Ambivalent in Amsterdam

November 10, 2006 Topics: Society Regions: Western EuropeEurope Tags: IslamismToryIslam

Ambivalent in Amsterdam

Mini Teaser: In Murder in Amsterdam, Ian Buruma equivocates when clarity would have enlightened readers.

by Author(s): Paul Hollander

Overlooking such and other differences also contributes to questionable parallels between a traditional Dutch-Protestant self-righteousness and the Islamic variety-"Mohammed, [the killer of van Gogh] in a very Dutch delusion of grandeur, expanded his youthful enthusiasm for neighborhood politics to encompass the fate of mankind." He also writes: "In the muddled mind of Mohammed Bouyeri . . . ran a deep current of European anti-liberalism combined with self-righteous moralism and Islamist revolutionary fervor." The attribution of European anti-liberalism in this instance is gratuitous and redundant; Bouyeri's behavior was amply accounted for by the other attributes noted.

There is also an implausible attribution of resemblance between costumed Dutch soccer fans celebrating a soccer game and supposedly corresponding attitudes of Muslims: "It [the celebration] was a return to an invented country, no more real than a modern Dutch Muslim's fantasy of the pure world of the Prophet."

Far more persuasive is the parallel between the part played by ideas in the major forms of recent political violence: "Revolutionary Islam is linked to the Koran . . . just as Stalinism and Maoism were linked to Das Kapital, but to explain the horrors of China's man-made famines or the Soviet gulag solely by invoking the writings of Karl Marx would be to miss the main point. Messianic violence can attach itself to any creed." True enough, but once the notion of "messianic" is introduced we have a circularity in the argument, since "messianic" is a key component of the "creeds" in question. It would be safer to say that violent impulses attach themselves to messianic creeds which legitimate the former, and this applies to both Marxism and Islam.

This interesting and informative volume would have been more enlightening if its author could have settled in his own mind the respective contributions Dutch society and Islamic beliefs have made to the violence he sought to understand.

Paul Hollander is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His books include Political Pilgrims, Anti-Americanism, Understanding Anti-Americanism and most recently The End of Commitment: Intellectuals, Revolutionaries and Political Morality in the Twentieth Century.

Essay Types: Book Review