Book Review: Islamists and Naivists: An Indictment

Islamists and Naivists: An Indictment was written by Karen Jespersen and Ralf Pittelkow in response to the Mohammed cartoon crisis. Originally in Danish, it was translated into Dutch, Norwegian and French, but there are no plans to translate it into English, apparently due to political correctness. It is hard for me to understand why, as there are many books which are far less 'politically correct'. Since it is not available in English, I will try to give my readers a more extensive summary.

I think this is the only book I've seen so far that tries to deal with Islamism on an ideological level.

Jespersen and Pittelkow compare the current situation in Europe to a play written by Swiss author Max Frisch: Biedermann und die Brandstifter (Beidermann and the arsonists), known in English as the Firebugs or Fireraisers. The play was written in order to warn against the dangers of Nazism and Communism. The main character, Biedermann, lives in a town which is suffering from arson. A couple of arsonists show up at his house, and through persuasion and intimidation manage to get themselves invited to stay in the attic. Biedermann knows of the arsonist danger, but still manages to convince himself that his guests wouldn't burn down his house, even as the evidence piles up. In the end, he even supplies them with the match they need.

Islamism is a movement in Islam which wants to invoke Sharia law. It is both a religious and a political movement, and uses that duality to its advantage when dealing with opposition. After all, what's wrong with a political movement that wants to uphold its values and how can one criticize a religion? It is therefore hard to deal with the danger unless one realizes that both sides exist.

Jespersen and Pittelkow compare Islamism with other totalitarian movements such as Nazism and Communism. Movements which support dictatorship and tyranny, and that would like to control what people think and do. They point out that Muslims themselves are fighting the rise of Islamism.

However, Islamist power is increasing and threatening Europe in various ways:
- Islamists are gaining power in Muslim countries.
- Influencing European society through terror (see the Madrid attacks and the Spanish elections)
- Muslim immigration - Muslim countries intervene in European politics and immigrants influence European foreign policy.
- Political correctness

Freedom of speech is the antithesis of totalitarian regimes. In 'On Liberty' John Stuart's Mills calls censorship an attack on humanity and points out its importance also to those who disagree with the opinions brought up.

Islamists will therefore attack freedom of speech first, bringing Europeans to a point of self-censorship. This self-censorship was the reason the Mohammed cartoons were published in the first place. Their publication shows the difference in opinion between Danes and Muslims: 8.5% of Danes think freedom of speech should make way for religious feelings, compared with 51% of Muslim Danes who think so.

Relying on Mills, Jespersen and Pittelkow point out that any concessions on freedom of speech invalidates that freedom, by essence. If you only have freedom of speech when you're not offending or insulting anybody, then you don't really have freedom of speech.

The Mohammed Cartoon Crisis

Jespersen and Pittelkow start off by looking at the situation in Denmark and showing why the Mohammed cartoon crisis got to the point it did. Islamists don't want immigrants to integrate and accept Western norms. They're looking for a confrontation, to strengthen the 'we vs. them' feeling, the 'ummah' mentality. The cartoons were an opportunity for Islamists to strengthen their position in Europe and to portray themselves as the defenders of Islam.

Everybody used the issue for their own goals: Danish imams pushed Muslim ambassadors to intervene then went on a trip to the Middle East, spreading fake pictures and rumors that the Danes planned to burn the Koran. They were supported by Muslim countries, specifically Egypt, which was facing elections and a rising threat from Islamists. In an interview in a Saudi newspaper the Egyptian ambassador in Denmark expressed his joy for the fact that Rasmussen did not apologize for the cartoons, since that would have meant stopping the conflict. Islamists and Muslim organizations joined the fray.

Why was Denmark chosen? The Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem said that Denmark was an easy victim, a small country of no real significance to Muslim counties, and therefore it didn't bother anybody that the conflict went on. Indeed Denmark did not get much political support from the EU or US, though surveys show that most Westerners did support Denmark.

