1 October 2019 • Martijn Tamboer
“I’m always walking through a minefield”
The political and social debate about Islam has been taking place since the 1990s. The debate is marked by polarisation and sharp contrasts. Gert Jan Geling, lecturer of Applied Safety & Security Studies at THUAS, worked together with Arabist Jan Jaap de Ruiter of Tilburg University to write a compilation about the Islam debate in the Netherlands.
In the book ‘Wordt het nog wat met het islamdebat?’ (freely translated as: Is the Islam debate going anywhere?) fifteen prominent participants in the debate share their vision on how this debate is unfolding in the Netherlands. On Tuesday 25 September the book was presented at the Speakers’ Corner at THUAS and the key contributors to the Islam debate engaged in a conversation.
In your book’s introduction you write that the idea was to compile a broad range of views about the Islam debate. At the same time, you admit that you failed in this attempt because many left-wing representatives refused to participate.
Gert Jan Geling: “We both have been active in this debate for a long time and realised that schools who share the same convictions often collaborate, but that a real debate, or even a partnership, between different viewpoints doesn’t really exist. We wanted to bridge this polarisation and offered a platform in the form of this book.”
But your attempt was only partially successful?
“Unfortunately we lack input from the left and the Islamic perspective, such as imams or representatives from the women’s movement. They refused to participate because a number of right-wing speakers also contributed.”
Is that representative of today’s debate on Islam?
“The left is still endowed with a certain amount of political correctness, especially in academic circles. In these circles, Islam is often discussed from a positive perspective, making any negative comments taboo. I refer to this as the leftist problem.
On the other end of the spectrum you see radicalisation and even hate mongering. Muslims often feel excluded and an inclusive debate is impossible. The left doesn’t respond well, but the right often provokes that response through its radicalising and polarising rhetoric.”
The result: are you preaching to the choir?
“The contrasts are deeply imbedded in our society. For example, science and security services have a different take on the facts. The media is also highly polarised. Here we see an interpretation of facts, depending on someone’s political opinions or from which perspective they look at the issue. There is a big difference between the glass being half empty or half full.”
Where does the lack of a constructive debate lead us?
“The result is that many social issues persist, such as radicalisation, disaffection and discrimination. Fortunately we aren’t very hotheaded in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is still all about compromising. In recent years legislation has only resulted in implementing a burqa ban. But in society we see contrasts becoming more entrenched. And that is a serious concern. With this book we are trying to promote a constructive debate. But I’m always walking through a minefield.”