From  the  book  "THE  CAGED  VIRGIN"  by  Ayaan Hirsi  Ali

All  black  lettering  is  mine  -  Keith Hunt

What Went Wrong?

A Modern Clash of Cultures

Immigrants are expected to adopt certain standards and values that are part and parcel of Western society and to behave accordingly The debate around integration denounces the behavior of Muslims who do not meet these standards but often fails to tackle the underlying causes. Westerners condemn polygamy, vendetta, and abuse of women; we want to improve education and increase employment; we see the causal link between unfinished school careers and criminality. And yet we prefer not to discuss the cultural and religious backgrounds of these wrongs and problems. We readily passover the fact that traditional customs and orthodox religious opinions stand in the way of integration.

It is clear that "old forms and thoughts" will continue to influence Muslims for a long time to come. Archconservative imams, marriage to imported partners, the increased interest in Islamic teachings, and watching TV stations with fundamentalist leanings all contribute to this. Western integration policy should therefore address the regrettable correlation between the limited cultural development of large sections of the Muslim population and their social disadvantages.

The basic principles of traditional Islam, combined with the old customs of the ethnic groups, clash with the elementary values and standards of Western society. Failing to adopt the values of the host society or adhering to the standards of the country of origin explains to a large extent why many Muslims in the Netherlands are falling behind socially and economically. With the help of the work of three writers—Karen Armstrong, Bernard Lewis, and David Pryce-Jones— I argue that the Islamic faith lends itself more than any other to the preservation of premodern customs and traditions. For in Islam, culture and religion are very closely connected, and verses from the Koran legitimize many practices that—in the eyes of Westerners— are unacceptable. The mental world of Islam is a reflection of the stagnation that entrapped this religion a few centuries after its birth. This premodern mentality will continue to work against Muslim integration in the West. But there are four different models to solve the problems of integration: the political-legal model, the (purely) socioeconomic model, the multicultural model, and the sodocultural model. To a greater or lesser extent, each takes into account the cultural-religious background of Muslim immigrants.


Of course, immigrants from Surinam, the Antilles, (Christian) Ghana, and China (to name but a few groups) also have problems, but Muslims have very specific difficulties that stem from religion and culture when it comes to adjusting to a modern, Western society This is "religion as a culture-forming factor, with a system of values and morals derived from ideas about Divine Truth, and on the basis of this, a community which is a natural translation of a higher moral order." The drop in the number of young Muslims who attend the mosque by no means implies that these young people do not regard themselves as Muslims. For many nonpractidng Muslims, the essence of their identity and the system of values and morals by which they live remain Islamic.

Muslims in the Netherlands and other Western European countries are immigrants from Turkey and Morocco who have come to find work and have had children there. In the year 2000 these Dutch communities counted 309,000 and 262,000 registered people, re-spectively. In addition, the past decade has seen a considerable influx of asylum seekers, from Iraq (38,000), Somalia (30,000), Afghanistan (26,000), and Iran (24,000). In 2000 a total of approximately 35,000 people had arrived in the Netherlands from Pakistan, Tunisia, and Algeria. As a consequence of family reunion and childbirth, these communities are expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades. A few facts:

Muslims now form the biggest ideological category within the immigrant community. In absolute figures this means 736,000 Muslims. Most Muslims remain strongly focused on their own communities and have a very high proportion of marriages to foreign Islamic partners (almost three-quarters of Turkish and Moroccan marriages) as opposed to the low proportion of marriages to native Dutch partners (probably under 5 percent). 

"The vast majority, especially those who come from Islamic countries, do not converge. . . . Their demographic profile is traditional, and what is particularly striking is that the first and second generations seem no different in this respect." The preservation of old customs (such as marrying and having children early) in a modern society becomes a substantial obstacle to social mobility and integration. And the children from these families with parents who have had little or no education will follow in their parents' footsteps. "And of course your social mobility depends very much on having been in education for a certain period of time, which is in conflict with marrying young and having children early."

