Guest Article: “De-radicalization” as Business

by Renzo Verwer*

brainwash-logo-big1On 28 January 2016 a conference took place in a mosque located in Amsterdam West. The topic: “Radicalization and Extremism.” I was there. And I can assure you: it was very entertaining.

The members of the panel defined “de-radicalization” as “convincing people not to travel to Syria.” Another name for the same process was “preventing them from traveling to Syria.” During the first hour and a half the words ISIS/Daesh/Jihad were not mentioned. Strange, that.

So “de-radicalization” means preventing people from traveling to Syria.

I can see the subsidies starting to flow… armed with this definition, people can make quite some money!

The conference also called for reforming Islam. Two imams in particular were mentioned in this context. Their names are Yassin El Forkani and Abu Ismail. The former is known as a “moderate,” a reputation he won by daring to say, once upon a time, that Islam was not without its problems. It was determined that the Netherlands needed more “modern” imams to take the place of the “old fashioned ones.” Those imams, having entered the country from abroad, were “going around saying strange things.” Just what those “strange things” were no one bothered to explain.

A second conference on the same subject was announced. It made me think: “There we go again. All this nonsense about educating imams so as to rub off the tiger’s spots, reform them, and produce the kind of modern Islam the country needs.” An endeavor on which the Dutch Government has already spent considerable sums without any visible success, so far.

Back to the first conference. The audience, consisting of some 150 people, was of the kind you would expect. Such as the lady from Amsterdam North who likes “engaging in dialogue” and was “so happy with this meeting.” And the journalist Paul Andersson Touissant, who has published a volume that criticizes the integration of Moroccans into Dutch society. There were also four students from the Amsterdam Teachers’ College with whom I talked a little. One of the four was reading two books. One that criticized Islam and another written by a left-wing Dutch politician. She liked them both.

Many people asked a question or made comments. Among them, a surprising number described themselves as “psychologists.” One, a Moslem, said that “Moslem parents often neglect their offspring and blame society.”

Personally the person with whom I found myself in agreement was a fairly radical (depending on your definition, I suppose) Moslem who said (I paraphrase): “We are trying to prevent youngsters from traveling to Syria. But suppose they do so, and start fighting our opponents: should we try to stop them?”

El Forkani, who was present, strongly disliked the question. He became quite aggressive and started berating the man, accusing him of supporting a Moslim radical movement. The man denied it, becoming quite emotional in the process.

After the conference was closed I talked to the man. He had his own theory which he was very happy to share with me. According to him those calling for the establishment of a Khaliphate were planning to change the rules and stop exporting oil. And that was why the West was fighting DAESH.

I had had enough. Having listened to his monologue and partaken of the tea and sweets on offer, I went home.

Outside the building policemen were keeping guard. The reason, I was told, was the fear lest some members of Sharia4Belgium—see–might break into the hall and cause trouble. It would not have been the first time. The same applies to Sahar as-Sham.

Briefly, the program was to harness the mosques in an attempt at de-radicalization—a concept defined quite broadly. And to make the authorities spend money on the enterprise; have a plan, will take money to carry it out. But how to guarantee that the money would not be misused? What I saw was the beginning of a conflict among the Moslems; who can put on the most tolerant mask and grab the money on offer.

Fascinating. I can see some of the most radical Moslems being given money simply for pretending to be less radical in front of other Moslems. Which seems to be just what El Forkani is doing.

In my life I have learnt that one should judge people by their deeds rather than their words. When politicians say that the economy is growing you do not automatically believe them. Nor do you necessarily believe sportsmen and sportswomen when they say they play a clean game.

The same applies to people who say that they choose their partners and friend purely for their character. And to medical researchers who claim that they like animals and treat them well. And so on, and so on. To repeat, it is deeds that count. Which is why I do not necessarily believe El Forkani either. This disbelief has nothing to do with the fact that he is a Moslem.

To say it again: What is de-radicalization? Does it mean not going to Syria, as people in Amsterdam seem to think? Or adhering to a moderate form of Islam? How do you measure those things? How do you brainwash people? Back in the 1980s, some people in the Netherlands, influenced by all kinds of sects, tried to re-program religious cults. Without success, needless to say. Briefly: I rather doubt whether a program designed to deprogram can work.

Finally, for those of you who want to make money: there is plenty of it waiting for you. The piggybanks, carrying a sign that reads “de-radicalization” are full. All they need is to be opened for the money to start flowing. For a start, set up a nice office and tell a nice tale about a nice moderate mosque.

