The Power of Culture

Since the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, Western governments have been investigating ways to prevent similar terrorist attacks on their own soil. They want to have more say in what the population thinks and does. This desire is being expressed in a variety of diverse proposals. The Dutch State Secretary for Traffic, De Vries, like her British and French colleagues, wants to increase inspection of the civilian communication traffic. The English Minister for Home Affairs, Blunkett, wants to ban religious jokes. The German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Schilly, called for intellectuals to stop criticising America's foreign policy. And in America the Defence Minister Rumsfeld urged the media to exercise patriotism in their reporting. In short: Western society is under all sorts of pressure to surrender part of its characteristic openness. The question is whether the end - preventing terrorist acts - justifies the means. Do these measures not infringe on the very freedom of movement that democracies must protect at any cost?

Liberalising privacy regulations
Media restricted
Moslems under the microscope
Intolerant statements forbidden

Liberalising privacy regulations

The Dutch government has come up with a plan of approach for preventing terrorism. This approach pleads for giving the police and the secret services more extensive authorities for tracking people. The data regarding citizen's communication via telephone, fax or e-mail must remain available for inspection longer. And citizens must be required to carry identification. Citizen's rights organisations are protesting. Free, uncontrolled communication is one of the hallmarks of a democratic constitutional state. The organisations say that they are afraid that the personal data regarding citizens will be misused.

Media restricted

Fear for new terrorist activities has caused American TV broadcasters, including CNN, to start censoring news broadcasts. The US Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has requested that stations not transmit broadcasts from Al Queda leaders without censoring them. It is feared that they may contain coded messages for terrorists. Free news gathering about the war against Afghanistan is more difficult. The Pentagon is already buying images from Afghanistan from a commercial satellite station to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per month.

Moslems under the microscope

The shock over the September attacks have led to an increased interest in Islam and its followers in the Netherlands. At least six of the books in the non-fiction top ten as reported in the newspaper Trouw are about Islam and the Jihad. Program councils in the Hague and Rotterdam have asked their cable provider to transmit broadcasts from the Arabic news broadcaster Al Jazeera. The Dutch bishops have issued an official letter calling for dialogue with Muslims. State Secretary for Culture Van der Ploeg has indicated that he wants to spend more money on publications for minorities. Members of the Association of History Teachers (Vereniging of Geschiedenisleraren (VGN)) argue that more attention must be devoted to Islam in the history lessons. And a central organ that represents all Dutch Muslim organisations has been hastily set up. This body is intended as a discussion partner for the government.

Intolerant statements forbidden

The increased interest in Islam is coupled with increased vigilance. How anti-western are the sentiments of the Muslims in our midst? The European Commission says it wants to study how subsidies to Syrian, Palestinian and Egyptian development organisations are spent. Could they be spent on schoolbooks with anti-Semitic texts? The Dutch press is interviewing imams and representatives of Muslim organisations. How do they feel about integration, emancipation, and democracy? Intolerant statements regarding homosexuality made by the Rotterdam imam El-Moumni a few months ago are being re-examined. Old extremist Internet texts from the Amsterdam Al Tawheed mosque are being dug up. VVD parliament member Cherribi contends that the two imams at this mosque, both involved in the Islamic elementary school As Siddieq, must be removed from the staff. The police in Haaglanden fired a temporary employee of Moroccan origin because she would not participate in the three minutes of silence for the victims of the World Trade Center attacks. The discussion of anti-western sentiments must be forbidden in the media. Beneath the surface another question is at play: which culture gets to call the shots here?


Newspaper Files (in Dutch)

Aanval op Afghanistan, Nrc Handelsblad
Aanval VS, Reformatorisch dagblad
Actie VS, Nederlands dagblad
Oorlog tegen terreur, de Volkskrant
Oorlog tegen terrorisme, Algemeen Dagblad
Strijd tegen terrorisme, het Parool
Strijd tegen terrorisme, Trouw

Ministerie van Buitenlandse zaken
Europese Commissie
UN fighting terrorism
UN Afghanistan humanitarian crisis

Other sources

Nederland in rep en roer na uitspraken imam, NOS nieuws
El Tawheed moskee
De Koran in het Nederlands, NMO
Nederlandse wetten op het gebied van informatievrijheid, Instituut voor Informatierech




november 2001