Muslims in the Netherlands reside predominantly in the deprived areas of the big and middle-sized cities. They are generally poorly educated. The majority of Turks and Moroccans come from the lowest socioeconomic strata in their native countries. A good proportion of asylum seekers has scarcely any education. The dropout rate from schools among Muslim children is relatively high. Even girls who go on to higher education are forced into marriage by their families and will often break off their education. Unemployment among Muslims is still two to three times higher than among the native population. Those who do have jobs often work in areas sensitive to economic fluctuations such as retail and catering. Their dependence on social welfare is relatively high. Crime rates are disproportionately high. Frank Bovenkerk and Yucel Yesilgoz even call these figures alarming.

Since the attacks of 911 and the results of the May 15, 2002 election (the national parliamentary elections in the Netherlands)— the main issue of which was the integration of minorities and the integration of Muslims into Dutch society—the question of Muslim integration has become more urgent. The tone of the discussions is turning grimmer, and in the media much attention is given to the radical political dimension of Islam, to which Muslims in the Netherlands, as elsewhere in the West, seem susceptible.


In their effort to understand Islam, researchers often separate the religion from its social origins. They describe the theological diversity within Islam, recount its philosophical history, or portray Islam as a spiritual inner journey. Hardly anyone has analyzed the origins of this world religion from a sociological point of view.

This is not surprising, given the fact that Islam had no real presence in Western Europe until recently and was a subject for research only among an exclusive, small circle of classical orientalists whose methods and personal interests colored their findings. There is also very little sociological research into Islam by established Muslim academics.

Lewis and Pryce-Jones discuss three closely linked characteristics of the mental world of traditional Islam. According to them, the religious-cultural identity of Muslims is characterized by:

A hierarchical-authoritarian mentality: "The boss is almighty; others can only obey."

Group identity: "The group always comes before the individual"; if you do not belong to the clan/tribe you will be treated with suspicion or, at best, not be taken seriously.

A patriarchal mentality and culture of shame: The woman has a reproductive function and must obey the male members of her family; failure to do so brings shame on the family.

The Islamic identity (view of mankind and the world) is based on groups, and its central concepts are honor and disgrace, or shame. "Honor" is closely linked to the group. The relevant groups, in order of size, are the family, the clan, the tribe, and, ultimately, the community of the faithful (ummah).

Within the community of the faithful, the fact that someone claims to be a Muslim is enough for other Muslims to regard that person as closer to them than any non-Muslim. Muslims feel an emotional bond with their oppressed brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world. When a group of Muslims—no matter where—is suffering or being oppressed (Kashmir, Palestine), the community of the faithful is commonly depicted as a bleeding body in pain.

Within the tribe or race, a person from the same region or country is closer to you than anyone from a faraway country This does not necessarily imply sharing the same nationality (a modern concept). A Turkish Kurd feels kindred to a Kurd from Iran or Iraq, and—because of an extended history of war and hostilities—not to his Turkish neighbors.

Within the family and the (sub)clan circles, it is a source of honor to have as many sons as possible. This is why men often marry young and will have more than one wife. The subordinate position of women is a consequence of the cultural desire to have many sons.

There are two reasons. 

First, children always adopt their father's name and never their mother s (i.e., her father's name).

When the woman marries someone outside the subclan and has children, she serves the interests of the rival subclan. Because of the distrust of rival (sub)clans (you never know, they might grow stronger and more aggressive and attack you), it is customary to encourage marriage among cousins. The wish to have so many sons can lead to an uncontrollable surge in the population. And marrying family members comes with considerable health risks for the offspring.

Second, a woman can tarnish her fathers honor, and consequently that of his clan, often incurring dreadful repercussions. She may do this by wearing the wrong kind of clothing outside the home or by going out with a boyfriend before marriage. Punishments include verbal warnings, physical abuse, expulsion and even murder. The outcome is almost invariably that no man will subsequently want to marry her. Not only does the family lose status, but the woman remains a financial burden. Her presence in the parental home is a permanent reminder of the shame she has brought upon her family and the clan. In other words, the individual is completely subordinate to the collective. Every child has to learn its social skills in a culture of shame, which centers on the concepts of honor and disgrace. There is no room whatsoever for the values of freedom and individual responsibility in this way of thinking. The first rule a child is taught is to obey the adults in his or her family. Boys, moreover, learn from a very early age to give as good as they get. Aggressive behavior is functional in this culture and serves the purpose of avoiding public humiliation by others.

