Anders Breilvik presents himself as a modern crusader; a nativist freedom fighter who engages in a war against islamization and the political establishment that accommodates the rise of Islam. His ideology resembles a copy-paste ideology which we know from other violent activists such as the Dutch Mohammed Bouyeri who killed writer and film director Theo van Gogh. A copy-paste ideology is not ‘just’ a random ideology of a lunatic. It is, for the people involved, a highly sophisticated worldview that gives meaning to the world, provides a sense of direction and enables a person to express their position in the world. The Internet plays an important role here since it makes it very easy for people to assemble and express their own worldview; in the case of Anders Behring Breivik in particular online fantasy games and the anti-islamist blogosphere provided him with clues, thoughts and probably a sense of cohesion as Thomas Hylland Eriksen pointed out.
Now it is important to understand the mindset and motivations of a terrorist and to see, for example, how it relates to (his) everyday life and issues on the ground. This does not mean that we should repeat his misguided anti-islamic viewpoints as for example Bruce Bawer does who in effect repeats Wilders’ statement on Breivik (although Wilders issued his statement later). Wilders sees Breivik as someone who abuses the ‘freedom loving ideals’ of the anti-islamization struggle that is about ‘defending‘ freedom and security. As Adam Serwer argues people like Wilders, Bawer and others seem to be worried foremost that Breivik’s actions are detrimental to the anti-islamization cause implying that his concerns and discourse about islamization for example in the Balkan, Turkey and the problems of the Middle East and beyond, are defensible and accurate (can you imagine such a piece after 9/11 or after the murder of Van Gogh).
It is important I think to see how his ideas (but not his actions) not only are derived from bloggers and politicians but also who they resonate with and are grounded on a grassroots everyday level. I also think the Netherlands can give some clues to that and is relevant here since Breivik partly derived his inspiration from Wilders’ Freedom Party ideology. In this blog therefore I will present some material of the Dutch section of the Ethnobarometer research in which we held focus group discussions on issues of security and culture after 9/11, the murder of Van Gogh and the French riots and Muhammad Cartoons. The research was conducted in 2005 and 2006 and the focus groups consisted all of both Moroccan-Dutch and native Dutch citizens of Gouda (except one group that was a moderate right wing group of native Dutch citizens). We did not aim for a representative sample but for an even division with regard to age, gender and political preferences. I will focus mostly here on the statements of the native Dutch participants. It shows how people struggle with tolerance on the one hand (seen as an important part of Dutch identity) and fear of Islamization and Muslims on the other hand expressed by different modalities of culture talk. While in the case of Bawer, Breilvik and Wilders the presence of Islam and Muslims are seen as the cause of conflict and by definition leading to conflicts, the Ethnobarometer research also revealed mechanisms that can de-escalate conflicts.
Communities of Tolerance
In the Ethnobarometer we can distinguish between four trends or better said four communities of tolerance: Destructed tolerance, Threatened tolerance, Promoting tolerance and ‘Christian’ tolerance.
The first group was no part of any of the researches. Nevertheless via email, internet forums and other types of personal communication we managed to gather some insight in this group. Most outspoken were members of Freespeechsite.net when we tried to recruit participants for the Ethno-barometer.
One member from Gouda responded:
‘This is useless; those Marocs can do everything in Gouda. When you disagree, you will end up with a knife in your back with the police only watching? (been there). During these conversations Muslims will act as poor human beings and the Dutch people are guilty. During these conversations it comes down to the fact that we people from Gouda have to leave everything, giving all our money to them, let them rape our women, let them rob and abuse our children. If not, they stab you; they will destroy your windows, and beat your car to ruin! I have had these talks in Gouda. I am fed up with these talks. It doesn’t help a fuck! They have a free ticket from the state and they can do whatever they want. And do you know how it ended? That they (the police, MdK) wanted to fine because I gave my opinion and you can’t do that (not even if you can prove that they cheat). So a lot of fun with your discussions and that you want to spend your time for useless things. There is only one solution, throw the whole bunch out of the country. Yours sincerely,’
Another member stated:
‘I’m also waiting for the time when we as a host country will be treated with proper respect by our allochtone fellow people, because in my view we Dutch people have to adjust to our ‘fellow countrymen’ and not the other way around (Look for example at the Ramadan wish of our allochtones-fucker JeePee (MP Balkenende, I’m awaiting Christmas with all my heart). As long as that continues, you don’t have to expect any respect for them (a few exceptions left, but you have to search them with a looking glass). Nevertheless I am very interested in the results of your research. Good luck!’
