Coping With Islam: Censorship in Dutch Academia
By Paul Belien
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
University professors in the Netherlands are not allowed to voice “unscientific” opinions that are too critical of Islam. One such opinion is the statement of Pieter W. van der Horst that “the Nazis' irrational hatred of the Jews has been adopted in the contemporary Islamic world.” At a meeting today in Amsterdam a large majority of the chancellors of the Dutch universities agreed that “ academic freedom at universities should be limited.” Only two of them, Frans Zwarts of Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and Taede Sminia of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, said that a retiring professor should be allowed to express a personal opinion in his valedictory lecture.
Last month Pieter W. van der Horst, the retiring professor of Early Christian History and Judaism at Utrecht University, (the alma mater of James Boswell, Lord Hailes, the Earl of Sunderland, Wilhelm R–ntgen, Hugh Williamson, and others) wanted to argue in his valedictory lecture that “the islamisation of European antisemitism is one of the most frightening developments of the past decades.” However, his university's chancellor, the rector magnificus, Prof. Willem H. Gispen, prevented him from doing so by censoring the lecture in advance. According to Gispen the lecture was “unscientific” and “incited different population groups against each other.” Van der Horst says Gispen had also told him that “Islamic students might disrupt the lecture,” in which case the university “would not be able to guarantee van der Horst's safety.”
Van der Horst, who has been a professor at Utrecht University since 1969, duly read out the censored version of his lecture “The Myth of Jewish Cannibalism,” but had the uncensored text published in a newspaper. He felt deeply offended at the censorship of his text. “I have never been so humiliated in my whole life,” he told the press. In the uncensored version Professor van der Horst posits that “in all probability” there have never in history been more Jew haters than today. “Every day the intensive propaganda of Islamic Jew haters successfully influences more Muslims throughout the world.” He also rebukes Christian churches and academia, including his own univerity, that they do too little to counter the growing antisemitism. He hopes universities will have the courage to appoint critical professors of Islam.”
Though Chancellor Gispen was criticised for his interference by some conservative Dutch media, others backed him, declaring that in a multicultural society one should avoid antagonising certain groups. This is also the opinion of the majority of the Dutch university chancellors. The row in Dutch academia coincides with the fall of the Dutch government over the Hirsi Ali affair. The government fell last week when the smallest Dutch coalition party, the leftist D66, withdrew its support for the cabinet because of its continued support for Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk. Last May Verdonk had revoked the Somali-born politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali's citizenship after the latter admitted to having used a false name and date of birth when she applied for naturalisation. Last week Verdonk changed her mind and decided that Hirsi Ali, a well-known critic of Islam, could retain her citizenship if she signed a declaration that she is to blame for the misunderstanding.
Hirsi Ali signed the declaration in order to get back her passport. She needs the passport because she is emigrating from the Netherlands to the United States next September. Hirsi Ali is leaving because it has become impossible to protect her in the Netherlands. A Dutch court recently evicted her from her high-security apartment on the grounds that the presence of a well-known terrorist target was undermining property value for the owners of neighbouring apartments.
Paul Belien is the editor of the Flemish quarterly Secessie and the editor-in-chief of The Brussels Journal. He is a columnist at the Flemish weekly Pallieterke and at the Flemish monthly Doorbraak and a regular contributor to the Flemish conservative monthly Nucleus, which he co-founded in 1990. Paul can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other articles by Paul Belien, Brussels Journal