This premodern culture closely resembles a concept called the General Human Pattern (GHP), a pattern that was found in all societies at one time, except todays. In this model developed by Dutch philosopher Jan Romein, man feels that he is part of nature; he wants to use it without feeling an obsessive need to scrutinize all its secrets. The GHP mind thinks in a particular way: concrete rather than abstract; it resorts to images rather than concepts. Conscious organization and planning play a much less important role for him than in modern societies. In the GHP mind, power and authority are absolute and unassailable. Anyone who opposes the authorities is punished. 

Finally, work as a necessary function in society in this mind-set is not regarded as a blessing, but as a curse and a burden. Doing nothing is a luxury desired by all but granted to only a few.


Islam began in a tribal society. The monotheism of Islam marked a sharp break with the polytheism that had prevailed on the Arabian Peninsula until then. The new faith inspired Muhammad's tribe in its constant battle to fend off neighboring tribes. Muhammad preached charity: once conquered, tribes were not enslaved if they converted to Islam and joined in the battle against nonbelieving tribes. This gave the Muslim religion a strongly expansionist character: much importance is attributed to the conquest and conversion of those who do not believe in Allah. Islam adopted some pre-Islamic spiritual traditions, such as praying, fasting, and giving alms. The relationship between Muhammad and his god is vertical: God is almighty, He is one, and Muhammad obeys His commands. The relationship between Muhammad and his followers is simple and the same: Muhammad's will is the law.

The Koran prescribes the ideal ordering of society with rules primarily designed to bring under control the tribal anarchy of the time, with its extremely violent fights against and among clans and tribes. In The Closed Circle, David Pryce-Jones describes how this tribal system functioned. In a vicious cycle of violence, one tribe tried to dominate another, which meant that there was a permanent struggle for power within the tribe, the clan, and the family. At the top of every family, clan, or tribe stood one man. Often this captain had acquired his position through cunning and violence. For instance, Muhammad had managed to get a number of tribes to accept important political and social (and eventually also economic) regulations that supported values central to the tribal way of life, such as maintaining the tribe's honor and the redistribution of property.

These laws brought a lasting solution to the problems between rival tribes and forced them to become allies. The fighting continued, but only against tribes outside the Islamic circle.

Not surprisingly, many of the laws laid down by the Koran put the social peace of the group first, within which there is a high degree of social control. Many of these laws are related to the honor of a man, his family, or his clan. The opposite of honor is disgrace, so a man is as passionate about guarding his honor as he is about avoiding shame and disgrace. Lies and evasion play an important part in this culture of honor and shame; ignoring or simply denying what has really happened is normal. The tribal culture has a strongly developed sense of mistrust, not only of outsiders, but also of the members of one's own family or clan.


Islam united ignorant Arabic tribes that had been deeply immersed in anarchy into a world civilization. In the seventh century, Muslims conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and the rest of North Africa and began to move into the Iberian Peninsula. Nothing seemed to stop the new faith from spreading. During the rise of Islam, the only other civilization of a comparable standard and size was China, But Bernard Lewis distinguishes the Chinese civilization from Islam because it was restricted to a single region and one racial group. The Muslims created a multiethnic, multiracial, and universal world civilization. Yet today, compared with the Christian West, the Muslim world has become poor, weak, fractious, and ignorant.

According to Lewis, the question "What went wrong?" is commonly tackled from either a secular or sociopsychological point of view. Secularists put the role of religion in Islamic society at the center of the discussion and argue that the West's economic and cultural primacy is the result of the separation of church and state and of the institution of a civil society that follows secular legislation. The others, especially feminists, focus on sexism and the inferior position of women in Islamic society. Not only do these problems deprive the Islamic world of half their population's talents and energy, they disadvantage their own children by leaving them in the care of illiterate, downtrodden mothers.

