Wednesday, October 13, 2010

“A religious axis of evil" (More on Femke Halsema on Islam)

Femke Halsema, the leader of the Dutch GreenLeft Party, has stirred up controversy with a speech she delivered this weekend in Utrecht. In that speech she strongly rejected the most dearly held beliefs of Progressive Islamic Apologetics, including:

(1) That one must be either a leftist multiculturalist true believer who is uncritical of Islam or a right-wing racist Islamophobe.
(2) That leftists must never voice any concern over sexism or homophobia among Muslims, and that anyone who does voice such concerns is guilty of racist hate-speechifying.
(3) That "extremist" views are held by only a tiny, isolated minority of Muslims.
(4) That any restrictions on the wearing of the burqa, let alone on headscarves, is an unacceptable violation of religious freedom.
(5) That concerns about Sharia law are just so much Islamophobic fearmongering by right-wingers.

It turns out that this is not the first time that Halsema has waded into these troubled waters, although it is very possible that she has never gone quite so far in her explicit criticisms of her fellow leftists in general and of the excesses of multiculturalism in particular.

Just a little over a year ago, in September of 2009, Halsema stirred up what she herself called an "internetstormpje" (a wonderful Dutch term that literally means "little Internet storm") over remarks she made in an interview with Kustaw Bessant for (here is the interview in the original Dutch, and here it is in googleized English).

In that interview she had been asked about her views on Islam, to which she responded that "I am one of the few who accuse Saudi Arabia, along with [Geert] Wilders, about the violation of womens' rights. I will always vehemently oppose any alleged introduction of Sharia." ("Ik ben een van de weinigen die Saoedi-Arabië aanklaagt, samen met Wilders, voor de schending van vrouwenrechten. Ik zal altijd heftig ageren tegen elke vermeende invoering van de sharia.")

To emphasize her point, Halsema went on to proudly recount what she called her "most famous attack" against Islam, during a 2006 speech in which she had stated that "fundamentalist Muslims, fundamentalist American Christians and the Roman Catholic Church ... [are] a religious axis of evil". Halsema also stated in the interview that this particular speech had caused her "many problems".

After the September, 2009 interview, Halsema wrote a blog post on "Freedom of Belief and the Headscarf" (that link is to the English translation via google translator, here is the same post in the original Dutch: Vrijheid van geloof en van hoofddoek). In her blog, Halsema stated that the comments she had made in the interview, on Islam and freedom of religion, had been distorted by the media and by commentators and bloggers on the Internet. She says, quite reasonably, that this should come as no surprise. She was much more concerned, however, with what she described as "some violent, and sometimes downright evil comments from progressive circles," attacking her for defending women's rights and gay rights and for criticizing Islam as oppressive.

In that blog post (already linked to) Halsema focused specifically on two themes: (1) criticism of Islam in general, and (2) the headscarf issue in particular.

As far as criticism of Islam goes, she states very clearly that freedom of religion necessarily includes the freedom to criticize religious beliefs. She also insists that freedom to criticize religion must be upheld "Especially in a movement like the Greens, where there has traditionally been a lot of criticism directed at Christianity, and where religious freedom and religious criticism have always been seen as two sides of the same coin (although a few seem to forget that now)."

Halsema also says that the views she expressed in the interview were perfectly in line with "the right of people to hold orthodox Islamic beliefs, and the right of people to criticize those beliefs." Halsema goes on to say that if she were to criticize the SGP (a conservative Protestant Dutch party) for their regressive Christian attitudes toward women and gays, she would be cheered by her fellow leftists, but when she makes exactly the same criticism of sexism and homophobia among Muslims, this is seen as "too close to home" (literally "is het huis te klein", "the house is too small"). Here she is clearly taking a swipe at the way in which European leftist parties pander to the Muslim vote.

On the specific issue of the headscarf, Halsema had already (in the interview) outraged hypersensitive multiculturalist whiners by saying, "I prefer to see every woman in the Netherlands without a headscarf. And totally free." And she also stated, "playfully", as she herself called it, "I think it's a pity that women hide their beautiful hair."

In her subsequent blog post, Halsema wrote that while she supports the right of a woman to wear a headscarf if she freely chooses to do so, there can be no doubt that many Muslim women in the Netherlands are coerced into wearing the headscarf. She also pointedly quoted a Muslim cleric's "veiled" threat against women who dare to exercise their freedom: "Which women are more often the target of rape, those who are veiled, or those who are not?"

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