Sunday, November 13, 2005


A brave respons from Holland

Afshin Ellian: an Iranian dissident offers a brave response from Holland to the murder of Theo van Gogh
Posted by Benjamin Bilski, November 12, 2005

A selection of Afshin Ellian's writings in the Dutch press on the murder in the Netherlands of Theo van Gogh - and its aftermath - are translated, by Benjamin Bilski, below. Bilski also outlines the life story of Afshin Ellian and puts Ellian's writings in the context of events in the Netherlands. The views expressed in the translated articles are those of Afshin Ellian, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director. The Social Affairs Unit offers them in translation to help an English-speaking audience better understand the current situation in the Netherlands.

Afshin Ellian was born in 1966 in Tehran, Iran, to an intellectual, liberal and politically engaged family. When he was young, he joined a left wing movement that initially fought side by side with Islamists resisting the rule of the Shah; and after the Islamic revolution, he turned against the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. At the age of seventeen in 1983, after he had been threatened with execution by the regime, he fled on camelback to Pakistan with help from smugglers. After a few months, he moved to Afghanistan, studied medicine in Kabul for two years and met his wife there.

In 1989, when the Afghani authorities had agreed to turn over dissident intellectuals to Iran, Ellian and approximately seventy other intellectuals were chartered to European countries on an invitation that was mediated by a United Nations representative. Ellian arrived in the Netherlands and he was granted the option to study at the University of Tilburg as a refugee. He graduated in Criminal Law, International Public Law and Philosophy. He continued working at the Amsterdam Center for International Law (ACIL) and completed his PhD in 2002, after which he joined the faculty of Law in the University of Leiden, where he teaches to this day.
Ellian's works include: two books of poetry, Human Autumn and Resurrection of Words written in Dutch and Farsi; a Ph.D. Dissertation on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and Letters from a Press, a book of his collected columns that was published in the Netherlands in 2005. Ellian is currently working on Dialogue with Mohammed, which will be a literary and philosophic account of the foundations of Islam.

What follows are Afshin Ellian's journalistic responses to the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh over the past year, from the immediate aftermath to his commentary on the trial, and closes with two anniversary articles in which he describes the shortcomings in the responses and soul-searching of both the political and journalistic climates. I offer a short introduction placing each article in its proper context.

A call to all intellectuals: "Make Jokes about Islam!"
("Maak grappen over Islam!")

Volkskrant, 6th November 2004

The author and film director Theo van Gogh had made a film about Muslim women's rights called Submission Part 1 together with member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali. He was murdered on 2nd November by a Moroccan-Dutch Islamist Mohammed Bouyeri, who is referred to in the Dutch media as "Mohammed B." and recently received a life sentence. A few days after the murder, Afshin Ellian called upon all intellectuals and lawmakers to discuss Islam more openly, arguing that genuine tolerance has its origins in the possibility to criticize religion.

The first poet whom Mohammed A. (ibn Abdollah) had declared the enemy of Islam was called K'ab ibn al-Ashraf. The prophet gave the order to murder the poet with a knife. (…)
The prophet Mohammed A. was an example to Mohammed B, who slaughtered Theo van Gogh as the enemy of Islam. Welcome to the Middle East. But aren't we in Europe? The artistic, philosophic and judicial critique of religion is an essential aspect of European culture. (…) Yet here there seems to be a kind of self-censorship when it comes to Islam. (…) Dutch Muslims have learnt that no one is permitted to express critical thoughts about their religion. For this reason Islam is being strongly discriminated against. Dutch culture treats Islam as forbidden territory for critical inquiry, and in this respect, the Netherlands resembles the backward cultures of the Middle East. (…)

Hereby I call upon all artists, writers and academics to stop discriminating against Islam. When on television and in hundreds of theatres jokes are being made about Islam, and when academics will start treating Islam more critically, then Muslims will learn tolerance. The terrorists can intimidate and eliminate a handful of critics of Islam, but they can never kill hundreds of critical minds.