"The products of such an education ... are likely to grow up arrogant or submissive, and unfit for a free, open society" says Lewis. Indeed a growing number of Muslims claim the answer to "What went wrong?" is that they have been struck by evil because of their neglect of the divine inheritance of Islam, This all too simple response is fatal to further economic development because it means a return to a largely imaginary past as occurred in the Iranian Revolution and in other fundamentalist movements and regimes in Muslim countries. In comparison, the secular system of democracy offers more opportunities. Some historical thinkers, Lewis among them, are optimistic about Kemal Atariurk's Turkish Republic. Others, including Pryce-Jones, are less optimistic about the extent to which secularism and other Western developments are (or can be) truly understood by people who are used to living in a tribal society.

Lewis's position is unambiguous. The subtitle of his book, The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, is revealing. The people who abandoned Islamic civilization have not fully experienced the intrusive, painful but ultimately liberating process of modernization as their neighbors and rivals in the Christian West have. Lewis warns that a downward spiral of hatred and resentment, anger and self-pity, poverty and oppression can result from rejecting modernity, but he hopes that Muslims will use their talents and energy to achieve a common goal, so that one day Islamic nations may become an important civilization again.

In this respect Lewis is more optimistic than Pryce-Jones. Lewis demands that Muslims relinquish their most substantial values, the things they pass on to their children including the patriarchal family structure and the mind-set that is obsessed with honor and group self-image. But, as Pryce-Jones says, these are the very characteristics that define the tribe, precisely the attributes that make it such a tightly closed community These tribal values, and the sense of identity that accompanies them, are so deeply ingrained that the people have become blind to their disastrous long-term effects. The total acceptance of these values is perpetuated by the endlessly repeated processes, that legitimized premodern concepts with texts from the Koran. The ideas and traditions of Muhammad's tribal society are adopted straight into the industrial and urban society of today, without any consideration for their historical context.

The historian Karen Armstrong believes that in the past Muslims have successfully demonstrated they can separate reason from religion. After all, Muslims once had great philosophers and created a world civilization. She feels that the problem is not so much rooted in Muslims themselves, and their religion, as in the West's attitude toward Muslim countries. Imperialism and the supremacy of the United States as a trading power have deprived Muslims of the opportunity to come to grips with their own problems.

Lewis is more skeptical. He agrees that from the nineteenth century onward the British and French came to dominate the Islamic people both politically and economically This brought about some fundamental cultural changes, such as the migration to cities in the twentieth century Neither does he dispute that this development transformed the lives of Muslims, in both a positive and a negative sense. He acknowledges that the Americans have strategic interests to protect in the region (securing the stability of their oil supply). Yet, according to Lewis, none of this is the real cause of the lack of progress in Islamic countries. Rather, these are the consequences, just as the Mongolian invasion during the thirteenth century was possible only because the Islamic empire was suffering from internal weakness at the time.

Both Lewis and Pryce-Jones believe that the main reason for the decline lies in the inability of Muslims to set up democratic institutions that safeguard the right to individual freedom, put the relative values of scientific knowledge and religious wisdom into perspective (scientific research is often brought to a halt when it is perceived as a threat to religious dogmas), and undo the social and psychological consequences of the subjugation of women. They do not say in so many words that Islam as a religion is at the root of the tragic situation in large parts of the Islamic world, but their analysis does point to the fact that the dominance of religious practice in the Muslim world (among orthodox followers and fundamentalists) forms a serious obstacle to social progress and emancipation for all Muslims.

In July 2002 the United Nations Development Program published the Arab Human Development Report, an analytical survey of the average life expectancy, the level of education, and the standard of life of the inhabitants of twenty-two Islamic countries. The report confirms the theory put forward by Pryce-Jones and Lewis: deep-rooted institutional shortcomings stand in the way of human development. According to the report, the region is plagued by "three key deficits that can be considered defining features":

a lack of freedom

disempowerment of women

a lack of capabilities or knowledge.


How do people live in this kind of premodern lack of development? The "mass triangle" represents their response. There is also a "power" or "elite triangle," which will be explained in a moment. Reality, of course, is more complex; categories overlap.