Prof. Gilles Keppel noted that the Rushdie affair was the first time that Sharia was extended to European countries, though it was still applied only to Muslims. According to Bernard Lewis, the Mohammed Cartoon affair was the first time Sharia was extended to non-Muslims in a non-Muslim country. That is, the Islamists saw Danes as dhimmis, which were expected to abide by Islamic law. This can be seen from interviews with Danish imams before the crisis broke out, who said this was a non-issue, as only Muslims were required to follow Muslim law.

Muslims demanded that freedom of speech should adapt itself to Islam - teaching about Islam in schools, letting newspapers print only what is allowed. Though Islamist demands were not accepted, the Islamists saw the Mohammed cartoons crisis as a success. They have shown they have power over Europeans.

Jespersen and Pittelkow point out that Islamists don't always succeed. When they tried to make an issue of Danish youth making fun of Islam the story turned out to be too insignificant. This case showed that there is a limit to how often Islamists can launch such large-scale attacks on the freedom of speech.

Islamism and Human Rights

The countries which led the charge against Denmark - Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt - hypocritically required Denmark to to take steps they would never dream of. Human rights in the Islamist countries are non-existent and other religions are not tolerated.

Muslims who dare to criticize Islamists are labeled apostates and threatened with death. Since Islamism is also a political movement, this holds also for those who criticize its politics.

Islamist theorists such as Sayyid Qutb and Abu al-Ala al-Mawdudi have declared that Islam is not compatible with a liberal, Western democracy. Though some Islamists today claim they will not abolish the democratic system if they get to power, they don't really explain how they would do so under Sharia law.

Qaradawi 'solves' the problem by saying the constitution will invalidate all laws contradicting Islam, but then - who will decide whether a law contradicts Islam? The people or Muslim scholars like Qaradawi?

Mohammed Mahdi Akef compares the Koran to a European constitution, but Jespersen and Pittelkow point out three major differences:
(1) a constitution is adopted democratically
(2) a constitution offers a framework for democracy, while the Sharia includes detailed laws curtailing possible democracy
(3) a constitution safeguards human and democratic rights

Most importantly, there is not one Muslim country today which has both Sharia law and democracy, and which protects the human rights of its citizens.

Islamism is marked by the dominance of women by men. Women in Saudi Arabia are legally minors. Covering the women is quite important, and at the same time - it symbolizes submission to Sharia, and therefore is very important to Islamists in Europe. While the women is curtailed as much as possible in order to protect her virtue, the man's freedom is extended as much as possible with the same goal in mind, for example by allowing polygamy. According to British author Theodore Dalrymple, many Muslim girls in the UK live in a "micro-world of totalitarian fear," and many youth who convert to Islam in jail do so only because it gives them a right to rule over women.

Islamists and Terrorism

Jespersen and Pittelkow point out that not all Islamists use terror. However, even those who do not use terrorism, like the Muslim Brotherhood, do express sympathy towards the use of terror and support it in various cases: when its against those who attack Muslim areas.

In Europe, the Muslim Brotherhood focuses on the 'war of values'. They may be seen as moderates, but their final goal is as totalitarian as al-Qaeda: creating a Muslim state based on a strict interpretation of Sharia. They do not accept integration since Muslims should be loyal to the Muslim nation, no matter where they live.

Though they do not use an armed struggle in Europe, they do turn to conflict:
(1) Portraying Muslims as victims, cutting off discussion by appealing to the Western feelings of guilt and political correctness
(2) Threatening with dire consequences if things aren't done their way, but also fostering cooperation by claiming to be able to control the anger of more extreme Islamists, making them ideal partners. The Danish imams were commended for cooperating with the goverment and calming things down, even though they were the ones who fanned the flames.


Jespersen and Pittlekow bring a quick review of how Islamism came to power since the 1970's. Authorities in Muslim nations banned the movement, but tried to pacify the people's wish for Islam by giving it a more central place in society and letting Islamist take over the education system, media and mosques.

Islamists blamed the West for everything gone wrong in Muslim countries, and indeed a Pew survey from 2006 showed that most Muslims blamed the West for the lack of prosperity in their countries. Muslims were more likely to see Westerners in a negative light than vice versa, which means Westophobia is stronger than Islamophobia.

Islamism in the West

Surveys in Denmark (and the rest of Europe) show that Muslim youth are radicalizing. These radical youth are fighting the Muslims who are freedom-oriented. When a school allowed prayer, Muslim students were coerced to join, even those who didn't really want to.

