"There is a war being waged against western civilization; against every liberal norm and value we Westerners hold dear and we must take increasingly drastic steps to defend our way of life from extinction..." or so Dutch politician Geert Wilders would have us believe.
This narrative of war, of a besieged West fighting for its life against the onslaught of Islamization is replete across the Dutch politician's new book "Marked for Death."
The narrative is a compelling one, fuelled by media images of failed terrorist plots, stories of Western homegrown extremism and sound bites from vocal and outspoken Islamists.
Only -- the hard facts would appear to burst this Islamophobia bubble that Mr. Wilders and others like him have been preaching for quiet sometime. Away from sound bite filled media interviews, well-researched studies on radicalization and the Islamist threat fail to support Mr. Wilders' assertions of a strong correlation between authentic Islam and Muslim communities on the one hand and violent extremism on the other.
Researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for instance, found the threat of Islamic extremism to be over-exaggerated. According to the study, it was Muslim-American communities themselves who played a key role in keeping the number of radicalized members low.
This assertion is supported by statistics from the FBI database on terrorist attacks on US soil between 1980-2005, showing that terrorist attacks committed by Muslims accounted for just 6 percent of all such attacks on US soil during that period. This was less then the number of attacks made by Jewish, Latino and far left extremists respectively.
Wilders' claims of a correlation between authentic Islam, as he perceives it, and terrorism are also undermined by a ground breaking study on the types of people most susceptible and resistant to becoming terrorists. Conducted by former Rhodes College professor Quintan Wiktorowicz, a leading expert on why people decide to become terrorists, he interviewed hundreds of Islamists and found that very religious Muslims were in fact amongst the most resistant to radicalization. It was in fact those who did not have a good grounding in the religion that were most likely to be attracted to radical Islam. Wiktorowicz's reputation as an expert in the field has not gone unnoticed and he has since been appointed Director of the White House National Security Council.
Examples like these, whilst certainly not as media-worthy as stories about failed terror plots, provide a powerful evidential basis to counter the "we're at war at with authentic Islam" and "Muslim communities pose a seismic threat to the West" narratives that Wilders so passionately promotes.
In addition to conflicting with authoritative data, the rhetoric of Wilders and co. also poses a real danger of galvanising violent extremism -- not countering it.
Whilst it is true that Wilders does not himself explicitly endorse violence, this fails to tell the whole story. By expounding an ideology that arouses a deep-seated insecurity (in this case an attack on Western identity), and offering a solution with no rational manifestation in real life (in this case an Islam-free Europe), adherents are left to come up with their own irrational solutions. This is exactly what Anders Breivik did in the Norway massacres. His concerns over an imagined demographic war that Islamists were waging against Europe and a vision of an Islam-free Europe were no different to those of Wilders'.
In his new book, Wilders also compounds the war rhetoric and the subsequent dehumanizing of Muslims by comparing Islam and Muslims with Nazism and Nazis, seeing each as mirroring the other. Of course, the insinuation is that just as there is no such thing as a good Nazi, there is neither any such thing as a good Muslim. Each and every one is complicit in Wilders' perceived war against the western world. As such it can come as no surprise that Wilders was a major source of inspiration for Breivik (as per Breivik's 1500-page manifesto) just as it should come as no surprise if any future perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence also look upon Wilders as their ideological inspiration.
The narrative is also dangerous for conflating a particular issue of concern (radical Islamism) with unrelated events and issues; thereby working to create into existence the very imagined war between Islam and the Western world that Wilders and co. rely on for their advocacy efforts.
For instance, in his book, Wilders mischaracterizes the Israel-Palestine struggle as a fault line between the West and the imperial Islamic advance. This ignores the fundamental nature of the conflict, one that is about land and self-determination -- not the legitimate Palestinian struggle for statehood being some front for a wider sinister attempt at world domination by the Islamic world.
The perspective put forward by Wilders is similar in principle to the worldview of violent extremists in the Muslim world, who interpret any Western intervention anywhere in the Muslim world as part of a wider sinister Western plot to take over the entire Islamic world.
Similarly Wilders mischaracterizes the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as a part of some kind of imperial Islamist front. The fact that the OIC has gone to lengths to "condemn terrorism in in all its forms, and rejects any justification or rationalization for it" appears to cuts no ice with Mr. Wilders.
So whilst the facts fail to support Mr. Wilders' wild assertions of a clash between Islam and the West, the irony is that if his dangerous rhetoric ever grows strong enough -- it could end up creating the very problems he is purporting to address.
What is very troubling is the increasing support and popularity of Mr. Wilders and people like him in Europe and North America. The message and the fear culture that they are trying to promote are regretfully becoming more and more mainstream. This only shows clearly that Western world is increasingly loosing its health and immunization against the various viruses of hate, exclusion and intolerance. I wonder how much these "protectors of great Western civilization" realize the kind of damage and destruction they cause to the Western civilizational and civic achievements through their troubling ideologies and actions. One can only hope and pray that the Western world is still healthy and strong enough to overcome and heal from this pathology over time. God willing...