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Are we weaker than Muslims because we do not believe anymore?

By George Virsik - posted Friday, 10 December 2004

The Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh (a great-grand-nephew of the painter Vincent van Gogh) was gunned down and stabbed to death on an Amsterdam street on November 2, 2004. The assailant was a 26-year-old man of dual Dutch and Moroccan nationality. Van Gogh had received anonymous death threats after Dutch television aired his short film Submission in August. He called Muslims “goatfuckers” and his film featured four women who claimed to have been abused by their Muslim husbands. They wore see-through robes showing their breasts (and more), with texts from the Koran scrawled on their naked bodies.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called van Gogh “a champion of the freedom of speech”. Of course, nothing can justify the murder, but was van Gogh really a “champion of free speech”, and was he really killed by the fanatic because he “angered Muslims with criticism” - as for example The Washington Post reported.

And was it just with “criticism”? There is, after all, a difference between criticism and offence!


Of course, there are hundreds of reasons why one should criticise the practices of some Muslims with regard to women and fight for their rights. And even more reasons to do everything to prevent the aggressive fanatics among them from doing harm to Europe or to any society, whether democratic or not. But is offending their religion and ridiculing what is sacred to all Muslims, the way to go about it? What else could it have achieved except for what it did: the death of the offender by the hand of a fanatic, and some 20 burned down Dutch mosques, Koran schools and churches?

Yes, churches, because people who mock Islam (actually, they mock any religion) and call it “freedom of speech”, make sure that Muslims see not them personally, but all Christians, as their real adversaries in Europe, and vice versa. Their mockery is evenhanded: In August next year Cologne will host the Catholic World Youth Day attended by the Pope. Who do you think is more likely to carry slogans offensive to the Pope (and to all Catholics), the Muslims or the post-Christian defenders of this kind of “freedom of speech”?

The Christian domination of Europe belongs to history. The present secularist domination is rather subtle - not all anti-religionists make use of the media the way van Gogh did - and the way Islamists want to achieve domination is anything but subtle: But there is also the demographic situation and trends. For instance, in Germany there are now about 3.2 million or 3.9 per cent Muslims out of a population of 82 million. According to recent data, only about 6.1 million Germans or 7.4 per cent go regularly to church on Sunday, comprising 4.5 million Catholics and 1.6 million Protestants. Every Muslim knows that these numbers were quite different just a few decades ago, and much of their cultural stubbornness - the creation of parallel societies as it is called here - can be attributed to their fear of ending up the same way in a couple of generations.

Only recently Renate Künast, the Green Minister of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture, called for the introduction of Islam as a subject in German schools, with the justification, “The teaching of Islam religion offers us a chance to develop an enlightened European Islam that has no problems with adjusting to an open society”. Of course, the “us” here refers to secular outsiders. A Muslim when hearing this must feel like the budgie the cat invited to a dinner party. What religion will let its detractors develop a version of it with the purpose of making it acceptable to the very same detractors?

Enlightenment, used as the excuse for applying psychologically sophisticated methods to make Christianity “adjust to open society”, lead to the decimation of Christians in Western Europe. There is not, and cannot be, a “Christianity” enlightened from outside, but there is a post-Enlightenment Christianity: A Christianity that used the Enlightenment, that it gave birth to, as an antithesis to correct itself from inside. This kind of Christianity is the only one that has a chance of survival in a secular society. Along these lines also lies the only hope for Muslims, their mullahs and imams (and not the outside attackers), to correct Islam from inside and make it compatible with modernity.

Christians have for the time being lost numbers and have gained some experience they can offer. In my opinion, this is the platform on which Christianity and Islam should meet. However, I must admit, not many of those responsible, on both the Muslim and Christian sides, are yet able to see the encounter in this way.


Whatever the differences between Islam and Christianity, and there are some, they are not to be confused with the differences and conflicts, between the life-style of Muslims - which is important to them - and that of the politically correct but morally permissive post-Christian society; a society which thinks it can live without religion while replacing it with something that in many respects (human rights, social justice) resembles a plastic replica of Christian values.

What van Gogh did, had nothing to do with whatever separates Christians from Muslims. This should be made clear to Muslims whenever there is any criticism of their behaviour, practice and prejudices that are felt to be incompatible with modern democratic society; not only societies dominated by secularists, as often seems to be the case in Western Europe.

Christians should be in a better position to do this than post-Christian secularists, for the following reason. Violence, degradation and injustice towards women, rigid conservatism in matters of sex and so on, come neither from the Koran nor from the Bible: Although much of those factors existed in medieval (and not only medieval) Christianity. A more advanced religion, that can remember its own historical distortions of sacred texts, can have a better understanding, and could better encourage a historically younger religion than a non-religious outsider who remembers and understands nothing, and even confuses criticism and freedom of speech with offensive ridicule.

Let me finish with the words of Peter Scholl Latour, whose knowledge of the Arab and Islamic world is par excellence, and a household name in Germany: “We would be more in a position to hold discussions with Islam, they are after all our neighbours, had we kept our own religious convictions. Namely, we could then speak eye to eye. But a person who gave up his religion, who is an atheist, is an animal for a Muslim. And that is the point: we are weaker than the Muslims because we do not believe any more.”

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About the Author

George Virsik is a retired mathematician from Monash University living in Germany since 2000. He can be contacted at

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