Jewish Political Studies Review 20:3-4 (Fall 2008)
A Danish Critique of Islamic Radicalism
Islamistes et naïvetés: Un acte d’accusation (Islamists and Naivists – an indictment) by Karen Jespersen and Ralf Pittelkow, Panama Editions, Paris 2007, 234 pp. [French] Translated from Danish by Nils Ahl
Reviewed by Michelle Mazel
This scathing attack on those who fail to perceive the threat posed by Islamism on European values and ways of life comes from an unlikely source. The authors, Karen Jespersen and Ralf Pittelkow, took part in the student protests of the sixties and for many years were members of the Danish Social Democratic party. Jespersen was Minister of Social Affairs from 1994 to 2000 and later Interior Minister for immigration issues. Her husband, Pittelkow, was an adviser to the Social Democrat Danish Prime Minister and today writes for Jylland-Posten, the paper which published the Mohammed cartoons. Their book, first published in Denmark in September 2006 in the aftermath of the cartoons crisis, is the product of their joint experience. It was an instant bestseller, and the French edition appeared less than six months later.
The book opens with a disclaimer: “Islamism is not Islam, it is a radical current within Islam coexisting with other currents … it is an ideology hostile in the extreme to freedom, which is anti-democratic and anti-humanistic.” It then addresses six main topics: the cartoon crisis, Islamists, their strategy in Denmark, their strategy in Europe, what they term “naïvists” and lastly the “clash of values.” Altogether a little too much for such a relatively short essay, though the descriptions of Radical Islam and the Islamist movements in the Middle East and in Europe are generally well-researched and clear. This said, it is disappointing to find a few glaring mistakes, such as repeated references (53 and 55) to Wafa Sultan, the courageous woman who made a spirited attack on radical Islam in a televised debate on Al Jazeera station which was seen the world over, as a man.
The authors are at their best when they write about what they know firsthand; namely, Islamism in Denmark in all its manifestations. As dedicated believers in the Danish brand of the welfare state based on committed citizens working for its success, they observed the influx of Muslim immigrants bent on exploiting the system without giving anything in return with dismay, because they ultimately threaten to topple the whole edifice. But it was the cartoon crisis which really opened their eyes to the far greater threat Islamism poses to democracy. Islamists, they claim, are against freedom of expression and freedom of criticism. As a first step they want Muslim immigrants to form a parallel society in Europe where all internal affairs are governed by sharia, Islamic law. The second step would be to force European societies to make adjustments to their legal systems in order to adapt to sharia. The ultimate goal is a gradual Muslim takeover, turning Christians and Jews in Europe into dhimmis, i.e., second class citizens.
For Jespersen and Pittelkow, Europe is not gearing up to fight this threat because of groups they call “naivists,” politicians and publicists. Focusing once again on the Danish situation, the authors attribute this attitude to two main factors. The first is ignorance. The “naivists” know nothing about the threat of Islamic totalitarianism; they know nothing about its progress in other European countries; and worse, they do not want to know. The second factor is the result of their devotion to “political correctness” which has three main facets. The first is a lack of appreciation of their own culture and a profound feeling of culpability that prompts them to believe that the West is solely responsible for all the problems it has with the Muslim world. The second is their complacent attitude toward that world, a complacency disguised as understanding: one cannot demand of Muslims or Muslim countries what is demanded of Europe since after all Muslims are weak and helpless, they are victims. Last but not least, a new element has been added in recent years: fear. Denmark and indeed the West as a whole have learned to fear the outbreaks of violence used by Islamists, whether in response to the Mohammed cartoons, against the free press or outspoken politicians.
What must be done? Turning once more to the Danish case, the authors take the view that society must stand firm. On no account should people be frightened into backing down when Islamists react violently to words or deeds permissible under the Danish tradition of freedom of expression. This includes criticism or satire of religion. Yielding on the principle of freedom of expression would do a disservice to Muslims who do not want to take the Islamist way. Finally, Muslim societies in the Middle East will also benefit if democracies such as Denmark stand firm, because there can be no political, economic or scientific development without the freedom to criticize.
The authors of this thoughtful essay conclude that if we want to protect our society against the Islamist totalitarian thrust, we must be ready for dialogue but stand firm on our values. The publication of this book provides additional proof that Europe is slowly beginning to wake up, and may perhaps be taking its first tentative steps toward action on the issue.
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 On 30 September 2005, Jylland Posten published twelve cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, triggering a worldwide outcry and violent demonstrations against Denmark which left a number of dead and wounded in Asian and African countries..
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Michèle Mazel is a graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and the Faculté de Droit of that city.