Saturday, November 06, 2004

Follow me the wiseman said, but he walked behind

I have been trying to avoid a topic that has been on my mind the last few days. I regretfully decided not to speak about it, for the reason I actually have to much to say about it. Somehow I feel that whatever I could say about it, would not be enough. Without a doubt various points would be left unmentioned where they should be mentioned. And without a shadow of a doubt I know all will be misinterpreted.

The issue at hand would be that of the recent killing of Dutch film director, TV maker, media-personality and columnist Theo van Gogh. For those who do not know, he was shot dead a few days ago now by a radical Muslim. Apparently because this person did not agree with the way van Gogh talked about Muslims. Which indeed wasn't very respectfully usually. Van Gogh never was respectful towards anything however. While I disagree with most he said, it seems he actively sought confrontations and debates for the sake of confronting people. To stir up debate, to get people to think about issues. And because he believed that every view, however wrong, should be allowed to be said. The most radical form of freedom of speech. In his world he was allowed to call Muslims stupid and they where allowed to call him an asshole for it. As long as it remained a clash of words, of debates.

As I just mentioned, I in general did not agree with his opinions. I even question the nature of his logic, because words can also have great implications and cause damage. There is no crime in taking other people's feelings into account sometimes. But in essence we should indeed all be allowed to say what we want. If a line is crossed (say by for example inciting to hatred and violence) there are legal ways to deal with this. At least there are in The Netherlands. The government can act against such extremes. To kill somebody for speaking his or her mind is sickening. Actually all murder is, and in almost all cases the reasons escape logic. That this happened has truly been sickening and sad.

What bothers me even more is the aftermath however. And this also means I finally get to the core of what I want to say. His death has now been used by politicians, racists and an array of very clueless individuals for their own agenda's. There are various issues here that really bother me.

The first being that various politicians have called it a terrorist attack on our nation. Apparently the man who did this was involved in some sort of fundamentalist group. Still I object to the term terrorism being used. I doubt this was a coordinated attack by a well organised terrorist cell. In fact I am quite sure that we are simply dealing with a religious lunatic pulling a one-man action. But politicians and media need to drop the buzzword "terrorism" regardless. Do we honestly think this is a mighty terrorist attack? Come from the same people that brought us bombing embassies with hundreds death, driving aeroplanes into the WTC with thousands dead, blowing up trains and train stations in Madrid with countless dead, killing dozens of people every day in Iraq? Their next master plan to top all this is... to kill a movie director only know in The Netherlands who made a movie against the Islam? Are we collectively stupid or are the the luckiest nation in the world in the sense that where other nations suffer hundreds to thousands of innocent random casualties we get away with a single murder? I know we are a small nation, but come-on! This is just all politics'.

And this brings me to point two that bothers me. Suddenly this is now used as an excuse to pass new laws to limit privacy and give more rights to law-enforcement. It's used to openly discriminate based on race (I will get to this later) and we can suddenly spend as much government money as possible on it. All because now we are "at war". With whom exactly? Our entire nation has been attacked by one lone lunatic. Yes, there are fundamentalists (I think they identified about 150 on a population of 16 or 17 million!) and yes they need to be dealt with. But this really is overkill. At least when they needlessly took away civil rights in the US they truly had been attacked.

Also lets look at how effective such measures would be. It's not the amount of data you gather. It's how you analyse it and what you do with it. It's not about even more freedom for the police. They already can't process the data they are gathering now. The fact this killer was known by them, but his data was wrongly analysed and no action was taken tells us this more then anything. Anybody involved in Information Technology can tell you that there is a difference between raw data and something called "Information". It's the ability to process data into correct information that is the problem, not gathering even more data to make that job even harder!

The third point that bothers me is how everybody is confusing everything in order to openly become racists. Suddenly immigrants need to be better adjusted. The killer was born in the Netherlands, graduated from a good school, spoke perfect Dutch and until recently was even involved in helping out his neighbourhood at a community centre. His behaviour apparently changed after the death of his mother.

Also he had a double nationality. Dutch and Moroccan. So suddenly those with less brains then a single-celled organism think the solution lies in then taking away the Dutch nationality of people who commit crimes (or are even suspected of committing crimes!). Not only does this not solve anything at all, it also means you are now adopting a double standard for your citizens. You have in effect created the notion that "all men are equal... some are just more equal then others". And obviously such a measure stops neither crime and certainly not real terrorism (if I have to explain that one, I probably already am wasting my breath).

We often accuse Americans of "asking 'why do they hate us?' but then not wanting to listen to the answer". And now we are doing the same thing. Don't get me wrong, Muslim fundamentalists should be crushed as quickly as possible. These people deserve no respect for their ideas and how they want to oppose them with violence on the world. But we never wonder where they come from? People don't out of the blue decide to go "hey, you know what? Today I'll go fundamentalist on your ass!". Of course not all go into it because we did something wrong either. Some are truly misguided or criminal.

But what I do sense is that with the rise of racism in The Netherlands groups like the Muslims have been pushed out of our society even more then before. Good, honest hard working people are suddenly looked down upon because of their faith or the colour of their skin. We are so busy feeling threatened by their presence we missed that we made them feel so unwanted that a counter reaction is only to be expected. Hate feeds on hate.

Terrorism and fundamentalism are serious problems. And very difficult to solve. In fact it's something there are no sound bite solutions for. What I do think is that it works like quicksand. The harder you blindly struggle, the more trapped you get. The more we turn Muslims into outcasts, the more they will (and rightly so) dislike us for it. That doesn't mean some people aren't simply vile by nature, and among them are Muslims, Christians, non believers. The lot of them. It also doesn't mean you should close your eyes to problems that do exist when different cultures intermix, because you fear you will else be labelled a racist. Nor does it mean that religion, or any other form of group-behaviour can not have a bad influence on people. But the issue is not solved by all these measures they are taking. In fact they make it worse.

The world is polarising, and those who wish to depolarise have always been out-numbered by those who are clueless to an extent it is dangerous. Acknowledging that there may not be a solution, and as such do damage control, and see what parts can be solved in some way, works better then just throwing hollow solutions at a problem like poring gasoline on fire. When it comes to matters of sociality and psychology, things are infinitely complex.

Things are actually infinitely more complex even then I could write them down here. But this already has become more then a little lengthy, so perhaps a good note is to end on my favourite quote of one of the greater minds in history Bertrand Russel "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves. But wise people so full of doubts".


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