* Renzo Verwer (Woerden, the Netherlands, 1972) is an author and a dealer in second hand books. He has published books about love, work, and the chess master Bobby Fischer. His most recent one (in Dutch) is titled Freedom of Thought for Beginners. His website is His books:

The Idiots

islamic-terrorist-e1424196060104For the purpose at hand, it all started in Israel. Back in the early 1980s General (ret.) Ariel Sharon was minister of defense under Prime Minister Menahem Begin. Assisted by a Hebrew University Professor whose field was Islamic studies, he came up with the bright idea of forming a religious-conservative opposition to Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The center of the movement was to be in Hebron, the principal city of the southern, and socio-economically less developed, part of the West Bank. In return for the right to rule over their people’s day-to-day affairs, the so-called “Rural Societies” were to oppose the PLO and tacitly accept Israeli rule. The outcome? Hamas, meaning Islamic Resistance Movement. In 2006 it took over control of the Gaza Strip. Having done so, for years on end it waged a terrorist campaign against Israel. Though apparently cowed by Operation Protective Edge in 2014, it is even now threatening to renew the rocket attacks at any time it feels like doing so.

Others, the Americans in particular, have committed similar errors. First, during the early 1980s, came their attempts to resist the Soviets in Afghanistan. This meant supporting the Mujahedeen, a movement that combined nationalism and religion in fighting the Red Army which had invaded the country. And, yes, it worked. After almost ten years of warfare the Soviets were forced to retreat. And what happened? Some Afghan “freedom fighters” spread all over the world, promoting terrorism wherever they went. Others joined the Taliban and, later, Al Qaeda. Enough said.

Next, in 2003, came the invasion of Iraq. In the name of democracy, women’s rights, and, some dared suggest, oil. To be sure, Saddam Hussein was not exactly a nice man. In 1990 he invaded and occupied Kuwait; defeated, he continued to tyrannize his own people. Earlier he had even used gas to asphyxiate his enemies. Yet he was neither a religious fanatic nor, it seems, more involved in terrorism than many other states are. Sitting in his “box,” constantly attacked from the air, and laboring under sanctions that severely hurt his economy he had long ceased to present a danger to any of his neighbors. The invasion of Iraq, followed by his own execution, destabilized the country. It also stoked the religious antagonisms that had been waiting just under the surface of his secular rule. The outcome: massive terrorism committed by Shi’ites against Sunnis and by Sunnis against Shi’ites. Not to mention the birth of Daesh which started in Iraq and has since spread to Syria as well.

One might think that the West, with the US at its head, should have learnt something from its disastrous attempts to support religious Islamic movements. But no, no way. The next war in which the West intervened was the one in Libya. Again it was done in the name of democracy, humanity, and women’s rights—the dictator and his collaborators, it was later claimed, had been raping their own female soldiers left and right. Again the opponent was a secular dictator. Muamar Gadhafi was as cruel as many and more quirky than most. But at any rate he was able to maintain order in his own country. During his last decade or so in power he even opposed terrorism. Following a civil war that lasted some six months, he was defeated and killed. With the result that his country fell apart and is now one of the happiest stamping grounds where Daesh is having a field day recruiting supporters and threatening Europe with terrorism.

Next, Syria. Like Iraq, Syria was ruled by a military dictator, Bashir Assad. As a ruler he was neither better nor worse than Hussein and Gadhafi had been. He supported Hezbollah against Israel and allied himself with Iran, in many ways acting as the latter’s long arm on the shore of the Mediterranean. However, like the other two, he ruled his country with an iron fist and does not seem to have engaged in international terrorism. Not perfect, one would have thought, but as good a regime as a country like Syria can have. In May 2011 civil war broke out. In this war the West, and less actively Israel, found themselves siding with Assad’s opponents. They even invented a “liberal” opposition which, as it turned out, hardly existed. Three years passed before Washington suddenly woke up to the existence of Daesh, a Sunni-led terrorist organization that had spread from Iraq. Again, enough said.

Yet another country, one in which a similar error was narrowly avoided, is Egypt. Coming to power, President Obama promised to reach out to the peoples of Islamic countries even if—partly because—it meant going over the heads of their loathsome despots. Feeble as it was, the attempt does seem to have played some role in the so-called Arab Spring. One country in which it did so was Egypt whose population rose against President Mubarak and toppled his regime. And what happened? In the only more or less free elections ever held in Egypt’s 5,000 years’ history, the Moslem Brotherhood won. The outcome for Israel, and therefore for the Middle East, in particular could have been catastrophic. Mounting a coup, General Assisi prevented the worst. But no thanks either to Obama or to the West as a whole.

