Ayaan Hirsi Ali en de raciali­sering van moslims

De antropoloog Martijn de Koning heeft een broodnodige discussie geïnitieerd over islamofobie en racialisering van moslims, aan de hand van een essay over Fortuyn en een opiniestuk in de Volkskrant. In het artikel verdedigt De Koning de stelling dat islamofobie een vorm van racisme is. Moslims zijn weliswaar geen ras, maar racisme is niet inherent verbonden met ras. Het gaat om de manier waarop een bepaalde groep inferieure karaktereigenschappen worden toegedicht, een proces dat Martijn de Koning ‘racialisering’ noemt. Wie kijkt naar het historische racisme, zo stelt De Koning, vindt daar dat cultuur en religie altijd een belangrijke rol hebben gespeeld in racialisering, naast het overbekende racisme dat uitging van biologische kenmerken.

Ik denk dat De Koning daarin gelijk heeft. Neem het antisemitisme van de vooraanstaande liberale denker Ernest Renan. In 1862 hield Renan een inaugurele rede bij de Collège de France als hoogleraar Semitische talen, waarin hij het superieure Indo-Europese ras tegenover het achterlijke Semitische ras plaatste. Dit Semitische ras, waar Renan zowel de Joden als de Moslims onder schaarde, was in zijn ogen bovenal inferieur vanwege het karakter van haar godsdienst. Semieten waren daardoor niet in staat toe te treden tot de moderniteit. Renan stelde zelfs dat het Joodse volk in biologische zin geen eenheid vormde, en enkel in religieuze termen als zodanig gezien kon worden. Dit liberale racisme van Renan wordt ook wel als ‘Republikeins racisme’ omschreven, omdat het de superioriteit van het Westen en het koloniale project bovenal in culturele termen vatte.

Islamofobie is dus zeer vergelijkbaar met bepaalde klassieke vormen van racisme en antisemitisme. Het stamt uit dezelfde historische bron. Belangrijk daarbij is dat het woord islamofobie door onderzoekers als De Koning niet gebruikt wordt om letterlijk angst voor moslims mee aan te duiden. De term refereert aan een ideologie waarin moslims geracialiseerd worden en als structureel inferieur worden gekenmerkt. De onderzoeker Ineke van der Valk definieert islamofobie bijvoorbeeld als volgt in het boek Islamofobie en Discriminatie (Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2012):

Islamofobie is een ideologie die met behulp van stereotypen, vooroordelen en eruit voortvloeiende gedragingen systematisch en consistent een negatieve betekenis geeft aan ‘de islam’ en/of aan ‘moslims’. Zo worden gevoelens, houding en gedrag van mensen beïnvloed met het oog op sociale uitsluiting en discriminerende behandeling van moslims.

De Palestijns-Amerikaanse onderzoeker Edward Saïd heeft als geen ander de intellectuele ontwikkeling van deze ideologie bestudeerd in zijn beroemde studie Orientialism. Hij traceert daarin hoe het antisemitisme van Renan, dat zich aanvankelijk richtte op de achterlijkheid van Moslims en Joden gezamenlijk – zich opsplitste in twee delen. Het vooroordeel van de statische achterlijkheid van de Islam werd het dogma dat aan de basis zou staan van de westerse studie van de Oriënt, de zogenaamde oriëntalistiek. De kern van Saïds betoog is dat de oriëntalistiek door dit dogma lang een vreemde statische wetenschap is gebleven, waarin moderne islamitische samenlevingen telkens weer teruggebracht worden tot “tent and tribe” en dat deze diep verankerde vooroordelen nog steeds onze visie op de islam bepalen tot op vandaag de dag:

Of itself, in itself, as a set of beliefs, as a method of analysis, Orientalism cannot develop. Indeed, it is the doctrinal antithesis of development. Its central argument is the myth of the arrested development of the Semites. From this matrix other myths pour forth, each of them showing the Semite to be the opposite of the Westerner and irremediably the victim of his own weaknesses. By a concatenation of events and circumstances the Semitic myth bifurcated in the Zionist movement; one Semite went the way of Orientalism, the other, the Arab, was forced to go the way of the Oriental. Each time tent and tribe are solicited, the myth is being employed; each time the concept of Arab national character is evoked, the myth is being employed.

The Orientalists—from Renan to Goldziher to Macdonald to von Grunebaum, Gibb, and Bernard Lewis—saw Islam, for example, as a “cultural synthesis” (the phrase is P. M. Holt’s) that could be studied apart from the economics, sociology, and politics of the Islamic peoples. For Orientalism, Islam had a meaning which, if one were to look for its most succinct formulation, could be found in Renan’s first treatise: in order best to be understood Islam had to be reduced to “tent and tribe.” The impact of colonialism, of worldly circumstances, of historical development: all these were to Orientalists as flies to wanton boys, killed—or disregarded—for their sport, never taken seriously enough to complicate the essential Islam.