In accordance with tribal culture, the power in the home countries of Muslim immigrants (with the important exception of Turkey) is concentrated in a triangle, consisting of a political leader at the top (either a president or a king), followed by the army, and then the official clergy (ulema). These three sectors (just about) reinforce each other. Its members often come from the same family, clan, or tribe and are related by marriage. Their power is partly based on these relationships. To these people at the top, Islam is an instrument, a means to consolidate the existing balance of power. In states such as Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, the secular government monitors religious leaders, and there is a state religion. The political and army leaders have complete control over the official instruments of force (in the absence of an independent judiciary), all sources of government income (tax and trade), the media (radio, television, newspapers), and the economy. The result is a general stagnation in society.

The mass triangle represents the various ways in which the people respond to this stagnation.

There is corruption and apathy. Only a section of the population has access to public services through the clan or tribe, and these people take advantage of the endemic corruption within the civil service and the business community. A proportion of the financial aid from Western counties and international organizations is taken by this dominant group, which is out to enrich itself and often resorts to bribery and blackmail. The rest of the population tends to accept the situation as it is, because that is all they have ever known.

There is a rise in fundamentalism. This rapidly expanding section of the population does not accept the existing balance of power. Fundamentalists are on the rise everywhere, even among professionals with a high level of education (lawyers, doctors, and others). They are disappointed by secular ideologies such as liberal democracy, nationalism, and communism. Fundamentalists believe that all the social and economic miseries—"What went wrong"—are due to the widespread neglect of Islamic values and standards. The Islamic Brotherhood, Bin Laderis al Qaeda, and Erbakan's Milli Gorus in Turkey accuse the United States, in particular, of supporting tyranny in their countries. In some countries, the fundamentalists are described as the only authentic opposition group in the Islamic world, but of course many countries do also have democratic and/or secular opposition parties. Fundamentalist power depends on zealous missionary work, an antipathy toward government-supported clerics, desperate force (terrorism and martyrdom), and their own religious centers, such as the Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

There is significant internal and external emigration. The biggest victims of social stagnation are rural people, peasants from the countryside. Many have been uprooted and forced to look for work in the cities, where they are condemned to accept low-paid, menial jobs; they often receive a cruel, degrading deal in a society dominated by honor and shame. Often they have little or no education, or are illiterate. Numerous other people who do not have the right tribal or clan background (merchants, tradespeople, low-ranking civil servants, etcetera) are also stuck in poverty.

A small proportion of the peasant masses has been coming to Western Europe as foreign workers since the 1960s. Many left their native countries to escape civil war and famine. A relatively small proportion came to Europe as asylum seekers or to request residence on humanitarian grounds. The large majority—millions—of refugees live in neighboring countries in Africa and the Mideast, usually in camps managed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC).

The Arab Human Development Report states that many in the Islamic world have a very strong desire to emigrate to one of the rich countries in the West.


The majority of Muslims living in the Netherlands (Turks, Moroccans, and a proportion of asylum seekers) did not make an in formed choice to come to the Netherlands, but have ended up there out of necessity. They originally came from the countryside, where tribal traditions still rule.

If we define culture as the repertoire of knowledge, symbols, traditions, ideas, skills, and rules of conduct that make up a community, then the cultural expressions of the majority of Muslims are still at a premodern stage of development. This cultural background is characterized by three important factors. 

First, an authoritarian mentality based on strict hierarchy; second, a patriarchal family structure, in which the woman has a reproductive function and is expected to obey the men in the family; if she doesn't, she will disgrace the family. Third, all thoughts revolve around the group; the group always comes before the individual; social control is very strong; and the fierce protection of the group's honor makes people obsessed with avoiding shame at all cost, with the result that doing so through lying or simply denying what has really happened becomes the norm. This traditional way of thinking is full of fossilized religious concepts.