Let’s finally cease kidding ourselves. Arab countries, all of them without exception, are backward. Most are still tribal. That means that they are organized on lines other, more developed countries, have left behind centuries ago. Very few have what one would call a civil society consisting of a solid middle class. None has ever known the meaning either of democracy, or of the rule of law, or of human rights, or of freedom as Westerners understand it. During the middle ages they set up a brilliant civilization, or so historians say. Next, however, they missed the Renaissance. And the Reformation; and the Scientific Revolution; and the Enlightenment; and democracy in the form of the American and French Revolutions; and finally the Industrial Revolution as well. Not to mention the great and glorious Feminist Revolution, of course. Apart from that, they are the most progressive people in the world. Especially when yelling Allahu Akbar before sticking a knife into someone, or shooting him, or blowing themselves up.

Such is the situation. That is why, when it comes to an Arab country, the choice is always between a dictator—either hereditary or other, either with a moustache or not—and anarchy. A dictator may mean war. But that is something which, as the Israeli-Arab wars and the two successful campaigns (1991 and the first few weeks of 2003) against Saddam Hussein have shown, can be handled if necessary. What the West, and indeed the world as a whole, cannot handle is anarchy and the terrorism it spouts indiscriminately in all directions.

Will the idiots, and I don’t mean the Arabs of whom nothing can be expected, ever, ever learn?

The Clash of Civilizations and the End of History*

Each year at this time, I teach a course about the Future of War at Tel Aviv University. Each year for several years, I look for an alternative to the late Samuel Huntington’s 1994 essay, “The Clash of Civilizations.” And to its progenitor, Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay, “The End of History,” to which it was a response. Each year I fail to find anything as well written, as sweeping, as provocative, and as scintillating to make my students break their teeth on. And so it pleases me to devote today’s post to the question, where do those two pieces stand in the contemporary world?

To start with Fukuyama, the argument, following in the footsteps of Hegel, goes roughly as follows. History consists of man’s unceasing search for the best system of government as an indispensable step towards The Good Life. In 1776 (the American Revolution) and 1789 (the French one) that system, in the form of liberal democracy, was discovered. In October 1806, following Napoleon’s defeat of Prussia at Jena, it triumphantly asserted itself. Since then, in spite of many ups and downs, it had continued to make progress by overcoming the challenges, first of Fascism and then of Communism. Now that the latter had followed the former into the dustbin of history, it was poised to take over the entire earth. This is made evident by the spread of globalization and, with it, the invasion of McDonald, Coca-Cola, and Toshiba; nowadays, no doubt, Fukuyama would have added Google, Facebook, and To be sure, the road ahead would be rough. There were still many islands of backwardness around, plenty of hurdles to overcome. But the shining goal, liberal democracy, had become clear to all or almost all. As it spread and asserted itself war would wane way, giving birth to a peaceful, if somewhat “sad” and boring, world.

clash_of_civilizations-755716Not so, answered Fukuyama’s former teacher at Harvard, Samuel Huntington. Globalization is at bottom a superficial phenomenon, unable to paper over what he calls differences in identity. By that he meant “history, language, culture, tradition, and, most important, religion. The people of different civilizations have different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, he citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views of the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the products of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes.” Such differences need not, but often will, lead to armed conflict and bloodshed. Particularly now that the influence of universal ideologies has been decisively weakened, “Conflicts between groups in different civilizations will be more frequent, more sustained and more violent than conflicts between groups in the same civilization; violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars; the paramount axis of world politics will be the relations between ‘the West and the Rest;’ the elites in some torn non-Western countries will try to make their countries part of the West, but in most cases face major obstacles to accomplishing this; a central focus of conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states.”

Who was right, who was wrong, how and why? To proceed in reverse order, Huntington’s prediction that “a central focus of conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states” has come to pass. Had he added Russia, he would have been spot-on. Nevertheless, these differences in civilization have not led to large-scale war. Let alone to “global wars” (an oxymoron, that; while a global war is possible, global wars are not). Instead, today’s largest and most bloody wars are fought within civilizations, often with foreign “help.” So in parts of Africa; so, even more, in the vast area that reaches from Latakia on the Mediterranean to Basra on the Persian Gulf. Not to mention Afghanistan and the surrounding countries. Huntington’s claim that states would array themselves according to their cultural preferences has not come true either. To the contrary; as China’s rise continues more of its neighbors, ignoring such considerations as much as they can, are seeking closer ties with the United States.

