Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
Debate: Who is Charlie?
MAASTRICHT. What incites Muslim youths to radicalise? The debate about the consequences of the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, held last Monday in a full and heavily protected university cafeteria, quickly centres around extremism and how to deal with it. “Youths often think: if a Muslim does something wrong, it is blown out of proportion and if a Muslim does something right you don’t hear about it.”
The Muslims themselves are well represented in the debate, organised by the Maastricht city council, Maastricht University, Studium Generale and the Sphinx debating centre. Not just in the panel but also in the audience. Their message is that this is not their Islam. “The Koran states: ‘anyone who has killed a single soul, has killed mankind’. If you have read that then you also have to act upon it,” says Bouchaib Saadane, chairman of the Limburgse Islamitische Raad (Limburg Islamic Council). “I didn’t agree with the cartoons either. I am against blackening and mocking religious symbols, of all religions. One shouldn’t abuse one’s power as a journalist or cartoonist. But in the West I have so many ways of getting justice. To me, these terrorists – who play at being the judge – are not Muslims. You can only be a Muslim if you behave well.” “Allah is almighty, he decides when someone should die, humans don’t need to do that for him,” adds Amina Sebbar, owner of an information and advice agency in the field of Islam.
“You are good at defending the good side of the Islam, but I don’t hear you about the bad side,” is the criticism from the audience. “I have read about Mohammed’s life, he was not a gentle character, he waged wars. How do you make youths choose your Islam and not live by the aggressive passages?” Sebbar argues that Mohammed only went to war in defence. “That is exactly what motivates the jihadis,” says Johan van de Beek, journalist for daily newspaper Dagblad de Limburger. Saadane believes that the focus should be on the Koran. “That is the book that is holy to me, not the book about the life of Mohammed.” There is an Islamic civil war going on at the moment as to how the texts should be interpreted, says Afshin Ellian, professor of Law in Leiden and columnist for Elsevier. “Not much different to the Christian civil war that was fought four hundred years ago in Europe.” Absolutism – in which believers work on the basis that there is one almighty God – is back, remarks Ger Kockelkorn, former mayor of Meerssen, from the audience. “It had disappeared for about forty years. We no longer discussed a society with people who felt the wind in their backs from an absolute God. But with the arrival of the Islam in Europe, the question has returned: who is the boss here? People or the gods?”
There should be more room for criticism within the Islam, some in the audience say. There is room for criticism says Saadane. “We talk about it every day. But the fact that our imams preach that, is apparently not enough. Invisible hands are reaching our children. They go and look for other imams.” Van de Beek refers to the invisible hands as crying wolves. “There are people, even here in Maastricht, who go in search of youths to radicalise them. Together with a colleague, I made a portrait of one of the Maastricht jihadis who died in Iraq. He became a radical in less than eight months. His parents and the mosque hadn’t noticed anything. We need to find out who these people are who are poisoning those youths.” Something that everyone should be on the lookout for, says Aalt Willem Heringa, professor of Constitutional Law at the UM. “Our democracy is vulnerable. But the masses at the demonstrations show that it is inside all of us. We are this democracy and have a duty as citizens to discuss anything we see happening.”
Should society deal with Muslims in a different way, asks the leader of the discussion George Vogelaar. “Muslims feel that double standards apply, even if that is not true,” says Saadane from the Limburg Islamic Council. Sebbar recognises that. “Youths often think: if a Muslim does something wrong, then it is blown out of proportion and if a Muslim does something right you don’t hear about it.” Even for a UM PhD candidate in the audience it is confusing. “Why are the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo permitted, but the French comedian who made jokes about Jews was fined? Where do we draw the line?” Heringa answers: “We have agreed that one can criticise religion, but not judge people because of their race.” “With the comedian, it was not just jokes about Jews but denying that there was a Holocaust,” professor Ellian adds. “That is prohibited in France.” He addresses Saadane, who according to him is embracing the role of the victim too much. “You do not acknowledge that your own community is part of the problem. The Netherlands is a paradise for minorities.”
According to Ellian, the question is how to raise one’s children. There is agreement from the audience. “Until about twelve years of age, things go well. School is fun, the teacher is the example,” says a woman in the audience. “But after that, children go in search of their own identity. They look on Internet to see what they can find. We need to find a safe bridge for that period.” Van de Beek, who follows Muslim youths on social media as a journalist, agrees. “In the discussions that they carry out there, they are six times more devout than their parents. How is that possible? They have publically announced parlour discussions about Islam. Why is there no one present from the mosque?” Sebbar also thinks that a lot can be gained in the field of parenting. She wrote a children’s book about the question ‘How to grow up as an Islamic girl in the Netherlands?’ That is dangerous says Ellian. “In that way, society will put everything that this girl does down to Islam. You should not label someone’s identity as being Moroccan or Muslim.” Heringa agrees. “The question should be ‘How to grow up as a citizen in this country?’ It is not Dutch society versus the Muslims, together we make our democracy. We have to accept, however, that discrimination occurs in this society. But that should not be an excuse for all kinds of undesirable behaviour.”
Finally, Vogelaar asks the panel and the audience for their solutions. “The awakening criticism of Islam in the Muslims’ own circles must grow,” says Van de Beek. “The voice of reason must drown out the screamers.” Understanding is important, the audience believed. To learn about each other and from each other, to keep talking. A programme with parents to talk about these kinds of problems, someone suggests. Look at the similarities not the differences, another says. A guy proposes that everyone should stand up and hug the next person. Almost all do so – albeit giggly.