Come on friends, and enter the brothels and torture chambers of Mohammed A. and Allah, you will find great inspiration there. Come on, fellow academics, put Islam on the operating table of philosophy. Otherwise it will remain a question of how many murders our society can deal with.

Koranic Verses are a Mental Drug for Jihadists
["Koranverzen zijn een geestelijke drug voor jihadisten"]

NRC Handelsbad, 13th November 2004

Below are excerpts from an article for the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad in the week following the murder of Theo van Gogh. Arguing against Dutch pundits who rushed into the public debate denying a relationship between the murder and "true" Islam, Ellian points out that violence has been a part of Islam since its formative period.

It is a cold November and on a bicycle path a dead body, without remorse, is being inscribed with much love for death. Deeply from within the bicycle path, words were called out:
Don't do it, don't do it, mercy, mercy.(…) The scribe had already been prepared for the begging of mercy: There will be no mercy for the committers of injustice, only the sword will be raised against them. No discussion, no demonstrations, no marches, no petitions, only death shall separate Truth from the Lie.

Month long preparations, trainings, through prayer, fasting and the permanent recitation of the Koran, started to bear fruit: (…) The scribe was in a trance, he didn't hear anything, he didn't see, he only felt the sacrificial flesh. (…) The scribe was Mohammed, Mohammed was an instrument. The Submission to the highest will had been accomplished. (…) While reciting, Mohammed prepared himself for his journey to the gardens of Truth, where according to Allah, there are companions with large telling eyes that are like well-kept pearls. These companions are Allah's houris who have been made to eternal virgins. Mohammed had become weary of the impure hookers of Amsterdam, which is why he wanted to move on to Allah's houris. (…)

The Islamic ecstasy is not a phenomenon that was invented after the death of Mohammed. It started with the Koran. The way in which the Koran is read is called recitation. The irrational force of the Koran lies in recitation. In the repetition, without paying attention to the meaning, the Koran becomes a supernatural book. The Koranic verses are exceptionally suited to be recited loudly and musically on Jihadist battlefields. It promoted morale, because contrary to ordinary Arabic poetry, the Koranic verses are not without engagement. The Koranic verses claim an immediate realisation. And because a successful Jihad will lead to immediate material gain and political domination, the Koranic verses take on the function of mental drugs. With the Koranic verses Mohammed gave his Jihadists an effective drug that could briefly knock out the realities of the surrounding world. (…)

During the various wars, many Koran reciters were killed, and this worried a Caliph, who therefore ordered the Koran to be assembled. The Koran became a book, but it is still a book for recitation. (…) Amongst other things, the Koran is a book for the Jihad. Allah's only book is born from a will to political domination in the midst of wars and marauding. Hallucination, courage, hope and cruelty characterise a book that places political domination first, not just over a specific people, but over all peoples. This Koranic hallucination is usually very successful in combination with other factors. This way thousands of young men were prepared for martyrdom during the Iran-Iraq war with religious elegies and Koranic verses. (…)

Has Mohammed B, the Jihadist marauder, murdered merely in a condition of Koranic hallucination, in hope of fulfilling his fantasies with the eternal houri Does his crime have any roots in the tradition of Islam? Or is it far removed from the original Islamic tradition? If we are speaking here about tradition, then we have to examine the actions of the prophet Mohammed.

The prophet Mohammed ibn Abdollah, whose name we will shorten according to the legal tradition to Mohammed A, had, to put it at its mildest, a very critical relationship with poets and mockers. There was once a poet called K'ab ibn Al-Ahraf. This poet lived in Medina where Mohammed A. had not yet consolidated all power, which is why he was neither capable nor qualified to kill him legally. This poet was also, like all other poets in the world, very cheeky. He wrote poetry about the Meccans who were killed by Mohammed A. during the Jihad. On one day Mohammed A. asked his friends: who will release me of Ka'b? This request was accepted by several volunteers:

O prophet, we will kill him for you.