Another cardinal error Huntington committed was to make the Ukraine part of Christian-Orthodox civilization. To the contrary: with its population made up partly of westward-looking Catholics and partly of eastward-looking Orthodox, it is currently involved in civil war. The Ukraine, to use Huntington’s own terminology, is a torn, or split, state. As he himself pointed out, such states are particularly likely to witness a clash of civilizations within their borders. As, for example, is currently happening in Egypt; and as may still happen in Turkey.

And how about Fukuyama? Writing in 1989 he grossly, if understandably, underestimated the ability of “Islamic Confucian States” (in reality, Islamic fundamentalist movements and one paramount Confucian State) to challenge the West. As of 2015, the day when liberal democracy will triumph in places such as the Middle East, North Africa, Russia and China remains a long way off. Still in other ways he was not entirely off the mark. First, a quarter century since “The End of History” was published, neither Islam nor Confucianism—supposing that is what China is all about—is in any position to challenge the West on the ideological level. All around the world it is to Washington DC, not to Mecca or Beijing, that people seeking a political framework that will make The Good Life possible turn their face; when everything is said and done, neither Islam nor Confucianism have made broad inroads beyond their own adherents. If anything, in fact, Islam’s attempts to spread its message beyond those adherents have led to a sharp, at times paranoid, reaction. Second and perhaps even more important, no liberal democratic states have gone to war against one another. A fact which suggests that a war-less world and the end of history are, if not yet at hand, at any rate possible in principle.

So far the protagonists, their relationship, their differences, the points on which they were right, and the points on which they were wrong. But is there anything they have in common? I think there is. First, both assume that the end of the Cold War did in fact represent a critical turning point in history. Either such as marked the end of one kind of conflict and the beginning of another (Huntington); or that represented the beginning of a process which would eventually culminate in a world without war and thus to the End of History (Fukuyama).

Second and perhaps even more important, both focus on what, for lack of a better term, I shall call spiritual factors. For Fukuyama, the paramount one is ideology. For Huntington, it is identity. In doing so they leave out any other number of factors that have always led, and presumably will continue to lead, to war in the future too. Chief among them are technological developments; competition for economic resources in a world where such resources are said to become less and less plentiful; and, over-arching everything else, the “perpetual and restless desire for power after power that ceaseth only in death” (Thomas Hobbes). The least one can say is that, in any attempt to understand the future of war, these factors must take a paramount place side by side with those Fukuyama and Huntington have focused on.

Is anyone ready to take up the challenge?   

* Thanks to my students at the Program for Security and Diplomacy, Tel Aviv University, who stimulated me to write the present essay.


5fdcff2c292f05e483816c459c6743e9Soumission is the title of a new book by the formidable French writer Michel Houllebecq. Judging by everything I had read and heard, I thought it was a description of all the terrible things that would happen in France under a Muslim Government.

It is not. Mainly it is a devastating—devastating, I say—critique of modern French, and in many ways Western, society. For a millennium, people used to worship the Christian God. Next came patriotism as represented, in France, by the great poet Charles Péguy. By now, though, both of these ideals are stone-dead. The outcome is a society that recognizes no higher law. Nothing that is sacred and stands above the desires and caprices of individual people. One in which “emancipated” women, competing with men and in many ways behaving like them, have nothing to offer them except a good blowjob or a nice ass. In which, in other words, women are as bad, or as good, as prostitutes.

This is a world in which the family is supposed to be based on “love,” but in which a very large percentage of all marriages end in divorce. In which there are very few children—throughout the book, Houllebeck does not mention even one. In which adults leave the care of their aged parents to uneducated foreign workers with whom, in many cases, they cannot even communicate. A society which claims to be free, yet in which it is impossible for anyone to be a more than a few days away from home without being flooded by all kinds of letters from the authorities.

François, who tells the story in first person, is a lecturer at the Sorbonne. His field is French literature. Specifically the nineteenth century writer Joris Huysmans about whom, years ago, he wrote an eight-hundred page dissertation. Like thousands of others, it exists in all of four copies.

