One of the headlines that impressed me the most in the run-up to the U.S. election contained a numerical riddle that conveyed a deep meaning. It read: “9/10 or 9/12 on 1½?”
In this case, 1½ stood for the election date. The most memorable date in recent American history was 9/11. Although most nations put the day before the month, as in 11/9, 9/11 has become a familiar term around the globe. Saying “9/10 or 9/12” emphasized the choice that Americans faced in the eyes of the person who wrote the line: “Do you want to vote for the party of Sept. 10th (the Democrats) or the party of Sept. 12th (the Republicans)?”
The implication of the headline is that the Republicans are the party that is facing up to the challenges of the post-9/11 world while the Democrats choose to live in the past, still fighting the pre-9/11 issues.
The election result suggests that a majority of Americans agree with that author, although likely few people saw that particular headline, which appeared on an obscure Web site.
It’s not just in America that some prefer to hold on to Sept. 10, refusing to recognize that the world has changed. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was interviewed by Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press on Nov. 14 during his visit to Washington, the first by any foreign leader following President Bush’s reelection victory.
Mr. Blair explained that there are two kinds of people in the United Kingdom. On the one hand are those who liken the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to previous terrorist attacks by the IRA or the German Baader-Meinhoff gang. On the other hand are those who realize, like the prime minister himself, that 9/11 was something entirely different, that the world has entered a new and more dangerous phase. Certainly, in this respect, the prime minister and the American president are in full agreement.
The recently reelected Australian prime minister, John Howard, also shares this thinking. His opponent, Labor leader Mark Latham, saw things differently, stating that the reason Australians had been attacked by terrorists in recent years was because Australia supported the United States.
Tony Blair in his interview said that yes, the United Kingdom could probably avoid more terrorism if it did not support the United States, but that didn’t alter the fact that eventually the new threat that now confronts the world would threaten all civilized nations.
This threat became much clearer on Nov. 2, and not just because it was the date of the American election.
Nov. 2—a threat to freedom of speech
Before the voting booths opened in the United States, a particularly gruesome and chilling murder took place on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, one that bodes ill for us all.
It was the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, gunned down as he cycled in Amsterdam that Tuesday morning. He was murdered by a young Islamic radical with dual Moroccan and Dutch citizenship. The man approached Van Gogh from behind, emptying a pistol into him at point-blank range. Ignoring his pleas for mercy, his killer then ritually slit his throat so forcefully he almost decapitated him.
A long letter was affixed to the body, a message of grievance against Dutch society in general and, specifically, against the Jewish mayor of Amsterdam and a female politician who was formerly Muslim. The letter included the words, “I know definitely that you, O America, will go down.”
What was Van Gogh’s crime against Islam? He had made a film called Submission, which highlighted physical, emotional and spiritual abuse of Islamic women by their husbands. Ironically, the project he was working on at the time of his death was a documentary on Pym Fortuyn, a Dutch politician murdered in 2002 for speaking out against Islamic fundamentalism. Mr. Fortuyn’s murder was the first assassination in the Netherlands in over 400 years.
The Netherlands has been one of the most tolerant countries in the world. As in all free societies, it has permitted people religious freedom and the freedom to criticize people of other religions.
This second assassination (murder for political reasons) in a little over two years has shocked the country. The rest of the world should also take note. It is striking how Western liberals, who dominate the artistic communities, have remained silent following these murders that seriously threaten freedom of speech, while screaming out about supposed threats to their freedom of expression from the reelected administration in Washington.
“Fortuyn gave voice to concerns about the rising conflict between the Netherlands’ culture of freedom—including gay marriage, regulated prostitution and drug use, and euthanasia—and the rising political demands of Islamic groups seeking to impose their own norms. With approximately a million Muslims in the Netherlands, these questions are not merely hypothetical” (James Strock, “Dutch Killing Shows Real Threat to Us,” Lansing State Journal, Nov. 14, 2004). (Mr. Strock is a senior fellow at San Francisco’s Pacific Research Institute.)
