Not shocked in the least.
I’m not shocked, any more than I would be over a researcher finding out that hard-core Marxists and Fascists believe in a strong centralized form of government and that the individual is to be subservient to it. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the more devout, traditional Muslim a person is, the more hatred they harbor concerning Jews.
Undercover sociologist: ‘Dutch Salafist have no loyalty to democracy’
Sociologist Mohammed Soroush has carried out during three years undercover research for his doctorate among the 30,000 Dutch Salafists. He concluded that they are not loyal to democracy. Their preachers promote intolerance and polarization.
With the growing scale and influence of Salafism in recent years, warnings for this strict Islamic movement have also increased. For example, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) reported this week in a threat analysis the state-subversive activities of some Salafist preachers. In mosques and religious centers these preachers would proclaim a message that stirs intolerance and polarization.
How this message is marketed exactly remains hidden. Until the Iranian-Dutch sociologist Mohammad Nazar Soroush decided to go undercover for three years in numerous Friday prayers, conferences and a few camping weekends of the approximately 30,000 soul salafist community in the Netherlands. What Soroush encountered again and again in these salafist centers did not appeal to him: Salafists are themselves superior believers who do not feel loyal to the democratic principles of Dutch ‘infidels’. The report is recorded in the thesis Institutional reproduction of Salafist youth in the Netherlands, one of the most comprehensive field studies among Dutch Salafists.
‘I had to go undercover’, Soroush defends himself. “Otherwise I would only get socially desirable answers. In addition, Salafists hardly allow anyone to openly investigate their community. I often ran into closed doors. That is why I decided to participate anonymously. ‘
Who does not agree with this is Otman, a devout Muslim of 30. Last week he walked around in the halls of Tilburg University, where a reception was held in honor of Soroush’s promotion. ‘I’m sorry for what he did,’ says Otman. “The organizations he has visited have opened their hearts to him and now he is stabbing them in this way.”
Otman says that he met Soroush at some Salafist conferences. He had no idea of Soroush’s research work. When Otman and Soroush bump into each other in the university, a short, uncomfortable embrace follows.
Difficult to penetrate
In any case, Sourosh ‘undercover approach offers a rare insight into a world that is difficult to penetrate. He knows how to catch salafists at unguarded moments when they feel at ease and unconscious. Violence did not involve Sourohs. Even so, the necessary things are said and preached in Salafist institutions that reinforces the idea that Salafism is the gateway to dangerous radicalization. For example, in the As Soennah mosque in Tilburg he speaks to a Syrian young man who states that anyone who does not regard sharia as the only and legitimate legislation is a ‘renegade’. At the AlFitrah foundation in Utrecht, Sourosh hears a preacher say that “severe punishment” according to Sharia – stoning, throwing up adulterers – is good for society.
‘An enormous added value of Soroush’ research is that you get an unfiltered view of the Salafist world and see how it really works when they are mutually different ‘says Jan Jaap de Ruiter, Arabist at Tilburg University and co-promoter of Soroush. ‘Earlier research into salafists was a bit of an unctuous tone. Such as: they may be orthodox, but in the end they have nothing against democracy and will not undermine it. Soroush shows that we are dealing here with imams who utter hatred and poison, who say: when it really matters, we do not want your unbelieving laws and democracy. That is a confrontational message. ‘
Trauma in Iran
Soroush – ‘I am a liberal Muslim myself’ – does not just investigate. He also warns about Salafism. That’s what he says because he knows as an Iranian what kind of social damage can be caused by intolerant religious pretensions. During the Iranian revolution in 1979, Soroush was a member of the Volksmujahedeen, a Marxist-religious resistance movement opposed to the theocratic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini. Soroush was captured and tortured because of his convictions and left a lifelong mistrust of “totalitarian” religious sects.
“During my visits to the Salafist institutions, I often met the same intolerance I still know from Ayatollah Khomeini,” says Soroush. ‘Many of my friends were executed by order of Khomeini, who was firmly convinced of his religious mission on earth.’
For Soroush it is now a foregone conclusion: salafism and democracy can never go together. That is why he can find himself in the line that the new mayor of Amsterdam Femke Halsema has plotted. That broke this summer with the policy of her interim predecessor Jozias van Aartsen who sought cooperation with salafists. Halsema does not want to know much about this because Salafism sometimes leans towards an ‘aggressive dislike of the democratic constitutional state’.
The criticism: why not loyal?
Otman has great difficulty with Soroush’s claim that salafism and loyalty to democracy are incompatible. “You will not find anyone who is more loyal to democracy than I am. This also applies to the rest of the Salafist community in the Netherlands. As far as I know Salafists, they promote loyalty. What I personally get from the scholars I speak and follow is that I have to develop all my ambitions in the Netherlands, I have to contribute to this society. ‘
Arabist Maurits Berger, who is associated with Leiden University and member of Soroush’s PhD committee, also doubts Soroush’s belief that salafism necessarily excludes loyalties from democracy. ‘There is a difference between not integrating and not being loyal. That salafists are sometimes in their foxhole and the victim hangs out, that’s right. But that does not say anything about their loyalty. The idea that you have to do something with the Netherlands, that is certainly present at salafists, and that idea only grows. This is evident from all the previous research that was carried out on Salafists, also by the intelligence service AIVD. ‘
According to Berger, who recently participated in a literature study of Salafism in the Netherlands, earlier research also shows that the group of Salafists who turn away from the Netherlands in a state-dangerous manner is getting smaller and smaller. Salafists thus increasingly resemble the orthodox Jewish or Christian community in the Netherlands. They sometimes stand with their backs to society, their primordial conservative, intolerant, but are as loyal to divine authority as to worldly authority.
Another view of the nature of Salafism – and more in line with Soroush’s conclusions – emerges from the recent threat assessment of the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV). In it salafism is explicitly associated with a threat of violence. According to the NCTV there are Salafist individuals who ‘concealed in religious terms’ legitimize and propagate terrorist violence. Salafism is growing, the NCTV observes, and it is financially strong enough to ‘salafise’ ailing mosques and Islamic centers.
Arabist De Ruijter does not believe that Salafism, like orthodox Judaism or Christianity, will join the democratic legal order. ‘Given their views on Sharia as the ideal and only legislation, I doubt whether Salafists can ever reach a pragmatic attitude towards democracy. For this the hatred discourse towards everything that is Western is far too strong within the Salafist community. They have such a strong universal claim on how the world should be equipped, I do not see them as relativizing for the time being. ‘
Soroush holds his heart for the future. He believes that Salafists, with their irreconcilable and anti-democratic attitudes, manage a confrontation with Dutch society. Non-Salafist Muslims like him can be addressed. “My wife has a headscarf. If she cycles to the market or something, I’m afraid someone does something to her. Society is restless. “