A Year of Living Dangerously
Remember Theo van Gogh, and shudder for the future.
BY Francis FUKUYAMA
Wednesday, November 2, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST
One year ago today, the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh had his throat ritually slit by Mohamed Bouyeri, a Muslim born in Holland who spoke fluent Dutch. This event has totally transformed Dutch politics, leading to stepped-up police controls that have now virtually shut off new immigration there. Together with the July 7 bombings in London (also perpetrated by second generation Muslims who were British citizens), this event should also change dramatically our view of the nature of the threat from radical Islamism.
We have tended to see jihadist terrorism as something produced in dysfunctional parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Middle East, and exported to Western countries. Protecting ourselves is a matter either of walling ourselves off, or, for the Bush administration, going “over there” and trying to fix the problem at its source by promoting democracy.
There is good reason for thinking, however, that a critical source of contemporary radical Islamism lies not in the Middle East, but in Western Europe. In addition to Bouyeri and the London bombers, the March 11 Madrid bombers and ringleaders of the September 11 attacks such as Mohamed Atta were radicalized in Europe. In the Netherlands, where upwards of 6% of the population is Muslim, there is plenty of radicalism despite the fact that Holland is both modern and democratic. And there exists no option for walling the Netherlands off from this problem.
We profoundly misunderstand contemporary Islamist ideology when we see it as an assertion of traditional Muslim values or culture. In a traditional Muslim country, your religious identity is not a matter of choice; you receive it, along with your social status, customs and habits, even your future marriage partner, from your social environment. In such a society there is no confusion as to who you are, since your identity is given to you and sanctioned by all of the society’s institutions, from the family to the mosque to the state.
The same is not true for a Muslim who lives as an immigrant in a suburb of Amsterdam or Paris. All of a sudden, your identity is up for grabs; you have seemingly infinite choices in deciding how far you want to try to integrate into the surrounding, non-Muslim society. In his book “Globalized Islam” (2004), the French scholar Olivier Roy argues persuasively that contemporary radicalism is precisely the product of the “deterritorialization” of Islam, which strips Muslim identity of all of the social supports it receives in a traditional Muslim society.
The identity problem is particularly severe for second- and third-generation children of immigrants. They grow up outside the traditional culture of their parents, but unlike most newcomers to the United States, few feel truly accepted by the surrounding society.