Failure to integrate
Why the change after 400 years of freedom of expression? One reason is changing demographics. Since World War II, the Netherlands, like other nations in Western Europe, has undergone profound changes as a result of unprecedented massive immigration from third world countries. Whereas at the end of World War II there were few, if any, Muslims in the Netherlands, today there are 1 million out of a total population of about 16 million.
As Pym Fortuyn realized, there is a fundamental conflict between liberal secular Western values and Islam, which is a very conservative and traditionalist religion. Undoubtedly, this is a major reason why Islamic nations do not permit immigration from the West—they do not want what they see as decadent Western ideas seeping into their countries.
However, Western liberals think differently; their conviction is that all people are basically the same. “Most people are basically good; wars are caused not by evil motives but by misunderstandings that can be talked out; conflict can be overcome by more tolerance and examining of our own faults or by taking disputes to the United Nations”(John Leo, “Democrats and Terror,” U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 1, 2004).
It wasn’t just America that was divided on Nov. 2. All Western nations are divided similarly between those whose thinking has not changed since Sept. 11 and those whose thinking has changed. Reaction to the murder of Theo van Gogh highlighted this division as much as the U.S. election did.
In the Netherlands itself, mosques and Islamic schools were attacked in the aftermath of the murder and funeral. Muslims responded in similar fashion.
In an editorial titled “Upholding Tolerance,” the American edition of the British-based Financial Times commented on the situation in the Netherlands: “The fact that the film-maker was murdered by a second generation, Dutch speaking immigrant shows that… assimilation is no guarantee of real integration” (Nov. 12, 2004).
That sentence should disturb people throughout the Western world, where there are many second-generation Muslim immigrants who may harbor similar hatred toward the West, as that shown by the murderers (it turned out that others were involved) of Van Gogh.
What is surprising, though, is the next paragraph from the same editorial. Instead of questioning whether peoples of a totally different religion and culture can ever be fully assimilated and integrated into Western society, the paper states: “The right approach for the Dutch authorities is not to abandon their tradition of tolerance, but to try to make the vast majority of their Muslim co-citizens feel more at home…”
A couple of columns over, on the same page, was a letter from a native of the Netherlands living in London, who wrote, “Mr. van Gogh’s murder is chilling evidence that Islamic fundamentalism and Dutch tolerance, including the right to criticize other religions, simply cannot co-exist.” The solution? The writer adds: “Consequently, in order to maintain Dutch traditional values, we must redouble our efforts towards more active civil integration of our Muslim compatriots.”
In other words, integration hasn’t worked, so the solution is more integration! Go figure!
Some governments have even reacted to the growing threat to religious freedom by taking away some of that freedom themselves, making it illegal to say anything negative about Islam, thereby giving a special protected status to one religion over others.
I am reminded of an observation the French philosopher Voltaire made over two centuries ago. In his Philosophical Letters, he wrote, “If there were only one religion in England, we should have to fear despotism; if there were two, they would cut each other’s throats; but there are thirty, and they live in peace and happiness.” The same could have been written of the American colonies at the time.
The lesson here is that the United States and Britain, along with some other Western nations like the Netherlands, have a history of religious tolerance that goes back two or three centuries. It slowly evolved as a direct consequence of the Protestant Reformation and the religious conflicts that followed in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Exhausted by religious wars, most of the Protestant nations of Western Europe eventually learned to live and let live, to tolerate other denominations so that they themselves could have the freedom to worship. Many were influenced by the words of Jesus Christ, who told His followers that they should love their enemies (Matthew 5:44 Matthew 5:44But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
American King James Version×) and practice forgiveness (Luke 23:34 Luke 23:34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
American King James Version×). These are not concepts taught in all religions.
Other parts of the world did not share in this gradual historical process and have not learned the same tolerance. By definition, intolerance is not compatible with tolerance.
The Bible also poses the question: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3 Amos 3:3Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
American King James Version×). Protestant churches have their differences but share a great deal in common. There are far greater differences between the West today and Islam.
For this reason, there will be more deaths like Theo van Gogh’s and Pym Fortuyn’s—and freedom of expression, including freedom of religion, will surely die with them. WNP