It could have been expected that this would lead to big problems with integration at all levels of society, including the workplace. For instance, when a Moroccan warehouse manager of a large supermarket directs his assistants by intimidating and verbally abusing them, he is acting in accordance with the standards of his group (culture). It is his way of establishing authority and defending his honor; management through "positive consultation" would be a sign of weakness. In Moroccan culture you would only begin an instruction with "Would you please ..." if you were addressing a superior, but not someone of a lower rank than you. The Dutch employees, though, have a different frame of reference; to them the Moroccan's conduct is unworkable and unacceptable. If he refuses to adjust, and to adopt the values of his Dutch staff, he will not be able to function at work and will become unemployed.

Situations like these occur every day. They lead to a great deal of mutual misunderstanding and mistrust, and can result in Muslims complaining of "discrimination" and employers saying that they would rather not employ "any more Moroccans." For a Muslim in the Netherlands, the authoritarian approach is bound to fail. Getting others to agree with you and pursuing your own interests is imbedded in the Dutch social code; it takes into account the individual rights and interests of colleagues. A Muslim newcomer must develop his individual identity outside of his group identity and distance himself from the traditional culture of honor and shame. Instead of seeing himself "through the eyes of others" (honor and shame), he must develop a stable inner compass that will help him survive in a modern Western society.

Another common problem of integration is seen in the relations between men and women. The deeply patriarchal standards of Muslims often seem totally inappropriate, outdated, and degrading in modern society. The virgin/whore cult, the pressure to have as many sons as possible, the circumcision of girls (usually justified on religious grounds), arranged marriages for daughters—these are all products of the mentality of honor. As a group, Muslim women as well as men will have to forgo these practices and their underlying values to succeed in the West. If they do not, the emancipation of Muslims cannot really begin. Or, to put it in the words of the Dutch economist Arie van der Zwan, "this gap between the sealed-off world of non-Western immigrants and the society in which they have arrived cannot be seen separately from the stagnation in their home countries. For most [still] come from the Islamic world, and there is a growing stream of international literature which poses the question of why that world failed: 'What went wrong?' The Islamic world has seen little progress in science, culture, or the economy since the eighteenth century, although it once made major contributions in these areas."

What is particularly good about van der Zwan's statement is that he mentions both the international aspect (stagnation as an impetus for emigration) and the national dimension (cultural problems during integration that present a challenge to the host society). In his
article he discusses the factors that have led to both the emigration and the fact that Muslims cling to values and standards that are "unsuitable" in a modern society.

Initially, Dutch politicians and policy makers interpreted the influx of foreign workers from the Muslim world (Morocco and Turkey) as a temporary phenomenon. The newcomers were "guest workers." The Muslims themselves held a similar view, thinking that they had come to the West for a limited time, in order to earn money with which they could build a future back home. As it became clear that Muslims, like other non-Western immigrants, were settling permanently in the Netherlands, the debate about how best to integrate these people into Dutch society began. There are four positions to be distinguished in this debate, which are relevant to all Western democracies.


In order to become full members of Dutch society, newcomers who possess a residence permit should have the same social and political rights and duties as the native population. Once they meet this political-legal condition, immigrants supposedly can participate in every aspect of society without further government intervention, although the campaign against discrimination and racism remains important to uphold.

The problem with this vision is that there is a gap between immigrants' formal rights and the actual process of settling down and becoming fully emancipated members of society. In practice very few immigrants make use of their civil and political rights. Their turnout at the elections, for example, is depressingly low. Because familiarization with Dutch society is limited, their awareness of their individual rights is, too.

Paradoxically, in practice, formal rights are used to achieve the opposite of integration, namely to segregate the community from the rest of society on the basis of its religion (ethnicity). The most tragic example of this is the government system of subsidies for special Islamic schools. The ease with which immigrants can draw social benefits also has its drawbacks, one of which is that many immigrants have slipped into a permanent dependency on state benefits.

The political-legal approach is based on Dutch national history formed over centuries of political tensions among different Christian and secular groups. It does not take into account the background of the Muslims in the Netherlands. Because there is such a difference between the mind-sets of Muslim immigrants and the Dutch-population, however, this approach perpetuates the disadvantages mentioned above. Radical Muslims will not be absorbed into the country the way the Roman Catholics and other sects eventually were in history. Radical Muslims are opposed to the system itself. Radical Muslims want to destroy the whole system.


