Fitzgerald: Ian Buruma, Geert Wilders, hatred, and ignorance

Ian Buruma, who has been given to some remarkable pronouncements on Islam, published on Friday a remarkable article in The New York Times on Geert Wilders. The article, “Totally Tolerant, Up To A Point,” was intended essentially to blacken the name of Geert Wilders, to present him — for likening the Qur’an to Mein Kampf — as, by contamination, a Nazi himself, and to present the attempt to censor him, by Dutch authorities as, therefore, a perfectly understandable, even laudable thing.

Here’s how Buruma does it. He starts with the word “hatred”:

“If it were not for his hatred of Islam, Geert Wilders would have remained a provincial Dutch parliamentarian of little note.”

Geert Wilders, you see, is not only a “hater” — the theme comes up again and again, without a single example being offered of a single bit of the Qur’an or Hadith that Geert Wilders might be said to “hate” — but he’s also a self-promoter, riding right into a life of fame, riches, and so on, on the back of his “hatred of Islam.”

One would not know from the article by Ian Buruma that Geert Wilders, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali before him, is under a permanent threat of death, that he has been forced to move about always with four or five bodyguards, that every few days he changes the place where he sleeps (sometimes on Dutch army bases), and that for the rest of his life he will endure living under a serious death threat, one that has been carried out on several people in the Netherlands, including Theo van Gogh (by Mohammed Bouyeri), and Pim Fortuyn (by an “animal-rights activist,” van der Graaf, who was manipulated by Muslims into killing Fortuyn).
Nor would one know that outside the Netherlands, anyone who dares to criticize Islam publicly, and uncompromisingly, has been subject to death threats. There is the case of Robert Redeker, a French university lecturer, now under permanent police guard. In Italy there is Magdi Allam, who not only has exposed Islam in the pages of Corriere della Sera and on television, but dared to convert to Christianity, and for both things he is under a Muslim death sentence, and must, like the permanently-imperiled Geert Wilders, travel around with bodyguards.

Yet here is Ian Buruma, from the safety of New York (and carefully-cultivated and finally-won tenure at Bard College), hinting that it is not he, but rather Geert Wilders, who is the pusillanimous one, the sammy-glick of Amsterdam, who is — so it would seem — merely using the issue of Islam to obtain fame, fortune, power, whatever it is that people are said to want. Really? Would Ian Buruma, would anyone except the bravest of the brave, wish to spend their lives as Geert Wilders now has to?

The word “Orwellian” is used, is overused, so that one is reluctant to use it. But what could be more “Orwellian” than describing Geert Wilders” willingness to put his life at risk, to endure permanent loneliness among bodyguards, only in order to bring to the attention of his fellow citizens the ineluctable menace of the texts, and tenets, of Islam, as Sammy Glick? In Buruma’s version, this noble act of self-sacrifice becomes the act of a sammy-glick (a personage about whom Ian Buruma knows a great deal), one who is “world famous, mainly for wanting the Koran to be banned in his country, “˜like Mein Kampf is banned,” and for making a crude short film that depicted Islam as a terrorist faith — or, as he puts it, “˜that sick ideology of Allah and Muhammad.”

But what about all the others? What about Robert Redeker, just the other day confronted by an angry Muslim who told him that he would not kill him, but other Muslims sooner or later would? What about Pim Fortuyn, now dead? Trying to be “world famous,” was he? What about Theo van Gogh, also dead? Another climber? What about the apostate, who grew up within Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Well, we already know what Ian Buruma thinks of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, because he has spelled out his views, and he has been responded to, answered — unanswerably, and at length — by Paul Berman in a thorough demolishing: “Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan,” in The New Republic, June 4, 2007.