Another interesting group of people were those people we contacted on the streets and a schoolyard. One of them said, for example, ‘I don’t want to talk to Muslims’. This was stated by a mother whose child was the only Dutch child in his class on a primary school. This school also had decided not to celebrate ‘carnaval’ (a Catholic feast) anymore. Instead they choose to celebrate ‘Eid’. The non-Muslim woman was very angry about that. Some Muslims responded that they would come, but most of them (except three) never showed up. These reactions made clear that these people experience a huge gap between Dutch culture and allochtones and, perhaps even more important, that they felt being deserted by Dutch politicians who in their view choose for Muslims and against them (the originally Dutch people). The kind of language used by the different people makes clear that these sentiments are very strong and very vivid. Looking at issues concerning tolerance people in this category tend to feel that tolerance has gone so far that Muslims and the Dutch government have became intolerant towards ‘we Dutch people’ while Muslims and other migrants enjoy all possible fruits of tolerance, at the expense of native Dutch people. Some Dutch people (the authorities, the researcher) constitute a third group they aim at: they see these people as traitors.
The second community of tolerance is a very influential one and probably the most diverse one when we look at for example political preferences. People in this category perceive the virtue of tolerance as very important but fear that it is threatened by Muslims in general and in particular ‘radical Muslims’. One can find atheists and liberals among them who argue that all the freedoms they have fought for in the 1960s (women’s emancipation, liberation from the constraints of religion) is threatened because of the existence of Islam and Muslims in the Netherlands who, according to them, do not agree with these freedoms.
‘An important part of culture is religion. We used to have on the edge of the Dutch Guilder: God be with us. The fact that Muslims in large numbers and it is a group that grows fast, come here with us, means that they undermine my culture. That doesn’t belong to my culture, that doesn’t belong to my norms and values, which make culture. So when other norms and values and another religion come, that pushes aside as it were those things of me, then I think, wait a minute, that is not good’.
‘That is the fear!’ ‘It is not directed against Islam: you are fighting with yourself. What do I feel is important, what people have taught me about what is important and is that affected now? And that insecurity…’ On the question what is affected, one of the non-Muslims answered: ‘My culture. My culture, a new culture enters into that, and their culture grows and grows and grows and mine is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And my culture is my identity, so I am being forced to change my identity and I really don’t want that, but I have to’.
The image of fear and distrust is a very strong and important one. During the Ethno-barometer it seemed that issues concerning Muslims abroad and issues in Gouda come together.
‘When you see the pictures of people in other countries decapitating each other, when you then see a group of Moroccans in the Netherlands: they look similar, here in Gouda, I know that because of course I talk to other people as well. I am not really afraid for it, I wouldn’t run away from you (she says to one of the Muslims who just told he thought people sometimes see him as a terrorist because he wears a long beard), but it does give you a sense of fear immediately. There are many people with fear. That is because of the pictures on TV, but also because you don’t hear the Muslim community when something happens. They don’t say, well now they do a little bit, but they don’t say: We don’t want this, we do not support this, and we disapprove.
The presence of Muslims puts, according to this group, Dutch tolerance under severe pressure and makes them question where the loyalty of Muslims lies: with Dutch society and Dutch people or with fellow Muslims.
The third category of people can be mainly found among political leftists (left wing liberals, socialists). Although they do feel that Islam and Dutch tolerance are not fully compatible they blame the present intolerance on other Dutch people. Especially politicians such as Hirsi Ali and Wilders and the media are held responsible for the current tensions in society.
Back in the old days everyone used to be tolerant, but now many of friends say, let them (migrants/Muslims) fuck off
The people in this group tend to highlight the similarities between them and Muslims. Many of them feel truly appalled by what Fortuyn and Van Gogh said about Muslims. During the ethno-barometer discussions it became clear that they were convinced that people who followed Fortuyn were lower class and not very smart people. When differences between them and Muslims are highlighted they tend to exoticise these differences and give them a positive meaning for example by saying that Muslims help each other more then Dutch people do (a statement that can be heard in the former two categories as well). When controversial issues such as homosexuality are concerned these people tend to refer to the time of the pillarization when homosexuality wasn’t accepted among Christians. Muslims, according to them, have to go through the same process of liberating themselves from such opinions but that is only a matter of time. In other words, they can become the same as us tolerant Dutch people. The emphasis they put on tolerance and their reluctance to talk in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is for many people related to the atrocities of the second world war. Racism and anti-semitism are shunned by all people in the research. This rejection of racism doesn’t necessarily mean people like the ‘other’ so much, but because ‘we’ have seen what racism and anti-semitism can do.