They tempted him to come outside and after a short walk they killed him as an enemy of Islam. He was murdered with a knife. According to Ibn Ishaak the terrorists had driven the knife so deeply into the body of the poet that it protruded from his backside. Mohammed A. committed many terrorist attacks on the enemies of Islam. Many thinkers and artists in Persia and in other Islamic countries were killed in more or less the same way, in the past 1500 years, on the basis of fatwas issued by spiritual leaders. (…)

Mohammed B. has acted in agreement with this authentic tradition. The prophet Mohammed A. can be considered an example to Mohammed B, who slaughtered Theo van Gogh as the enemy of Allah. Thankfully there is still a great majority of Muslims that does not or barely lives in this tradition and does not want to imitate all aspects of Mohammed's life. This majority is still trapped in fear of hell and damnation, and because of this, not quite capable of saying "no" to terror and tyranny.

The revival of the traditional authentic Islam is always coupled with brutal acts of violence. (…) History teaches us that terror and Islamic culture are deeply related to each other. The fact that Islamic kings and caliphs are frequently killed, is also not new: the prophet Mohammed had fled from Mecca to Yathrib because a terror attack had been plotted against him; Umar, the second holy Caliph was killed by a frustrated Persian; Osthman, the third holy Caliph, is subsequently killed by a rival political group; Ali, the fourth Caliph, yet again, is killed by a more radical political sect during prayers in a mosque. Islam thus starts with terrorist attacks against its opponents. (…)

On the eve of legal proceedings

When Mohammed B was held in custody awaiting legal proceedings, Ellian participated in the debates about the implications of dealing with extremists or terrorists. While the Openbaar Ministerie –the Dutch Department of Public Prosecution, wants to examine Mohammed Bouyeri’s accountability and sanity, Ellian argued that he acted out of a conviction that does not accept rule of law, and is completely accountable.

Below are excerpted citations from an article in the Dutch daily Volkskrant.
[Samenleving moet extremisten serieus nemen]
De Volkskrant, 6th January 2005

It is a routine in the Dutch criminal law system [to subject suspects to psychological accountability]. But Mohammed B is no Volkert van der G [who killed the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn], who decided to play God in his attic room and decided to remove the danger of Pim Fortuyn singlehandedly. He is a part of an international jihad. He was convinced he was acting out of Allah's instruction.

Whether Mohammed B. cooperates or not is of no importance. Dutch criminal law operates out of prevention, retribution and resocialisation. It is absurd to think that people who want to overthrow the Western legal order and rule of law can be resocialised.

Be precise and No time for nonsense
(Wees Precies)

NRC Handelsblad, 19th February 2005
Geen tijd voor goedkoop geklets
NRC Handelsblad, 6th February 2005

In two columns further discussing legal implications, Ellian argues that terrorism cannot be understood in the frame of reference of Dutch or European history, and discusses the measures democracies need to take to protect themselves. Below are excerpts of both articles.
The mass terrorism that is trying to cause as many human casualties as possible should not be confused with the left-wing terrorism of the seventies. We should not try to explain why in the Netherlands Mohammed B is a mass-terrorist (if he had the chance, he would have killed many and not only van Gogh), but to see him as a product of a culture of human rights violations. After all, whoever is looking for the spiritual origins of Mohammed B will land in the Afghanistan of the Taliban or the Iran of the Ayatollahs.

Now that the jihadist mass-terrorism has moved to the West, governments have the duty to protect the democratic rule of law. (…)

Consider the following proposed law:
He who abuses freedom of expression, specifically freedom of press, freedom of education, freedom of gathering, privacy of correspondence, freedom to property, and rights to asylum, against the free democratic legal order, will lose the said basic rights.(…)In reality this is not a Dutch proposed law, but a clause from the German constitution: article 18. This rule is applied against any type of attempt to overthrow the democratic legal order, whether it is by the extreme left, the extreme right, or Muslims. It has to do with the experiences of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era. And it is, according to the Bundesverfassungsgericht, an expression of streitbaren Demokratie und Selbsverteidigung [self-defense of democracy]. In any case this is not a means of state-tyranny but precisely the means of the self-defense mechanism of the German post-war democracy.

