Islam, murder and Europe's lost civilisation

This foul crime will be seen as evidence that all Muslims abhor enlightened values
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The Independent Online

Fear has won; hope has lost. In the world of Bin Laden and George Bush, fear is the key - both smooth operators, consummate at generating panic and using it to consolidate their positions and ideologies. Inexorably, the peoples of the globe are being pushed into a dangerously simplistic world where there are only absolutely hateful enemies and totally loyal friends, good gods and bad gods, the chosen and the damned.

Fear has won; hope has lost. In the world of Bin Laden and George Bush, fear is the key - both smooth operators, consummate at generating panic and using it to consolidate their positions and ideologies. Inexorably, the peoples of the globe are being pushed into a dangerously simplistic world where there are only absolutely hateful enemies and totally loyal friends, good gods and bad gods, the chosen and the damned.

As if on cue, a play within a tragic play, in the streets of Amsterdam, this crashing, crushing global conflict is acted out. Or that is how it appears. The Dutch film-maker, Theo van Gogh (a descendant of the painter's brother) is shot and stabbed to death. A note is left on his body by the killer. A Dutch-Moroccan man of 26 is arrested and Holland, already deep in collective paranoia over immigration, jumps to the conclusion that this is further evidence of the barbarism that now threatens to engulf Europe, previously too lax when letting in "hordes" of mad "Mohammedans".

Van Gogh was a daring film-maker who made a film, Submission, with the right-wing Dutch-Somali politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is a controversial figure. Having abandoned her Islamic faith, she routinely slams Muslims for their practices, sexism, lifestyles, demands - and their beliefs too.

I met her in Geneva a couple of years ago. I found her blanket denunciations absurd, and it felt as though she knew exactly how to please a crowd of fundamentalist European liberals. But she was exceedingly bright and sharp, and whatever my own reservations, she surely had and has the right to express her ideas.

The film is a fictionalised story of a young Muslim woman forced into marriage, who is raped by a relative and then punished for adultery. Such tales are not uncommon in most Muslim countries, and in India too. Horrendous violence against girls and women takes place daily in Pakistan, Punjab, Palestine, Rajasthan, all over - and here too, which is why the Government has passed a new law making forced marriages illegal.

Muslim human rights warriors record and challenge these cruelties, and thanks to the internet, there is now a world-wide movement determined to expose and eradicate the socially sanctioned abuse of females.

Both Ali and Van Gogh were subjected to death threats, and now he is gone, and of course it is appalling. What brutish barbarism when a person sets out to threaten and kill because they don't care for what has been written or broadcast or said. Even if, or especially if, it is based on truths they want to keep buried.

The problem is that this foul crime will not be seen as an act of evil intolerance by a person or a group (if it turns out that this was a murder committed to silence criticism of some Muslim families), but as irrefutable evidence that all Muslims abhor enlightened values and basic freedoms. In the West, especially now, prejudiced ideas about Islam and Muslims are ready and available like pot noodles: add a little boiling water and they burst forth to provide instant, easy-to-swallow explanations that are long-term poison.

The British-Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif writes about these lazy and unwise indulgences in her beautifully written new collection, Mezzaterra: Fragments from the Common Ground. "The identification of Islam as 'the enemy' is particularly dangerous ... the ideologues and propagandists need only revive old colonialist and orientalist ideas of Islam as an inherently fanatical, violent, ideological system which rejects modernity."

And this is what is already happening in Holland. Assassins in that country are now thought of as Muslim fanatics even when they are not. It is bizarre that the Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, immediately responded to Theo Van Gogh's murder by reminding Dutch people of the killing of Pim Fortuyn a couple of years ago. The victim was a flamboyant politician who wanted to halt immigration into his country because he claimed that foreigners were destroying its identity. Yes, he infuriated many immigrants, including Muslims. But he was not murdered by these antagonists. A white guy, for reasons unknown, took his life.

I got locked in an argument with some Dutch policy wonks about this a few months back. Yes, I said, it was terrible that the man was slain. I also agreed that there is a problem with traditional multiculturalism, which has helped to create ghettoes, real and imagined, in European capitals, and was as concerned as them about the rise in Islamicist Stalinism. But the fact remained that the man who took Fortuyn's life was not a Muslim, not an immigrant, not a foreigner.

"Ah," said one of the men in the group, "but he could have been. That is what these Muslims are doing. So you cannot say it was not their fault."

There you have it. Lost civilisations in the heart of Europe. More and worse to come.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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