Notes on a Debate on Islam and Europe in Amsterdam

Fred Halliday in openDemocracy:

I begin with two obvious, but heartfelt, observations. First, the issues being discussed in this De Balie debate, and more generally in Dutch public life over recent years, are of much broader import and context: the questions of immigration, secularism, multiculturalism, gender that the Dutch are talking about are also being debated in all other major countries of western Europe. No European Union country has a monopoly on these questions. What is urgently needed, for reasons of common political challenge and of self-critical debate, is to break out of the national confines and terms of each argument and discuss the issues at a European level. The French have no monopoly on the question of secularism, the British on that of free speech, the Dutch on those of blasphemy and apostasy.

Second, the questions Frits Bolkestein and I are debating in Amsterdam, and which in a Dutch context are framed by events of the past five years, have a much longer and wider history. Holland and some other European countries have in recent years witnessed generic denunciations of “Islam” or Islamic treatment of women, or whatever, sometimes by supposedly ou-spoken western writers (for example the late Oriana Fallaci [in Italy], Michel Houellebecq [in France], César Vidal [in Spain], Samuel Huntington [in the United States], and sometimes by people who are by origin Muslims by family or culture.

But these critics, whose sincerity is not in question, run the risk of being banal and theatrical until and unless they recognise that they are far from being the first to raise these question: for decades there have been people in the Muslim world itself – in Egypt and Turkey, Pakistan, Algeria and Iran – who have, and often at great risk to themselves, debated issues of authoritarianism, violence, dogmatism, secularism.