Many young Dutch Muslims are attracted to the fundamentalist Salafi movement. Anthropologist Ineke Roex has been researching the attitudes of the movement’s followers to democracy. “Accept them as part of Dutch society, and then they become more democratic.”
Salafists condemn the idea of democracy in principle, explains Roex. Laws can only be made by God – or Allah – and not by mankind. Nevertheless, most Salafists in the Netherlands believe they should respect the Dutch democratic state. “Salafists accept the democratic rule of law for pragmatic reasons. They’re very aware that they enjoy rights in the Netherlands that they would not have in some Arab countries. They reason that you should accept the laws of the country where you live as long as you can fulfill your religious obligations.”
There’s been concern about this form of Islam in the Netherlands since Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Salafist in 2004. An investigation carried out by the Dutch intelligence service, the AIVD, concluded that only a tiny minority of the movement’s followers believes in jihad – or holy war – but questions about Salafists’ acceptance of democratic values remain. Roex researched the ideology and behaviour of a number of Salafist networks in the Netherlands and concluded that apart from a handful of radicals, they do not form a threat to the democratic rule of law.
Roex acknowledges that it’s an extremely intolerant ideology. Salafists believe that theirs is the only true and correct interpretation of Islam. This intolerance does not necessarily lead to approving intolerant behaviour. “The majority of Dutch Salafists disapprove of force and judging or demonising those with different beliefs. For instance, homosexuality is forbidden but so is violence against homosexuals. The only way in which you can bring others to follow the right path is through upbringing and education.”