In this view, immigrants from non-Western countries are labeled as disadvantaged. The state aims its legislation to create equal opportunities for their education, employment and income, health care, and housing. The group's disadvantages are considered only socioeconomic, however, and are not thought to be byproducts of any culture or religion.

The advantage of this approaches that it takes into consideration the different ways immigrants are excluded, in what we call ''blind" segregation. For instance, large numbers of immigrants in deprived areas are virtually segregated into "black" schools, whereas most ethnic Dutch children are in "white" schools. But as before, the disadvantage of this approach is that it is based on the specific circumstances of Dutch social history, in particular the struggle between labor and capital, and the institution of the welfare state after World War II. After this, the Dutch working class became emancipated into a bourgeois middle class. Most Muslims in the Netherlands, on the other hand, come from a completely different background, one of institutionalized inequality, which is why this approach has two major downsides. In the first place, it leads to victimization, because it places all the responsibility for dealing with the problems on external factors (the government, Dutch society); it also gives the group a negative self-image and encourages a distrustful attitude toward the world outside the group. This causes tensions between the parties and gives rise to recriminations.

Moreover, the provisions of the Dutch welfare state, such as social security and rent subsidy, help cushion the consequences for those who have dropped out of society, who no longer absolutely need to adjust to the ways of Dutch society if they want to survive. In this way, the process of modernization comes to a halt for large groups of Muslims; from the margins of society they cling to values and standards that stand in the way of their own emancipation.


A multicultural approach aspires to promote different cultures living peacefully side by side under one government, in accordance with the rules of mutual respect, and with the same opportunities and rights. Yet advocates of multiculturalism favor giving minorities special privileges. Originally, these special privileges are intended to safeguard the rights of the indigenous population in countries such as Canada (Indians and Inuit) and Australia (Aboriginals). Nonetheless, many people in the Netherlands still defend this position. For example, M. Galenkamp, a philosopher of law from Rotterdam, was critical of the Prime Minister Balkenende's proposal to make the fundamental starting points for the government's integration policy the Dutch system of morals and values (basic human rights) and the separation of church and state. Galenkamp argued that this would be impossible, since the Netherlands is no longer a homogeneous society; she also feels it would have the undesirable effect of polarization, which would be detrimental to social cohesion; and she argues that it would be unnecessary because a better starting point would be the "principle of damage" devised by J. S. Mill, the nineteenth-century philosopher, who believed that no person should ever have to suffer as a result of someone else's exercise of freedom.

If John Stuart Mill were living in Holland today, he would disagree with Galenkamp. He would explain to her that the position of Muslim women living in Holland is already contrary to the "principle of damage." The problem with Galenkamp is that she's very formal in her thinking, as a lawyer is trained to be. Lawyers are not taught to understand the term power; they concentrate on the vertical relationships in society—the vertical relationship of the individual and his relationship to the government. So, they argue, the freedom of the individual must not be restricted by the government. But they do not see the way power works horizontally. They do not see how to prohibit one individual from taking the freedom of another individual. They do not see or understand the subcultures, particularly Islamic interior cultures. They do not see how Muslim women are socialized to believe in the importance and tightness of their own oppression. Mill was quite aware of the importance of reading and reasoning as tools of self-understanding and of understanding the world. If a woman is socialized to believe in her own oppression, that would not meet the condition of freedom.

Muiticulturalism has been the biggest influence on Dutch integration policies since the realization, around 1979, that the guest workers who had flowed in from other countries to perform service jobs were going to stay for good. Muiticulturalism is so influential partly due to the nation's history of having learned to live with many minorities in a peaceful way. This coexistence was based on the principle of "emancipation through the conservation of identity," of the integration of different peoples as they preserved their own ethnic, cultural identities. Muiticulturalism is also influential because of the guilt that the Dutch feel over their colonial history and over the racism against and genocide of the Jews during World War II.