For Ian Buruma, you see, has a Will To Believe. He has a Will To Believe that it just can’t be, that hundreds of millions of Muslims cannot really take seriously their own texts, cannot really be the threat to non-Muslims that is revealed by a study of those texts, and a study of the commentators (both Islamic and non-Islamic) who have explained the meaning given to those texts, and a study of Muslim behavior toward non-Muslims, in space from Spain to the East Indies, in time over 1350 years. And one suspects that, busy as he is, he has no intention of reading, re-reading, and thoroughly assimilating those texts (Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira), nor any intention of reading, and apparently no desire to read, the great Western students of Islam who wrote during the Golden Age of such scholarship (Schacht, Lammens, Jeffrey, Margoliouth, Bousquet, Vajda, Lal, Tisdale, Zwemer, Goldziher, or a hundred others). Nor has he read the historians of Islamic conquest and of non-Muslims under Islam (for example, there are no signs of his having read Bat Ye”or). And the very best of these scholars, along with Joseph Schacht, was a Dutchman, C. Snouck Hurgronje, of whom Ian Buruma has undoubtedly heard and whom he might read in the original, for not everything by Snouck Hurgronje has been translated.

Nor does anything that Ian Buruma has written appear to reflect a familiarity with the 1350-year history of Muslim conquest of non-Muslim lands, and the history of what happened to the many different non-Muslim peoples — Hindus, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Jews, and Christians — whose numbers so noticeably diminished under Islamic rule, and who, at best, could if they remained alive look forward to a permanent status of degradation, humiliation, and physical insecurity, as mandated by the Shari”a. Is it possible that the years go by, and by, and Ian Buruma insists on pontificating about Islam, and still, at this late date, simply refuses to read either the canonical texts of Islam, or the work of scholars, or the work of historians of Islamic conquest? Why? On what theory? Or, perhaps that is the wrong question. Perhaps the question is: out of what desire, to avoid having to come to grips with what possible unpleasant discoveries, that would make Ian Buruma much more uneasy, and uncertain of his desired pieties, and his ready indignations against the likes of Geert Wilders?

Buruma goes on and on and on, in his Op/Ed piece, about Wilder’s comparison, one tossed off some time ago, of the Qur’an to Mein Kampf. He talks about “hate” and “hatred.” And here is how he describes the current plight of Geert Wilders, the current attempt to censor him, and by extension, to extend censorship on behalf of Islam in the Netherlands and, no doubt, other countries in Western Europe “if they know what is good for them”:

Last year the Dutch government decided that such views, though coarse, were an acceptable contribution to political debate. Yet last week an Amsterdam court decided that Mr. Wilders should be prosecuted for “insulting” and “spreading hatred” against Muslims. Dutch criminal law can be invoked against anyone who “deliberately insults people on the grounds of their race, religion, beliefs or sexual orientation.”

And then Buruma immediately gets back to his constant theme — the one which relies on that statement, once made offhandedly (and, by the way, not repeated since) by Wilders, that the Qur’an should be banned: “[F]or a man who calls for a ban on the Koran to act as the champion of free speech is a bit rich.” And more in the same vein: “Comparing a book that billions hold sacred to Hitler’s murderous tract is more than an exercise in literary criticism; it suggests that those who believe in the Koran are like Nazis, and an all-out war against them would be justified.” That’s quite a leap, isn’t it? From an offhand remark, and indeed one that could not have been meant seriously, for two reasons — there can in the age of the Internet be no “banning” of any book, and second, Mein Kampf is not banned in the Netherlands, copies are not seized and destroyed. It should be obvious that the reason Buruma keeps harping on this remark is that he cannot bring himself to discuss, and mentions only once, and quite misleadingly, the real matter at hand.

And that matter is the 12-minute movie known as Fitna. He, Ian Buruma, never once mentions this movie by name. He mentions only, as if in passing, “a crude short film that depicted Islam as a terrorist faith.” The movie can be found on the Internet. It can be found at this website, for example. It’s not very long. Why not suggest to readers that they take a look at this 12-minute movie themselves, and see just how outrageous, and how hate-filled, it is? The reason is clear. Buruma does not want his readers to discover for themselves the movie Fitna. He doesn’t want them to realize that the movie does not consist of hate-filled rants against Islam and Muslims by Geert Wilders. No, what it consists of is hate-filled rants against non-Muslims, Infidels, by Muslims. It consists, save for a single pointed question at the end, entirely of passages from Islamic texts, shown on screen, and then shown being spoken our shouted by imams, and then the activities of Muslims around the world, following the spirit and in some cases the letter of those passages, are shown — all of it consists of what Muslims read and say and do, and none of it comes from Geert Wilders.

