In the blog magazine Dagelijkse Standaard, Joost Niemöller writes (15 december 2012, “Het Marokkanenprobleem is geen islamprobleem”, “The Moroccan problem is not an Islam problem”) that the reduction of all problems to Islam is stupid: “Look, this kind of thinking is not just dumb, it is also dangerous. Whoever can only think of Islam as the root of all evil, moves through the world blind with anger and has lost all ability to correct himself.” He calls this thinking “hysterical”.
Probably that article was written after its author had a discussion with someone who obsessed over Islam, as described. But except for this putative debating partner, is there really anyone to whom this allegation applies? I have never met or read such a person, and I say this after having met many victims of Islam in South Asia. Even Geert Wilders, whose Party For Freedom is routinely labeled as “anti-Islam party” in the media, has campaigned for the 2012 on another plank, viz. the relations between the Netherlands and the European Union. In my experience, people who reduce all problems to Islam are a figment of the Islam defenders’ fondest imagination.
Some people, allegedly, claim that Islam is the reason for e.g. the misbehaviour of Muslim youngsters. The author, by contrast, proposes “cultural, pedagogic and genetic explanations” in addition to the Islam problem. Or even instead of it: “Moroccan boys are raised by their mothers as little princes, and so they start behaving as spoiled brats.” There are no indications that Turkish boys are raised that differently, yet according to the author they have a lower criminality rate. For that matter, Hindu boys are raised likewise and they stand out by a low crime rate. So, Niemöller’s explanation by educational factors falls flat. However, the shortcomings in the examples he chooses need not invalidate the case he is making. Indeed, we are convinced along with him that Islam is not the only factor of evil.
Thus, to reiterate some examples he uses, the high rate of violence in Brazil or the vast and variegated problems of Black Africa exist outside the reach of Islam. Indeed, most world religions are older than Islam and have a whole theology of evil, often with prescribed punishments for a number of specified crimes. It seems evil existed before Mohammed, and we will still have it on our hands after Islam has gone. Many critics of Islam are Christians and Christianity famously teaches that all men are inheritors of Original Sin, so Islam only added to a pre-existing store of evil.
Niemöller only expects criticism of his arguments about Moroccan boys’ upbringing, so he counters it beforehand: “Now the ‘true’ Islam critics will undoubtedly start saying that this is a typical Islam problem is, and then surely a Quran quotation can be found that points in that direction. But that is of course nonsense.”
Frankly, that one phrase is the reason why unlike so many media articles on Islam, this one provided me with a reason to respond: “But that is of course nonsense.” (Maar dat is natuurlijk lariekoek, in the original Dutch) In the 24 years since I first wrote in a critical sense about Islam, pro-Islamic responses have mostly been of this calibre. Rather than going into the contents of Islam criticism, where they know they can’t win, the friends of Islam pretend that there is no honest debate because Islam critics are a bunch of loonies. The whole Islam debate is between well-informed critics quoting chapter and verse and superficial sympathizers resorting to rhetorical tricks.
Actually, in this specific case, Islam as a factor of problems is a valid (if only partial) explanation. The double standard in the treatment of the sexes, by mothers as by everyone else, already exists in the animal world, not to speak of most human societies. Even hermaphrodite lower animals prefer the male to the female role; the preference for a male over a female birth is much older than Islam. If any problem predates Islam, or any other organized religion, sexism certainly is it. But the effect of religion is to stick to such natural habits even against pressure to reform. And this is where Islam trumps other religions: whereas others make compromises with the modern world, Islam is still standing firm. Feminism is making big inroads in Christianity, as exemplified by the woman bishops in the Church of England; but hardly any into Islam.
Thus, when Copts from Egypt or Sudan settle in Europe, they go by the rule: “When in Rome, do as the Romans”, so they abandon any plans to circumcise their daughters. By contrast, Muslims from the same region will stick to this custom, sanctioned by Islam though dating from much earlier, against their European neighbours and even against European law. They believe that their law is supreme, while the law of the land is negotiable. Sexism was not invented by Islam, of course not, but today Islam is a strong upholder of sexism in a world adopting more egalitarian norms regarding the sexes.
In fact, very little was invented by Islam. Except for the veneration of the person of Mohammed, most doctrines and rules in Islam are taken from Arab Paganism, Judaism or Christianity. The double standard in treating Muslims and non-Muslims was adopted and adapted from a universal ethnic discrimination between in-group and out-group. But whereas modernity consists in combating this natural tendency, Islam upholds it. That parents frowned if their daughter married someone from another religion, was common elsewhere too, but today only Islam insists that she can never marry a non-Muslim, to the point of killing the groom or even their daughter in order to prevent it.
That is why Islam poses a very specific problem, different from the general immigration problem. Immigrants from, say, Russia or Congo do pose certain social problems, but because they do not militate against assimilation, at least their children are bound to blend in and ultimately become Europeans with the Europeans. In the case of Islam, it is the reverse: the present generation of Muslims is less integrated than their parents. In expectation of becoming strong enough to take our countries over, Islam cultivates separateness for now.
At the fag end of his article, Niemöller also admits that Islam, while not being the sole problem, is nonetheless a problem. He cites and rejects the opinion that “criticism of Islam is really criticism of Muslims and therefore hurting and annoying”. He also counters the usual remark about “the kind Muslim neighbour” by saying that “he is mostly kind in spite of, and not because of Islam”. I can live with his conclusion: “Yes, Islam is a problem. But not all problems with Muslims are an Islam problem.”