The problem with this multicultural view is that it denies that cultural and religious standards can have negative effects and retard the integration and emancipation of peoples, particularly Muslims. Thus, the multiculturalists welcome the emergence of a Muslim section of society because they are under the illusion that it will help encourage Muslim economic emancipation as it did with the Roman Catholic sectors years ago. The Catholics in a largely Protestant Dutch country were for some years poorer, with large families and low-paying jobs, like Muslims today. But they organized themselves around the Catholic Church and improved their financial and economic lives until they became quite integrated.

The multiculturalists say, "If it worked for the Catholics, why shouldn't it work for the Muslims?" But this is a dangerous misconception about the vast majority of Muslims and will merely encourage their separate, inward focus on their own isolated culture. What the multiculturalists forget is that the Catholics shared with the other Christian/Protestant sects the same language, the same national identity, a common history, and basically the same ethnicity. And they were both Christian, although they might disagree on how to express their religion. The Muslims in Europe have myriad different languages and ethnicities that further separate them from their new country. The socioeconomic background of these many peoples is also quite varied and starkly different from the European background. Because multiculturalists will not classify cultural phenomena as "better" or "worse" but only neutral or disparate, they actually encourage segregation and unintentionally perpetuate, for instance, the unsatisfactory position of Muslim women. State subsidies for nonstate schools allow Muslims to have their own schools, including separate boarding schools for boys and girls, in which young girls are indoctrinated to expect a future as mothers and housewives in accordance with very conservative Islamic practices.


The economist Arie van der Zwan recently concluded that the lack of progress in integration cannot be explained by objective socioeconomic factors alone. Sociocultural factors are equally important and combine with very real socioeconomic disadvantages to cause the integration problem. He draws distinctions, for example, between the various groups of non-Western immigrants. On the one hand, there are the people from Surinam and the Antilles, and on the other the Moroccans and Turks. Referring to the study by the Nethejdands Scientific Council of Government Policy, mentioned above, he concludes that the former two groups form a subclass that has become almost identical to its native Dutch counterpart. But Turks and Moroccans present qualitative and quantitative differences, which arise from their sociocultural position. Only a third of the Moroccan and Turkish population can be considered integrated immigrants. For two-thirds, the prospects for integration are very poor indeed.

One-half of the unintegrated group consists of people over forty-five, most of whom have stopped working. The other half consists of second-and third-generation Turks and Moroccans, who, van der Zwan writes, are impossible to classify: "The strong identification with the ethnic group has gone, while integration into society has not taken place yet, and the prospect of this happening is doubtful." This vulnerable, uprooted group is exposed to the temptations of Western society (freedom, drugs, nightlife), but lacks the inner mental or individual resources or education to control inappropriate behavior. Social derailment is common with these young people: education and employment can lead to social elevation, but delinquency and the lure of fundamentalism often are more alluring.


If we interpret the concept of "integration" as a process of civilization for groups of Muslim immigrants living within the Western society into which they have been received, we render superfluous the pseudo-debate about the equality of cultures. Whether an immigrant should accept or give up something in order to function better within a society depends on the demands of that society. As immigrants develop an awareness of their level of achievement in relation to others, they see that in order to progress they need to behave according to the values and standards of their newly adopted home country.

A third advantage of regarding integration as a process of civilization is that it helps the native population to empathize with the immigrants facing this challenge. It is easier to show mutual understanding in the knowledge that the immigrant is about to face a fundamental personal change. 

The native majority has had over a hundred years to come to grips with modern values, which gives them a psychological advantage over the people who have walked into society straight from the Riff Mountains or the Anatolian countryside. Denying this really would be counterproductive, yet this form of tolerance is quite different from advocating the preservation of traditions and values merely for their own sake.

After all, the Dutch no longer advocate the tradition of an ancestral, premodern, religious tradition. Tragically, however, the Dutch government has ignored the culturally disadvantaged position of Muslims for decades. In recent years, the most common approaches the government took to these problems were the political-legal, the (purely) socioeconomic, and the multicultural, all three of which were strongly colored by typically Dutch political, economic, and cultural traditions. 

Only an approach that addresses both the socioeconomic disadvantages and cultural factors unique to Islam offers a real chance of promoting successful integration. Failure to do this would be catastrophic, above all for the weakest group of Muslim immigrants, the women and girls.