In fact, if the first part of Buruma’s monumentally misleading piece is all about that “Qur’an-banning” quasi-canard (because irrelevant to the reason — the movie Fitna — for which Wilders is to be prosecuted, and persecuted), the second part is all about how Wilders, you see, is a dubious character, because he’s a self-promoter who has become “world famous” on the backs of poor, inoffensive Muslims who have done nothing to deserve suspicion. On this point, one might consult the dead — Fortuyn and Van Gogh — or those who are still, thanks to armed guards, among the quick, such as Robert Redeker, and Magdi Allam, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or those who are in hiding, such as Wafa Sultan.

But Ian Buruma wants his readers not to bother their pretty little heads about any of this deeply disconcerting reality. He wants them, rather, to focus on two things. The first, as noted above, is the fact that once upon a time Geert Wilders said he thought the Qur’an should be banned. That was a remark suddenly subject to criticism, by the way, but not for the reasons Ian Buruma thinks. I think it should be criticized because anyone alarmed about Islam should encourage non-Muslims to read, and read with understanding, not only the Qur’an, but also to read, and familiarize himself, with hundreds of the most important Hadith, in the collections deemed most authoritative (those by Bukhari and Muslim), and then to also read the life of Muhammad, as presented by Muslims for Muslims, in order to come to a better understanding of Islam, in posse and, when the meaning of Islam is fully taken to heart, in esse. I am sure that if asked today if he would still advocate “banning the Qur’an” Geert Wilders would agree with the need for Infidels to familiarize themselves with the texts, and thus the tenets, of Islam. I am sure he would want it to be accessible to non-Muslims, and would be happy to supply the web links where translations of the Qur’an can be found, laid out synoptically, and also to provide still other links to websites where one can find the Hadith, and the Muslim biography of Muhammad, the Sira.

But I am even more certain that it is Ian Buruma who would prefer, who ardently desires, that as few readers of his Op/Ed piece as possible were actually to read the Qur’an (with understanding, aided by the guides of Western scholars), the Hadith, and Sira. And I am certain that he is even more eager to make sure that they never, in reading his piece, bother to find out, by looking at it themselves, what is in the movie Fitna. For it is the movie Fitna, and not a heated and transitory comment made long ago about comparing the Qur’an to Mein Kampf and suggesting it be banned, that is the matter at hand.

So why doesn’t Buruma describe that “short film”? Why doesn’t he tell us that it consists almost entirely of quotations from the Qur’an, which no one denies, and the use of those quotations in speeches by Muslim clerics, usually imams delivering their khutbas, and then consists of clips of Muslims behaving according to those texts, prompted by those texts? Why not at least be honest about the movie? Why not tell readers the sole line that is not delivered by Muslims, a line that is not a statement, but a question? Why not?

Ian Buruma wants desperately to believe that Muslims themselves do not really put much stock in the Literal Word of God that is the Qur’an. He wants to believe that they don’t really admire and wish to emulate Muhammad, so much so that when the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, virtually his first act was to reduce the marriageable age of girls to nine, because that was the age at which Muhammad married, and consummated his “marriage,” to little Aisha. Ian Buruma wishes to supply His Own Private Islam, one peopled, no doubt, by some of the seemingly (and perhaps unfeignedly) “moderate” Muslims he has met. He would prefer not to deal with the lapidary formula of the apostate Ibn Warraq, who was born into Islam, and who, after a lifetime of study of Islam, has sadly concluded that “there are moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate.” Ian Buruma doesn’t want to believe that, and doesn’t want you to learn enough so that you, too, might come to believe that. Because if you did, then all kinds of other realizations that possibly will spell trouble, or at least some exertion, and some imagination as well, will have to be required. And because Ian Buruma simply won’t or can’t allow himself to consider the need for such exertions, he”d rather deny the fact of a problem.