Since then, except for a few articles in a godforsaken scholarly magazine, he has done nothing. He has even managed to concentrate all his classes in one day of the week, leaving the other six free. Some of his students are inscrutable young Chinese women who both record and write down everything he says. Others are even more inscrutable young Muslim women in their burkas. None ever asks any questions. Other students still, who are doing their PhDs, ask too many senseless questions to which there is no answer. Either way, François has no idea why any of them are where they are and do what they do. After all, everyone knows that a diploma in literature leads nowhere. In fact he sees the humanities, and presumably many of the social sciences as well, as a joke. One which serves nothing and no one. Its only purpose is its own survival.

Such is the state of things when the Muslim Brotherhood Government takes over in France. Its rise is made possible by the fact that the Socialists, motivated by hatred of the right-wing National Front, voted for it. The new president is Ahmed Ben Abbes. The scion of a low-class Muslim family in France, he has worked himself up and benefitted from the country’s elite schools. In many ways he personifies the best France has to offer.

François has never been interested in politics. Why should he be? For decades now French politics, and by no means only French politics, have moved from moderate right to moderate left and back again. Nothing ever changes. Besides, François has a steady income and lives in an Ivory Tower. So do his colleagues whose specialties are as limited as his own.

He first learns that politics might be interested in him when the University is suddenly closed sine die, no reason given. He uses the opportunity to travel into the countryside, which he barely knows, in the vague hope of re-discovering the old, authentic France. He is disappointed; nothing there. He does, however, accidentally meet a female colleague, Françoise, and her husband. Since the new Government will not tolerate female teachers at the universities, she has just been fired. Now she manages her household and seems quite happy doing so.

The husband, Alan Tanneur, is something else. He used to work for the secret service. For being right in forecasting some violence on elections day, he and his entire team have been placed on the retired list. Now it is he who explains the new political situation to François. Ben Abbes’ purpose, Tanneur says, is much broader than just governing France and turning it into a Muslim country. He his ultimate goal is to re-institute the Roman Empire by bringing the countries east and south of the Mediterranean into the EU. Negotiations with several of them have already started and are going well.

Back in Paris, François begins to note other changes. Some forms of female dress that used to expose much of the body are no longer. To distinguish themselves from men, women have switched back from trousers to skirts. But over long stockings that cover their legs. They are no longer allowed to work outside the home, causing unemployment to disappear. The petty criminals who used to sell drugs and pick people’s pockets have vanished from the streets. Many bars have closed. The trains no longer run on time as they used to. France is governed by an economic system known as Distributism. Seeking to favor the little man, it systematically discriminates against large corporations. As a result, the country is growing steadily poorer.

Yet the University is positively swimming in money. Thanks to the Saudis who, vastly overestimating the influence of the intellectuals on French society are bankrolling it. François is invited to a party hosted by Rediger, his superior at the University, who will soon be appointed minister of education. There are no women there, only men. Perhaps that is why, instead of people of both sexes ogling each other and exchanging silly comments meant to please, the conversation is deep and fruitful. Rediger has just married a second, younger, woman. Only fifteen years old, she will meet his needs in bed. Meanwhile the first one, who older and seems to be is darling, looks after the household. After all, Islamic Law allows a man to have as many as four wives.

François has just been asked to prepare a new edition of Huysmans for the well-known publishing house, Pléiade. Rediger, who values François as a scholar, asks him to convert to Islam as he himself had recently done. Just a small step, changing nothing really, and he can have his job at the University back. With a considerable raise, what is more.

François hesitates. To resolve his doubts, he travels to a monastery where his hero Huysmans also spent some time in an attempt to re-find his faith. A faith, he now realizes, in an idiotic religion. First God created man. Next, with the aid of Satan, He made him sin; next He had his own son crucified in order to redeem him. Though the monks do their best, François finds nothing.

Back in Paris, he converts. It is an easy procedure, lasting no more than a few minutes. All that is asked of him is that he repeat the formula, “there is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet” in the mosque in front of some witnesses. That, and submission to Allah’s inscrutable will.

Meanwhile the word has spread that university teachers make attractive husbands. They are not just a bunch of sexual harassers, which is how they are treated in my own old Alma Mater. And not just in my own Alma Mater either. Any of François’ young, shy female students will be honored to share her bed with him. They are not emancipated and they are not sluts. They are worth loving, and he would be able to love them. No, François has no regrets.

In view of what Western society has become, is there any reason why anyone should?