The first three groups do not seem to differ about the importance the enlightenment ideal of autonomy. The fourth group does however. While according to the first three groups for example a negative view about homosexuality is intolerant and violates the ideal of autonomy, for this group tolerance and autonomy means that these views about homosexuality must be tolerated as long as it does not harm others. The same can be seen in ideas about women’s clothing. The first three groups are convinced that the fact that women have to wear certain clothing (headscarf or long skirts) is a violation of the ideal of personal autonomy and therefore also intolerant. This group emphasizes the freedom of choice and stresses that if women wear these clothes because they want to themselves, this should be tolerated because it does not violate the ideal of autonomy. This fourth group is made up by orthodox Christians and in some cases also leftist liberals. This group emphasizes dialogue with Muslims in order to gain more understanding and a harmonious relation with the Other. This group tends to avoid conflicts and exotice the Other.
When I came to live in this area (Oosterwei, an area in Gouda with many Moroccans, in popular speech also called ‘Little Morocco’, MdK) and got to know, many people I thought it was so exciting! I thought, oh, I hope I don’t do something wrong and hurt no one. Yes, I was truly afraid of that, because I truly wanted to become closer, but not hurt them. It was so nice to find out every time, you are you and we only want to know what you think about and why you think like that. […] these are always nice discussions, they are hard as well sometimes. Because you meet each other (and open up to eachother, MdK), but you notice, the invasion of Iraq, terrorism, killing each other here on the streets, you have gone through a great deal, disasters and all that, and when you notice how both of you respond to that and why you approve or disapprove, you find out that it generates a lot of respect.
Just like the third group, this group also thinks that Muslims have go through the same staged of development as the Dutch already did. In particular terrorist attacks and problems with Moroccan youth in Gouda, makes them wonder however, how long that will take and if some of ‘them’ are truly willing to become part of Dutch society. Nevertheless this groups is emphasizing the dialogue with Muslims in order to gain understanding. The same we can see for example in the role of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands.
It is quite clear that the common perception is that Islam and radical Muslims in particular form a threat for people’s way of life and society as a whole. When ‘identity’ comes under siege, their own identity, the other and the differences between self and the other become essentialised. In terms of identity politics this means that there is less space for negotiations and making compromises.
Moral protest: Dutch identity, tolerance and respect
In case of Dutch people the defensive and sometimes apologetic stand of Muslims concerning the fear Dutch people experience and concerning their question towards Muslims about being loyal to Dutch standards, leads to a demand for recognition by the Dutch during the interaction of the debates. They wanted recognition that their fears and expectations are legitimate, and they also want to be taken seriously. Even if they know that fears and negative images are sometimes based upon prejudices, they wanted to be able to address that. Calling upon Muslims to condemn terrorist acts is in this sense also a means to let Muslims say that terrible things have happened and that it is not surprising that people are scared. The angry reactions of Muslims about these fears and images did not lead to awareness that some of it was based on prejudice. It only led to a feeling that their grievances were not taken seriously by Muslims. These grievances are real and also major and minor events are real, and they could not be taken away by individual Muslims by stating that ‘no one asked them to wipe away their own culture’ or by saying that ‘terrorism is no part of Islam’.
This paper shows that the same could be the case for the dominant group. In fact the Ethno-barometerproject makes clear that when the different discourses meet during a debate, a call for recognition is the result. Both Bawer and Wilders in their condemnation of Breivik acts still start from the misguided assumption that having different ethnic and religious groups, in particular when of the groups has an Islamic religion, conflicts are unavoidable. Many researches however show that the ethnic dimensions of conflicts most often come into being during the conflict and is only seldom the cause of conflicts. This of course is exactly what Wilders and Bawers do; they point to some problems in society and then add a an ethnic and religious dimension to it by pointing to the alledged agressive and violent nature of Islam.
Conflicts and violence are never unavoidable however. During the Ethno-barometer meetings however it became clear that the boundaries between groups shift and are re-defined according to the topic at hand. The focus in this research is on the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is therefore not surprising that Muslim identity is an important aspect of this report. This does not mean however that Muslim identity should be taken for granted. Because the Moroccan participants were challenged as Muslims, they often presented themselves as Muslims. This did not happen all of the time. Some of the Muslims stated that they were Moroccan or Berber in the first place and then Muslims. Most of the younger Muslims however made very clear that in the first place they are Muslims and secondly Dutch or Moroccan. When people were talking about social economic deprivation for example, they used terms such as allochtones, migrants and Moroccans. Most participants mixed these terms very often: Muslims referring to themselves as Muslim or Moroccan and in a few occasions as allochtone. Non-Muslims were referring to Muslims as Muslims, migrants, Moroccans and allochtones. Only occasionally they referred to themselves as autochthon or Dutch or Christians.
