Thursday, March 27, 2008


First published in The Jakarta Post, Thursday, March 27, 2008


Alpha Amirrachman, Amsterdam

The debate on whether or not right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders should release the anti-Koran movie has taken a new twist recently, as a prominent Dutch Jewish figure, Harry de Winter, says Wilders' statements are on the same level as anti-Semitism.

Wilders had earlier suggested Muslims should "tear out half of the Koran if they wished to stay in the Netherlands" because it contained "terrible things".

But de Winter said, "If you read the Old Testament (the Jewish Thora) then you also find texts about hatred of homosexuals, hatred of women and the murdering of non-Jewish preachers."

Moroccan Muslims strongly felt there were double standards in Wilders' stand, Fouad Sidali of the Cooperative Organization of Moroccans in the Netherlands told Radio Netherlands Worldwide. Sidali also said he was relieved to hear de Winter's statement.

As many as 6,800 Dutch people have signed a petition to show the world that Wilders and his forthcoming film Fitna do not express the views of everyone in Holland (

The debate, which has enormously polarized Dutch society, provides us with some appealing lessons.

First, this is an issue of Dutch multiculturalism and is really a Dutch thing where local social, economic and political crises and subsequent intrigues were pulled beyond the boundary, becoming an unnecessary but inevitably international issue.

There is a popular perception that the large incursion of Muslim migrants, mostly from Morocco, have caused serious social and economic problems for the broader Dutch community.

The migrants are perceived to be unable to assimilate into Dutch society.

Some sections within indigenous Dutch society fear the presence of these one million

Muslims may endanger the very core of their liberal democratic tradition, particularly amid the rise of Islamic terrorism.

Second, this relates to the issue of freedom of expression. In Dutch history the freedom of expression extends back to the Dutch 'Golden Age' where after the Union of Utrecht in 1579, the freedom of conscience (a principle that no one can be persecuted for his reasons of religion) was officially assured by the United Provinces of Netherlands.

Some within Dutch society seem to have become so obsessed with the freedom of expression, and the always blurred limit of this freedom has been delicately tested. The recent brouhaha over the Wilders' movie-to-be proves this fragility.

In a multicultural society where norms vary, the limits of freedom become very subtle because the freedom is relatively limited by the freedom of others; shared wisdom, through an unremitting and civilized dialog are thus needed for the sake of the freedom itself.

Such dialog is required where one narrow-minded Dutch politician tries to internationalize a local crisis (which seems to be cracking the Dutch multicultural society) and plays the card that the Netherlands' long-cherished freedom is under threat from "uncivilized" Muslim immigrants.

For the Dutch multicultural society, the crisis seems to have spiraled out of control, with migrants suffering the entire blame. Some even say it has (even) gone beyond the issue of multiculturalism and has become an issue of "political correctness".

Wilders is just a politician of the day who wants others to fall into his short-lived political game.

So, if there is any violent verbal reaction from Indonesian Muslims as to whether the movie should be released, this would only strengthen Wilders' belief that Muslims are unable to articulate their cause in a cultured manner.

Freedom of expression (which Indonesia also values highly) would just be wasted if it is filled with mere empty condemnations and self-denial slogans or statement. It should be used in the way the Jewish Dutch leader de Winter did.

The fact that de Winter jumped into the crowd, criticizing Wilders by revealing the perceived weaknesses of his own holy book, shows that in a democracy even Jews can show solidarity in defense of Dutch Muslims.

It is, therefore, an opportunity and moral obligation for Indonesian Muslims to articulate to the world that the perceived intolerant elements of the Koran should be understood using a historical and contextual prism.

In a nutshell, the contextual interpretation of the Koran should be well expressed to the world and, equally importantly, the peaceful paradigm must be realized in Muslim deeds in tandem with inter-cultural and inter-religious dialog.

Only then will Muslims secure a place in this increasingly crowded world, without having to fall into the wild game of a local opportunistic politician in one particular country.

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