So it’s the mixture as before. Muslims, most of them, the “great majority” of them, don’t apparently, in Ian Buruma’s view, really take the texts or tenets of Islam to heart. So we can all relax. How does someone like Ian Buruma allow himself to deny so much evidence, including the opinion polls conducted among Muslims living in Western Europe?

Oh, there are people like Geert Wilders. They just want to be “world famous.” And they are “haters” hating Islam, and spewing it out whenever they can. And they have to be stopped if we are to encourage the “moderate” (a word that needs examination, and has been so examined here) Muslims to feel completely at home, and not to feel insulted, or abused. Surely, thinks Ian Buruma, the “vast majority” of Muslims must be capable of full integration into Western societies. And he forces himself to think that, because if it were not true, then the ian-burumas of this world, then Ian Buruma himself, would have to recognize a mortal threat to the legal and political institutions and social arrangements of the non-Muslims of Western Europe. Those non-Muslims consist not only of the indigenous non-Muslims, but also of non-Muslim immigrants — Hindus, Chinese, black African and Caribbean Christians — who would suffer equally from the islamization of Western Europe. Surely only a few do so, because if it were otherwise, this would pose a problem for the non-Muslims of Western Europe to which Ian Buruma can figure out no solution, or no way of diminishing the threat. And so rather than recognize it, he throws up his hands and declines to offer suggestions that he simply finds it impossible to contemplate (such as halting, and then reversing, Muslim immigration to the West, and halting all Saudi and other outside Arab and Muslim transfer of funds to pay for mosques, madrasas, campaigns of Dawa; such as conducting campaigns of counter-Da”wa, designed to immunize Infidels, especially in the targeted groups of the economically or psychically marginal).

Of course, Geert Wilders is not only a self-promoter, and a “hater of Islam” (we are not to examine Fitna ourselves, however, to determine the basis, or extent, of that “hate”) — no, he’s also a right-winger, and he’s an enemy of freedom. Geert Wilders, who lives with bodyguards because of death threats, who is now to be prosecuted for making a movie that consists of quotations from the Qur’an itself, in the texts, and repeated then by imams, and then are followed, in spirit and letter, by Muslims taking them to heart, is the one whose freedom of speech in the Western world is being curtailed. It is being curtailed just as attempts were made — unsuccessfully, thank god, to force the Danish government to punish, even to imprison — the Danish cartoonists who appeared in Jyllands-Posten. The threats were made, including threats to kill Danes wherever they might be found in Muslim countries, and there was a boycott of Danish products, and a whipping-up of a frenzy all over the Muslim world, a “fanatical frenzy” of the kind so well described by Winston Churchill when he famously described Islam in The River Wars.

Buruma tells us that the “Dutch legislator’s anti-Islam crusade is not about “˜free speech.– It’s about self-promotion (self-promotion that leads to permanent imprisonment within a coterie of bodyguards). It’s about hatred, and hatred, not of a specific set of beliefs, but of a “race.” But what race are those who read, and take seriously, Qur’an 9.29 and 9.5? What “race” includes John Walker Lindh, Siraj Wahhaj, Mahdi Bray, David Hicks, Richard Reid, Yvonne Ridley, Al-Qaradawi, Sheikh Al-Azhar Tantawi, and Yusuf Islam? But that’s not enough.

Geert Wilders and those like him, refer “obsessively,” so Ian Buruma tells us, to “the cultural elite.” Do they, now? Let’s hear all about the “obsessive” denunciation of a “cultural elite.” And what do they mean by this? They mean, Ian Buruma knows (but even if indeed some do use the term “cultural elite,” how does Ian Buruma know what they mean?), “liberals who are so concerned about Western racism that they find it hard to tolerate any criticism of non-Western people or non-Western faiths.” So apparently Geert Wilders is merely a “right-wing populist” who is “tapping into the fears” of those who have a generalized anxiety, an anxiety about a “bewildering world of global economics, multinational institutions and mass migration”? Oh, no doubt there are all kinds of anxieties, but Geert Wilders is not, as Ian Buruma would have you believe, some kind of incipient Hitler exploiting the pre-existing economic miseries, including mass unemployment, and revanchist resentments of Germans in the early 1930s, when he came to power.