Towards a New Enlightenment

On an optimistic note, Ellian believes that the contradictions between Islamic law and Western constitutional laws can be resolved. Below are excerpts from an interview with the German daily Die Welt that took place in the week after the murder of van Gogh.
[Freiheit nuetzt mir nichts, wenn ich nicht sicher bin, Die Welt, 10th November 2004]

Die Welt: After the murder of Theo van Gogh the state of security in the Netherlands has been problematic. (…) Why are you in danger?
Afshin Ellian: Because I have said that we need to joke about Islam. We need to talk more about Islam. We have criticised Christianity and joked about it. Islam is in a position to develop itself just like Christianity, when it's capaple, to stand criticism. Up until now only very few talk about Islam, but hundreds need to take up the theme.

Die Welt: Why is Islam discussed so little?
Ellian: That's because of the exaggerated political correctness that has dominated the Netherlands since the 80s. They think that every political debate about minorities immediately implies fascism. For some time they have been speaking in the Netherlands about integration, by which they do not mean assimilation, but knowledge of the language. The new citizens ought to accept that the state of our development and our constitution are the holiest things we have.

Die Welt: Is it fair to call it "holy"?
Ellian: Of course I meant that provocatively. All rules about living together are defined in the constitution. If it states in the Koran that you may beat your wife, then you are violating a clause of the constitution. This is something Muslims must accept.

Die Welt: Why do Muslims cause so many problems?
Ellian: It's very simple. We have a large Chinese minority, but the Chinese barely make any claims to state-support. Most Muslims receive money from the state. This is the beginning of discontent. Lately we have brought these problems upon ourselves. We have brought in Moroccans to work, and we should have made clear to them that they either return or give up their native land. A real rapprochement will probably come only when Europe and the Islamic world seal a friendship. And that will happen only when Islam has gone through an Enlightenment.

Allah knows best
[Allah weet het beter]

NRC Handelsblad, 23rd July 2005

Below are excerpts of a recent column following the trial of Mohammed Bouyeri, in which Ellian praised the justice system and emphasized that Bouyeri's behavior could not be explained away. The title of this column also refers to a book by Theo van Gogh.

Well, Mohammed B. has made the Islam-lovers, Hamas-lovers, foreigner-lovers, "anti-racists", "anti-fascists", all blush. He didn't act because he was discriminated against, not because he was unemployed, and not because he considered Theo a terrible man. He acted according to the rules and tradition of political Islam. . [An] observer of the op-ed page of this newspaper, was deeply disappointed in Mohammed B. [He] had hoped (…) that the murderer of Theo van Gogh was moved to act out of discrimination, racism, or after reading the texts of Ellian or Hirsi Ali.
Has Mohammed B. won? No. Because most Muslims are still revolted by him and his friends. But they are still insufficiently active in the battle against terrorism. The Muslim communities could provide valuable information about terrorists.

Which measure of punishment? Mohammed B. will receive a life-sentence and be stored away forever in a high-security facility. This is also inevitable, given the nature and the scope of the committed offences. In this way the rule of law has issued a stark warning to Islamic terrorists. It has to be admitted that guarding Mohammed B. will be a very difficult task. Mohammed will not want to sit still, he wants to wage jihad, to kill and be killed.
Islam as the source of inspiration for political Islam must, just like Christianity, be placed on the operating table of philosophy. (…) In the footsteps of Feuerbach, Nietzsche and Freud, Islam will also be dissected.

A Battle between freedom and the mercantile spirit
[Strijd tussen handelsgeest en vrijheid]

De Journalist, 21st October 2005

In a recent article written for the biweekly magazine De Journalist, Ellian outlines the dynamics and behaviour of the media surrounding the murder.

The Netherlands has a peculiar self-image: innocence. The Netherlands did not lose her innocence on November 2nd 2004, but on 6th of May 2002. On that day Volkert van der G., in name of the weak, shot Pim Fortuyn. And on November 2nd the Netherlands was harshly awoken by extreme violence, by terror in name of the divine. The legitimacy of which lies in the political theology of Islam. In any case it is clear that both Muslims as well as non-Muslims were very worried in the November days of 2004 about the future of their country and to the acute threat to social cohesion and the rule of law. Mindful of the seriousness and cruelty of the terrorist act we can say now that the negative consequences of the murder of Theo van Gogh were very limited. Not a single noteworthy incident against Moroccans has been observed in Amsterdam. There had been a few cases of arson by youths in other parts of the country, but these crimes had led to a collective solidarity such as thousands of citizens of Uden, who had formed a human wall as a symbol of solidarity with the children of the burnt elementary school. Has this also been emphasized by our media?