Met deze korte introductie zijn we aangekomen bij het eigenlijke punt van deze bijdrage, namelijk dat het werk van Ayaan Hirsi Ali een voorbeeld is van de doorwerking van de islamofobe oriëntalistiek op het hedendaagse Nederlandse integratiedebat. Om die stelling te onderbouwen, hieronder een fragment uit een hoofdstuk van mijn proefschrift.

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“The role of Orientalist authors in forming Hirsi Ali’s view of Islam can be deduced from her first more elaborate and theoretical text, published in the yearbook of social democracy in the autumn of 2002 and reprinted in The Caged Virgin. In the article, titled What went wrong? A modern clash of cultures after the well-known book by Bernard Lewis, Hirsi Ali lays out her ideas on Islamic culture. Basing herself on Bernard Lewis and Pryce Jones, Hirsi Ali (2006: 39) argues that ‘the religious-cultural identity’ of Muslims is characterised by:

  • ‘A hierarchical-authoritarian mentality: “The boss is almighty; others can only obey.”
  • Group identity: “The group always comes before the individual”; if you do not belong to the clan/tribe you will be treated with suspicion or, at best, not be taken seriously.
  • A patriarchal mentality and a culture of shame: The woman has a reproductive function and must obey the male members of her family; failure to do so brings shame on the family.’

Here we are in the classic Orientalist terrain of timelessness, abstraction and uniformity. From the skyscrapers in Istanbul and Teheran, to the villages in rural Pakistan and Somalia, from the Indonesian archipelago to Muslim immigrants on the European mainland: there is a single, unchanging Islamic ‘religious-cultural identity’ that can be known in the abstract. ‘The Islamic identity (view of mankind and the world)’, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes without blinking, ‘is based on groups, and its central concepts are honor and disgrace, or shame’. (Hirsi Ali 2006: 47) The principal group is the family and then the clan.

Describing the whole of Islam as a ‘premodern mentality’ (Hirsi Ali 2006: 44), Hirsi Ali argues that it closely resembles the General Human Pattern, an idealtype of premodern societies as described by the Dutch historian Jan Romein. ‘The GHP-mind’, she writes, ‘thinks in a particular way: concrete rather than abstract: it resorts to images rather than concepts.’ (Hirsi Ali 2006a: 48-49) For him, conscious organisation and planning play a much less important role than in modern societies. In the GHP-mind, power and authority are absolute and unassailable. Anyone who opposes the authorities is punished. Finally we learn that work is not perceived as a blessing but a curse and an imposition. Rephrasing it in a more blunt manner, Muslims are by their very nature primitive, stupid, submissive, uncritical, and lazy. As Said argued in Orientalism, whereas it is no longer possible to write these type of learned disquisitions on ‘the Negro mind’ or the ‘Jewish personality’, with regard to Muslims, such preconceptions are still oddly acceptable (Said 1978: 262).

What’s more, the values of traditional Islam collide with the principal norms and values of Dutch society. Not assimilating into the values of the receiving society, clinging to the norms of the culture of origin, would explain ‘for a large part’ the socio-economic backwardness that Muslims in the Netherlands suffer from’. The ‘cultural expressions of the majority of Muslims’ in the Netherlands, we learn, ‘are still at a premodern stage of development’ (Hirsi Ali 2006a: 56). She then applies the scheme of Lewis and Pryce-Jones to Dutch Muslims, whose culture she similarly defines in terms of hierarchy, group loyalty and patriarchy. Of course, it is one thing to argue that the norms and values of a Muslim immigrant coming from a village in the countryside of Turkey or Morroco, are very traditional. It is another thing altogether, to argue that Muslims are traditional by nature, due to their timeless ‘religious-cultural identity’. By retracing traditionalism to an unchanging Quran that even affects the culture of non-practicing Muslims, Hirsi Ali casts Muslims as inherently backward and inferior. Culture here is no longer a dynamic process; it acquires a static quality, similar to racial stereotypes.

Borrowing from Pryce-Jones, Hirsi Ali’s reasoning concerning the inherent ‘backwardness’ and traditionalism of Islam revolves around its connection with tribal norms. The argument is roughly as follows: Islam began in a tribal society. The Quran consists of a set of rules that are adopted from tribal customs, specifically designed to organize the tribes in a coherent tribal system. Warring tribes were convinced to accept laws assuaging them to direct their animosity to unbelievers, leading to Islam’s inherently expansionist character and its hostility to the West. Tribal values are thus ingrained in the Quran, reproducing premodern practices, even in modern urban societies: ‘the ideas and traditions of Muhammed’s tribal society are adopted straight into the industrial and urban society of today’ (Hirsi Ali 2006: 52).

