The two major parties of the Dutch government coalition, the Christian-Democrat CDA and the Liberal VVD, are quarrelling about the nature of the culture war waging in Europe.
The Liberal MP Hans van Baalen, the VVD’s parliamentary spokesman for Foreign Affairs, criticised Agnes Van Ardenne, the minister for Development Cooperation and a member of the CDA. Last Saturday, in the London based Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Mrs Van Ardenne wrote that the Danish cartoon affair is being abused by “fundamentalist secularists.”
The minister fears that the Danish cartoon case will trigger a backlash against religion in general. Mr van Baalen now demands to know from Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende and minister of Foreign Affairs Ben Bot – both CDA – whether they agree with Mrs Van Ardenne. The VVD spokesman wants her to “retract her words” in Asharq Al-Awsat. According to Mr van Baalen these words contradict earlier statements of both Mr Balkenende and Mr Bot which stressed that the Danish cartoon case is about freedom of expression, which they called “a fundamental principle which cannot be restricted.” Mrs Van Ardenne, however, writes:
“The exercise of one’s freedoms is not an end in itself. […] Freedom of expression does not relieve us of the responsibility to immerse ourselves in the various cultures and religions of our globalising world.
The problem is that many people who are making the most commotion about freedom of expression are not prepared for this responsibility. All too often, the façade of tolerance masks indifference or even hostility towards other cultures and religions. It is not always said aloud, but religion is sometimes seen as a relic of backward times and places, and inherently dangerous besides. This attitude of fundamentalist secularists is not only regrettable, it is itself inherently dangerous.”
According to Mrs Van Ardenne the current crisis is
“not a clash of civilisations, but rather a manifestation of the clash between the secular and non-secular worlds. If we look beyond the cartoon controversy for a moment, we can see that these days the secular tendency to ignore or even denigrate religion is leading to alienation instead of reconciliation.”
In an official speech, which she gave last September at an international conference entitled “Religion: A Source for Human Rights and Development Cooperation,” Mrs Van Ardenne had warned:
“It seems to me, that the tolerance for religious expressions in the public domain is going down by the day. I see a risk that the […] fury may return, with radical secularists trying to strip any sign of religion from the public domain. This may sound unlikely, but a new string of Islamist terror attacks could easily trigger a backlash against religion in general.”
In this English-language speech the minister had not specified who these “radical secularists” were. However, she was very explicit in the Dutch-language version of the same text, where she referred to four people in particular: Leon de Winter, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Herman Philipse and Afshin Ellian.
Leon de Winter is a Dutch filmmaker and novelist, who edits an English-language blog “The Free West” warning against the islamization of Europe. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a well-known Somali-born VVD politician who co-authored this week’s international manifesto against Islamism. Herman Philipse is a Dutch professor of Philosophy who gained national notoriety in the Netherlands with his “Atheist Manifesto.” Afshin Ellian is an Iran-born Law professor, who is a sharp critic of Islamic extremism.
The hodgepodge list of Mrs Van Ardenne’s four “radical secularists” indicates that her analysis, though partly right, is partly flawed as well. In an appeasing fashion she denies that there is a clash of civilisations going on between the West and the Islamic world on the one hand, and stresses the clash between the secular and the non-secular world on the other hand. In reality (as was pointed out in an earlier article on The Brussels Journal about the call for an EU “clampdown on homophobia”) a three-way culture war is raging in Europe between secularists, Christians and Muslims. On some issues Christians and secularists team up against Muslims, on others issue secularists fight Christians and Muslims alike.
There are two circumstances under which a culture war becomes highly problematic, namely when certain parties, such as the radical Islamists, do not shun violence in order to impose their views, or when certain parties abuse the power of the state to impose their views on others. The latter is what is happening in the EU, where radical secularists are restricting the freedom of speech, and even the right to conscientious objection of religious people because, as Mrs Van Ardenne correctly points out, they regard religion as a dangerous relic of an “un-enlightened” past.
If one is to maintain a peaceful, tolerant multicultural society, two prerequisites must be met. First, no matter which of the three sides (secular, Christian or Muslim) one belongs to, violent extremists must be fought, also by people from their own side. This means that moderate Muslims must oppose the Jihadist Islamists as vigorously as Christians and secularists do, and that non-Muslims must support the moderate Muslims against the extremists. Second, it is essential that freedom of expression and the right to conscientious objection is guaranteed for everyone, no matter how “un-enlightened,” “backward,” “offensive” or “downright stupid” they may be. Here Mrs Van Ardenne is wrong and her critics are right: this is, indeed, a matter of principle. But the same principle implies that people who do not wish to be confronted with certain expressions are not pestered with them, let alone forced to pay for them.
What can one do, however, when one is confronted with a culture that condones the use of violence and to which freedom of expression is an alien concept? Even the members of a multicultural society need to share some common cultural values. If they do not, the culture war will become a real war. Perhaps that is what lies in store for Europe. Yet even if it does not, one wonders whether Europe will be able to survive the onslaught of Eurabia. I believe that Europe’s fate will be decided by demographics. The culture war will be won by religious people for the simple reason that they are more inclined to procreate than non-religious people. This has been my belief for a long time, and Mark Steyn has put it succinctly: “It is the demography, stupid.”
Given that Europe in its current secularised state is hardly Christian anymore (apart from some “unenlightened” vestiges in the East, such as Poland, the Baltics and Slovakia, which the EU is eager to destroy), the Muslims are bound to win. The only hope for the secularists is that they may succeed in rapidly secularising Europe’s Muslims. There are indications, however, that the confrontation with secularism is exactly what is driving angry Muslim youths to Jihadism. Moreover, as Mrs Van Ardenne’s words indicate, one cannot expect Christians to participate in a secularisation project. Europe is a divided house and, as the Bible says, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Matthew 12:25)
Christian Europe has withstood Islam at Poitiers (732), at Lepanto (1571), at Vienna (1683). We will soon find out whether secular Europe will be able to accomplish the same feat.