The presence of orthodox Christians in the first group meant a rearranging of coalitions among the participants. When for example the topic of ‘oppression of women’ was addressed the orthodox Christian girls and Muslim girls joint forces against one of the participants who came up with this issue (a man). We could see a similar example when people talked about insulting people’s religious beliefs or when someone stated that to him every one was equal and he did not care about the religious backgrounds. The orthodox Christians and the Muslims joined each other in explaining the others why people are sensitive when their religion is insulted. Both groups also saw themselves as being a minority and the others as the (secular) majority. It is also the Orthodox Christians who often acted as intermediairies between Muslims and other Dutch people.
This shifting of boundaries brings us to an important point that is visible in all the mentioned discourses above about tolerance and also in the ethno-barometer debates. This is the presence of a so called third party. According to Gert Baumann this Third Party is invisible in the construction of identities that always involve the construction of a self and an other. This Third Party is neither ‘us’ nor ‘you’ and seems, at first sight, not involved in the interaction. Although at first sight the way young Muslims construct their religious identity seems to be diametrically opposed to Dutch identity, it seldom leads to conflicts because most of them have good personal relationships with native Dutch people at work or at school and tend to avoid people whom they deem racists. These native Dutch people can be seen as the third party. The same happens among many Dutch people. In some cases its not the Muslims who they aim at with their frustration but the Dutch government, but also some native Dutch people have good personal relationships with their Moroccan co-workers, neighbours or classmates. In fact during the ethno-barometer debates it sometimes looked like all participants were third parties because in case of generalizations about Muslims or Dutch people, in most cases people said: ‘No, not you, but X people in general’. This clearly relieved the tensions in face to face contacts and brings back into memory the importance of the relationship between self-restraint and tolerance.
Several other mechanisms of de-escalation also became visible during the debates. Stressing common experiences, seeking for solutions instead of blaming people could turn a very emotional and harsh discussion into something more constructive. One of the most striking aspects was the tone and the atmosphere in the discussions remained quite friendly even when there were strong differences in opinion. Restraining yourself from causing inconvenience for other people, which is an important condition of tolerance, seems to be an attitude that existed among all participants. Only in the first group there were strong tensions between some of the non-Muslim participants and some of the Muslim participants. During one session of this group we decided to have an early break because we feared the tensions between two people would escalate. During the break, without us intervening, these two and other participants approached each other and continued their discussion in a friendly and joyful manner. We found it striking that that group was the most outspoken and most polarised group. This can have some relation with their age. Mainly the young people (between 16 and 30) were outspoken and sometimes vicious in their way of discussing. The older people often tried to smooth things down. The other three groups had not that many young people; mostly only one or two.
The Power of Radical Words
It is not difficult to see how Wilders’ discourse resonates and is expressed on a grass roots level, not only in the Netherlands, and how Wilders’ rhetoric is a reduction of a multi-dimensional every day life into a single narrative of islamization. As I have explained elsewhere with my colleagues Edien Bartels, Oscar Salemink and Kim Knibbe, the way that people define their cultural identity is part and parcel of their subjective sense of human security – first and foremost in terms of cultural security, but eventually also in terms of their physical safety. It is when people feel their lifestyle is being threatened that some of them (but usually a minority) feels the need for action and search for political leaders who can be their voice. Since people’s sense of cultural security is linked with the definition of the boundaries between cultural categories, between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and between zones under control and zones outside one’s control, when once ‘secure’ cultural boundaries start to shift, this may create anxiety, fear and resentment. We show how minority identities may enhance the internal sense of security in that group, but may lead to anxieties and (subjectively experienced) insecurity in greater society. It is this sense of cultural security that is stimulated by politicians and their culture talk and, conversely, it makes the logic of culture talk seem to be ‘common sense’. It isn’t however; conflict is not the logical outcome of a pluralist society but every society does need mechanisms for de-escalation of conflicts. Politicians such as Wilders however work to monopolize the political agenda and given their black and white nature of their verbal ammunition they in effect close off the windows to conflict de-escalation. This doesn’t mean of course Wilders is directly responsible or that people in the Ethnobarometer research who hold similar views are responsible. It only shows that Breivik’s grievances are not merely voices in his head; they are out there and they have been for a long time. Breivik’s case may show how dangerous it can be when politicians exploit the culture talk but it also doesn’t mean that Breivik is a representative of those people or of the ethnobarometer participants. It is worthwhile considering that Breivik represents nothing and no one except himself .(I think his copy-paste ideology could be a clue for that). Very hopefull in the Norwegian case now, and contrary to the Netherlands in 2004 when politicians talked about war, is the message of the government. Not repression, but more freedom and democracy.