Not at all. Like Pim Fortuyn, Geert Wilders is not against, and is supported by, a great many non-Muslim immigrants, who feel as threatened by Islam as the native Dutch. Similarly, the Sikhs and Hindus now living in Great Britain, and both black African and Pakistani Christians, are even more alarmed about the appeasement of Muslims than are most of the native, still-somnolent English people. In what sense is he a “right-winger”? Are Ibn Warraq and Wafa Sultan right-wingers? Why? Do you know their views on economics? What about Oriana Fallaci? As a teenager she helped her father fight against the Germans in Florence. She spent her life on the left. Her lover was a Greek leftist who suffered under the rule of the colonels. Her long experience traveling and reporting from the Arab and Muslim world (she interviewed Khaddafy, Arafat, and Khomeini) finally led her to some conclusions about Muslims, and about Islam. She expressed both her rage (against Muslims) and her pride in Italy in her La Rabbia e L”Orgoglio. Was she “right-wing” too? What about Magdi Allam? “Right-wing,” is he? And if all these who have grasped the nature of Islam, and its threat, through demographic conquest, to the political and legal institutions, and solicitousness for individual rights, of the advanced Western democracies within which so many Muslims have been allowed to settle, deep behind what Muslims themselves are taught to regard as enemy lines, try to spread the word to as many people as possible, is that illegitimate? Is that cause to call them not only “right-wing” but “right-wing populists”?

One last detail may be mentioned. Ian Buruma has never shown any sign that he has sat down and read the texts of Islam, read the scholars of Islam. One suspects that he has, however, learned some of what he thinks he knows about “moderate” Muslims from his friend Timothy Garton Ash. Ash made his name — became “world famous” — from his coverage of the Balkan wars, in which he, Ash, showed no sign of understanding the fears of the Serbs. That fear was based on their long history under the ferocious rule of Turkish Muslims. Ash showed no sign of understanding what Izetbegovic’s publicly-stated plan to reinstitute the Shari”a must have done to fill with fear a great many Serbs. He acquired his knowledge of Islam from a most unrepresentative episode, one in which atrocities were committed, in the main (or so at the time it was taken for granted) by Serbs against Muslims in Bosnia. And then Ash ended up at St. Antony”s College, Oxford, which possesses two branches: a perfectly legitimate enterprise devoted to the study of Eastern Europe and Russia, and a most illegitimate section devoted to Middle Eastern affairs, which for decades was run as a private fiefdom, and sometime diploma-mill for Arabs wanting a quick D.Phil., by the late Albert Hourani. And that place, and some of its denizens, helped to reinforce in Timothy Garton Ash his dreaminess about Islam.

But, in the end, even Ash came a cropper. For a year or two ago, he was in a public debate in London. He was defending Islam. At one point, so a spectator reported to me later, he — Ash — “lost it” and began to admit that yes, Muhammad was this and Muhammad was that, but so what, what were we to do with Muslims in our midst now? And then, apparently, after the debate, realizing his denunciations or rather admissions about Muhammad, made in a heated moment, had been captured on film, and further knowing that this might lead to death threats and possibly worse, Ash called up everyone who had been involved in sponsoring the evening, or who had possibly made tapes of that evening, to make sure that they were destroyed. In other words, Timothy Garton Ash showed, in his own behavior, that he knew that he could not, dare not, exercise free speech, and would have in this case to collaborate in his own post-factum censoring.

That speaks volumes, does it not? Did Timothy Garton Ash share his tale with Ian Buruma? I think he probably did. Perhaps Ian Buruma could enlighten us on this, as on so much more. He could, if he dared. But he won’t.

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