I had followed the written and non-written press rather closely in this time. With exceptions, journalists generally presented a truthful, complete and thorough account of the events. No one acted out of fear, except those who wished to prove that the Dutch were at core a racist people. To my regret the talk show Buitenhof succeeded in presenting the Netherlands as a racist country. For this they acquired help from Belgium. This way the Belgian writer Tom Lanoye had to make clear to us that we are a depraved people. Or did we have to become convinced, with the subtle input of Filip Dewinter, that we're not so far off from Vlaams Blok [A Flemish extreme-right party]? These kinds of shows had little interest in the murder of Theo van Gogh, let alone the theological legitimacy thereof. Even the fact that the film Submission, could not be broadcast anymore was not a worrisome development. This type of journalism misses the multiform approach and possesses a nonnegotiable point of view about the course of history. These journalists know exactly where journalism is headed. And what does not correspond to that view, must not be discussed. For this reason there cannot be conversations about the deeply held religious motives of Islamic terrorism.

And freedom? Ah, according to them Theo van Gogh should never have made that film. He had it coming.
It gets worse. [Justice Minister] Donner after all announced broader and more active applications of the blasphemy laws from the Statute of Criminal Law. By this the impression was made that Theo van Gogh went too far. And to prevent murders in the future, freedom of speech has to be limited to the benefit of the ultra-religious. While fierce debates are being held about this in parliament, there weren't all too many critical sounds emanating from the media. Out of discontent with this anti-freedom climate [I filed a complaint with the court registry] with the writer Leon de Winter against God/Allah. We discovered that only Trouw was willing to publish our suit. In this way, I learnt in those difficult days that a paper with quite a number of religious readers is more willing to stand up for freedom than all those other, atheist, left-wing, secular, liberal, enlightened papers. And radio and TV had absolutely no desire to discuss this.

Moreover, we were right: Mohammed B. acted in agreement with Allah.
And this way it went with the disappearance of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Dutch journalism was not concerned that a parliamentarian has disappeared and that no one could, in any way, reach her. Until the undersigned with Leon de Winter took upon themselves the unpleasant task to ask several probing questions about the disappearance of a parliamentarian. After this the Volkskrant, NRC Handelsblad, Nova and Twee Vandaag started to show interest for this unprecedented parliamentary affair. Why did everyone have such sedated reactions? Why did most columnists rage against Ayaan Hirsi Ali and other critical minds? These critics and not the murderer, with his political-religious background, were questioned mercilessly by most columnists. Suddenly a perverse procedure set in motion: the Netherlands as a racist country, with the critics as the source of all misery. Behold here how the Dutch journalistic elite lets a quiet mercantile climate prevail above freedom and democracy. (…)

After November 2nd no hordes of Nazis appeared in the media. The basements did open for the false saints and the Islamo-fascists who have thus far murdered thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims.

And Submission? I consider it really disgraceful that in the Netherlands in the year 2005 not a single producer dares to show the short film to the public. This too, we consider normal by now. Why are we actually fighting for freedom of speech of artists and journalists in tyrannised countries such as Iran? (…)

Perhaps we should establish an international committee for this film, that will take over the management of the film and will make it available to everyone who wants to show it. This film is essentially a forbidden film now. A democratic society cannot function without courage from its citizens. Let us therefore show courage and lift the ban on Submission. Does anyone have the courage to broadcast it on November 2nd?

Benjamin Bilski is a Fellow in the Department of Jurisprudence in the Law Faculty of the University of Leiden.

Source: Social Affairs Unit

Thank you for this post.
I always read your collumn in the NRC and enjoy it
A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.
Stewart Alsop- Posters.

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