Public fears concerning migration, terrorism and Islam are real. It is up to us as scholars to ensure that the connections between all three that increasingly take place in public and political debate are delinked. A blog on the power of discourse in tempering crimmigration.
My mum always tells me that I should be aware of my sharp tongue, and that it is not necessary to always want to have the last word. Yet last night, while taking an airport taxi back to Leiden after having taught a course on ‘Contemporary Challenges to Human Rights’ at the Åbo Akademi in Turku, Finland, I found myself lost for words. As I was getting into the taxi, the taxi driver asked me if I had been travelling for work and if so, what I had been doing. I told him I had given several lectures on counterterrorism and border control. Before being able to finish my sentence explaining a bit further what these lectures were all about, the driver turned to me and said: “You know, as far as I am concerned, they can all die”. I looked back, not completely understanding what he meant – or at least, deep inside hoping that I was misunderstanding his genocidal thoughts, and asked him: “who are you talking about?” “All these Muslims of course”, was his reply. Different thoughts shot through my mind while I was assessing the situation: was he serious, was he trying to provoke me, was it worth arguing with him? After having talked extensively about the process of ‘othering’, ‘exclusion’ and ‘social sorting’ while in Turku, especially of Muslims, I felt obligated to start a conversation with the man, although shocked by his extreme point of view. So I decided to approach the situation as if it was an unstructured interview, in which I – of course well informed by the literature on the aforementioned processes - would try to figure out what exactly was driving his hatred. Because that’s what it was, this man was not just concerned; he was furious and ready to act upon it.
It did not take much to get him to talk. When I asked him why he was feeling so strongly about Muslims, an interesting, yet disturbing, ‘analysis’ followed. He started by saying that while he did detest Muslims, he definitely could not be portrayed as a racist, as his wife was not Dutch and because he liked people from other countries “that are known to be honest and work hard”. My feeble attempt to explain to him that the fact that he tolerated people from ‘other’ countries did not stand in the way of him being discriminatory of Muslims, paused his rant for a couple of seconds after which he continued: “I guess I am okay with that then, as I do find Islam dangerous as it is the very source of terrorism and a threat to everything being Dutch stands for”. Being Dutch, according him, meant first and foremost speaking Dutch, respecting Dutch law and “not abusing our welfare system”. He then added that he also found it problematic that Dutch public schools and companies were also paying attention to Islamic holidays as well as serving halal meat in ‘traditionally Dutch’ meals. I asked him what frightened him most about these things. He started to laugh and said that “there was more to it” than just not being in favour of multiculturalism. “Just come and see it for yourself. In my neighbourhood, in my apartment building, the dominant language is Arabic. I never know what they’re saying or what they’re doing. They, young men and women with headscarves, are just hanging around, not working, getting more babies. That makes me wonder if they’re here for no other reason than to abuse our welfare system and to get in trouble – they’re clearly not working – and to eventually take over. Because that’s what Islam says. For that reason I have forbidden my children to engage with, let alone befriend, Muslims.” When asking him how he knew all this and whether he had engaged with his neighbours to communicate his concerns or perhaps ask them some questions, he shrugged and said “I just know. And it’s not just me who feels like this. All my friends do.” His ‘solution’ was to forbid Islam – leaving out the minor detail of the constitutional right to freedom of religion – as its values and underpinnings would be irreconcilable with Western values and traditions. Take away the Dutch nationality of those in possession of dual nationality (which would affect Dutch-Moroccans) to then deport all non-Dutch nationals. He added “They all should have been deported when the work was done anyway”, referring to the so-called ‘guest workers’ or ‘foreign workers’ that were brought to the Netherlands by the Dutch government in the late sixties to work in the new industrial sector. When I told him that these ‘guest workers’ were at the time encouraged by the government to maintain their own cultures and the pressure to assimilate was low, even after it became clear they would stay in the Netherlands permanently with their families, and that the Netherlands for a long time took pride in the fact that many people came to their country because of its relative tolerance towards other cultures and religions, he asked me: “So, what’s your point? That was before they started to blow themselves up”. We ended the taxi ride with a discussion on generalising his fears of terrorism, which seemed to be driven by a deeply felt responsibility to take care of his family, to all Muslims and thus not being able to see that there are different readings of the – of any – sacred texts and that terrorists take advantage of the ignorance of people by stating that their actions are driven by Islam, not just by their extreme interpretation of it. When he pulled up in front of my house, he turned to me and thanked me for taking the tim