. by Amel Boubekeur and Olivier Roy, 153-176. New York / London: Columbia University Press / Hurst Publishers.

Maliepaard, Mieke, Merove Gijsberts, and Marcel Lubbers. ‘Reaching the Limits of Secularization? Turkish- and Moroccan-Dutch Muslims in the Netherlands 1998–2006’. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 51, no. 2 (2012): 359–367.

Mamdani, Mahmood. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror, New York, NY: Pantheon, 2004.

Maussen, Marcel, Veit Bader, and Annelies Moors (ed.). Colonial and Post-Colonial Governance of Islam Continuities and Ruptures, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011.

Wekker, Gloria. White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016.

Wiegers, Gerard and Mercedes García-Arenal. A Man of Three Worlds. Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.




[i] Marcel Maussen, Veit Bader, and Annelies Moors, Colonial and Post-Colonial Governance of Islam Continuities and Ruptures. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011).

[ii] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso Editions, 1983).

[iii] Wekker, White.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *