The past few days have been dominated by terror and fear. First, the attack in New Zealand, followed by an attack on our own soil. Societal debate nevertheless continued, perhaps even sharper than usual. What does this mean for our society?
After an hours long search, the suspect was arrested. Tanis appears to be an experienced repeat offender with a considerable list of convictions. By those in his immediate surroundings, he is mainly described as ‘mentally unstable;’ often somewhere between a devout Muslim and a cocaine user. In an interview with the Algemeen Dagblad, a rape victim of his described him as ‘a loony, a drug user, a psychopath, but not a terrorist,’ according to her, his act would have nothing to do with faith.
It is now known that a letter has been found in the getaway car, from which could be deduced that Tanis would have committed this attack in the name of Allah. He greeted his Muslim brothers. Apologies and deep regrets would be more appropriate, if I could speak on behalf of the Muslim community. With the statement that he would have committed the attack on behalf of Allah himself, he claims to have a privileged position as a puppet of God. With this, he goes further than those who preceded him, and who only spread death and destruction in name of a terrorist organisation, instead of having a direct line with Allah. All the more reason of course, to assume that Tanis was a confused, drugged loner looking for recognition. The recognition that we should not grant him by linking him to a religion or its adherents.
Most of the political leaders ceased their campaign activities. For Baudet, campaigning – apparently – is superior to showing human solidarity to victims. But then, Wilders too, eagerly made use of the perpetrator’s profile to make it a consequence of the multicultural society. Baudet even thought it to be necessary to link these excesses of terror to the immigration policies of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) – and consequently to people with an immigrant background. This way, minorities are labelled as a fifth column able to the same thing. Identity politics and reinforcing the division in society is what both sides are guilty of.
The toxic tentacles of polarising identity politics also manifested itself after the horrendous terrorist attack on the mosques in Christchurch. During the Friday prayer, praying Muslims fell victim to a bloody hail of fire, no fewer than fifty of them did not survive. Dozens of people have been injured, some of them still in critical condition. The preparator, Brenton Tarrant, was a right-wing extremist sympathiser. He saw himself as an ordinary white man who wanted to protect white people against a wave of immigrant intruders.
The world reacted with horror – condolences and messages of compassion poured in from different countries. Quickly, the public debate in the Netherlands was in full swing. The Dutch right – especially Wierd Duk (political commentator on behalf of the largest Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf) – criticised opinion-makers that linked the attack in New Zealand to his rhetoric and that of right-wing politicians. He called the allegation impure reasoning. He is quite an outspoken journalist himself, as he once described the Netherlands as an Islamic orthodox country. But is the link made justified? Is the sharp debate about Islam and immigration – which has been put on the political agenda by right-wing parties – the breeding ground for these kind of attacks? The shooter in New Zealand was inspired by right-wing extremism. Are we then allowed to, just like Wilders and Baudet did with Muslims after the attack in Utrecht, link the Dutch right to the bloodbath in Christchurch?
I can hear you thinking right now, of course not. Fair enough, let’s turn it around for a second. After a spree of attacks all over Europe there was a broad societal discussion about the place of moderate Muslims in the Netherlands. Opinion-makers, politicians, and even some academics said they expected Muslims to jointly distance themselves from extremist attacks in name of Islam. In this expectation lies an unspoken declaration of guilt, implying that one is guilty – or at least complicit – as long as the contrary has not been proven. It is an imaginary verdict that is handed down without any trail. However, do we ask Party for Freedom (PVV) and Forum for Democracy (FvD) members – after the Christchurch attack – to uncomfortably explain to their colleagues at the coffee corner that their intentions are actually peaceful? And of course VVD members do not have to distance themselves from the extreme right. No, because right-wing liberals do not have anything to do with the extreme right, just like Muslims don’t have anything to do with Islamic extremism. Let alone to a to drugs addicted repeat offender. The link between immigration and the attack in Utrecht is guilty of the same unsustainable rhetoric described above. Exactly, impure reasoning, but that does work both ways.
In a broadcast of the Dutch National Broader’s Radio 1, Duk was rather upset about the fact that Tarrant was presented in the ‘‘left media’’ as a representative of the alt-right movement. Apparently Duk feels cornered by this image. It looks like the tentacles of identity politics extend far enough to touch him. It results it an even stronger division in society. It is therefore time to take a critical look at how we conduct debates. In times of terror, we have to form a front, it us against the loners.