Is there any way out of this vicious circle for Muslims? Can they liberate themselves from their self-constructed ‘psychological cage’? Definitely not on their own, since critical thought is not allowed in Islam. But maybe with the support of sympathetic and superior Westerners who have already reaped the benefits of Enlightenment? Hirsi Ali wavers between Lewis and Pryce-Jones. She is appreciative of Lewis’ argument that either the lack of secularism or the patriarchal nature of Arab societies is responsible for their backwardness. Muslims can undertake the painful process of modernisation once they ‘relinquish their most substantial values’. Lewis demands (!) that Muslims abandon their culture. Whereas Pryce-Jones believes that secularism and other Western developments can’t be truly understood by people living in what is essentially a tribal society (Hirsi Ali 2006: 52-53).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has chosen Lewis’ vision, equating emancipation with the escape from community: ‘emancipation doesn’t mean the liberation of the community of the faithful or its safeguarding from the power of evil outside forces, such as colonialism, capitalism, the Jews and the Americans. It means the liberation of the individual from that same community of the faithful’ (Hirsi Ali 2006: 32). Muslims need to be emancipated from their (religious) community. Finally, she concludes the article by proposing to ‘interpret the concept of “integration” as a process of civilization for groups of Muslim immigrants living within the Western society into which they have been received,’ and so ‘render superfluous the pseudodebate about the equality of cultures’ (Hirsi Ali 2006: 56). Here, the old colonial ‘civilizing mission’ is turned inwardly, towards the immigrants in the West. Considering integration to be a process of civilization is also good for the immigrants themselves, Hirsi Ali notes enthusiastically, since it allows them to ‘develop an awareness of their level of achievement in relation to others’, and to ‘see that in order to progress they need to behave according to the values and standards of their newly adopted home country’ (Hirsi Ali 2006: 56). Making immigrants aware of their backwardness will make them happier to adjust.

Consciously choosing to adopt the Western Orientalist imaginary of Islam, instead of describing modern-day Muslim reality, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has had to work around a set of large contradictions from the outset. In the essay Why can’t we take a critical look at ourselves?, published in the neoconservative opinion section of newspaper Trouw in March 2002, Ayaan Hirsi Ali uses the father of Mohammed Atta, the lead organizer of the 9/11 attacks, as a metaphor for the state of the Islamic world. Confronted with the terrible acts of his son, the father enters in a state of denial, blaming everybody – the Jews, the CIA – but his son. That father, we are told, is like Islam: his offspring is Islamic radicalism, but he denies his responsibility. Like the father who was wholly unaware of the dark streak in his son, Muslims refuse to see the dark and violent side of their religion. But here the reader is faced with a contradiction: if Islam is really a deeply communal, patriarchal and authoritarian culture, where loyalty to one’s family and clan comes first, then Mohammed Atta not only rebelled against his father, the patriarch of the family; he rebelled against Islam. If power and authority are absolute and unassailable for the ‘primitive’ minds of Muslims, as Hirsi Ali has written before, then what explains the revolt of Islamic fundamentalism against the Islamic status quo, sidelining the clerics, killing Sadat and denouncing the Saudi monarchy?

Another stark contradiction concerns Muslim’s lack of knowledge about the Quran. How can contemporary Muslim life be understood on the basis of the Quran, when the average Muslim ‘does little with his faith’, and ‘knows little of the Quran’ (Hirsi Ali 2001: 450)? According to Hirsi Ali ‘most Muslims never delve into theology, and we rarely read the Quran; we are taught it in Arabic, which most Muslims can’t speak. (Hirsi Ali 2007: 272) Here, Hirsi Ali wrestles with what Said called the second dogma of Orientalism: abstractions about the orient based on ancient texts, are always preferable to direct evidence drawn from modern realities. She resolves that problem by introducing a tautology: ‘for many non-practicing Muslims, the essence of their identity and the system of values and morals by which they live remain Islamic’ (Hirsi Ali 2006: 44). Of course here it would be more realistic to make a distinction between religion and culture, and argue that immigrants take some of the traditional village culture with them, when they migrate to the Netherlands, even it they are non-practicing. But Hirsi Ali’s Orientalist notion of Islam relies exactly on conflating religion and culture in one all-encompassing ‘religious-cultural’ identity, with its source in the Quran. We are supposed to believe Morrocan and Turkish immigrants have assimilated the 7th century tribal values of the Quran, which are ‘adopted straight into the industrial and urban society of today’, without even having  understood the text.”

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