Islamists might say that they are Danes, but that does not mean that they recognize the values of Western society, but rather that they want their religious and political Muslim values accepted as Danish. Imams don't speak Danish, even after years of living in Denmark, and they have only a passing acquaintance with the Danish political system. However, they have quite a lot of influence, and often serve as intermediaries between Muslims and the authorities. they have influence in mosques, schools, youth clubs and prisons.

Islamists want Muslim immigrants to form parallel societies by, for example, creating a social constitutions for Muslims and having European laws adapted to Sharia law.

The more fundamentalism there is, the more demands to adapt to Muslim norms, especially regarding separation between men and women. Otherwise, the reasoning goes, Muslim women won't be able to fully participate in society.

Jespersen and Pittlekow list a few reasons not to comply with these demands:
- It pressures moderate Muslims to comply with Islamist demands as well. Parents are under constant pressure to conform with the Muslim norm, children are forced to explain why they don't want to take part in Muslim activities. The European might be showing how 'open' they are, but they are encouraging the fundamentalists by doing so.
- It divides society into two
- It undermines the principle that all citizens should be treated equally.

Some Muslims came to Denmark fleeing Islamic regimes and there is no reason they should be forced to suffer Islamic law now. The rights of children to grown up with Danish freedoms are swept aside for the rights of the parents to decide for their child. Nobody stands up for the children's rights (see also my review of Generous Betrayal).

For integration to succeed, the immigrant must adopt Danish principles, but that also means that the Danes must be aware of their values and want to share them. There must be clear guidelines limiting differential treatment. As long as there aren't national laws, school principals can't always stand up to the demands of Muslim parents and imams.

Naivists and political correctness

Islamists are not the only problem. If Europeans would not stand up for their own values, there would be much less conflict. Jespersen and Pittlekow blame the 'naivists' for encouraging the Islamists.

The 'naivists' are those who practice political correctness and they are driven by three main feelings: guilt and self-contempt, condescending attitude and fear. The fear is both from the Middle East and how a conflict will hurt Europe's influence there, as well as fear of Islamist power in Europe.

There are Muslims who are fighting Islamism, but they are hindered in their attempts by well-meaning 'naivists', who see the Islamists as the only representatives of Islam.

Jespersen and Pittlekow look at how political correctness developed. Originally third world immigrants were seen like Westerners who just needed some education. They'll come to Europe and easily adapt. Nobody took into consideration that this required an effort from the host society, as well as a wish to integrate.

When it became clear that immigrants weren't adapting so easily, political correctness adapted instead, turning to cultural relativism: the culture of immigrants might be different, but it's just as good as European culture. How can one be a cultural relativist and still fight for progressive ideas about the role of government in society, oppression of women and religion in the public space?

It is important to recognize that naivists are driven by condescension towards the 'other'. French author Caroline Fourest calls it the "little nigger" syndrome: Muslims just don't know any better. You can't expect of them what you would of Westerners and they can't to be treated like responsible adults.

The war for freedom of speech

The Mohammed cartoon crisis was an attack on European values, which is something Islamists often talk about.

Generally there were two 'naivist' reactions:
1. The freedom of speech is above all, but in this case Jyllands-Poste meant to insult Muslims
2. Freedom of speech should be used carefuly and respectfully.

Looking at Islamist countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia it is obvious that Islamists don't really care about the religious feelings of others. What they do care about is the religious feelings of Muslims, and to adapting oneself to Sharia law. The naivists talked about respect and consideration for others, the Islamist talked about struggle, power, conquering and submission.

The naivists, though, didn't really care about religious feelings either. When later Catholics protested the Da Vinci Code move, nobody stood up for them.

Naivists didn't say a word when the Islamists redefined basic concepts. Tolerance means that you accept the right of others to express their own opinion even when it offends you, not that you must limit yourself in order not to offend others. Freedom of religion means that you are free to practice your own religion, not that else can't criticize your religion or abide by your religious laws.

One naivist approach was that freedom of speech can only be used to criticize those holding power and Islamists are weak. This approach was taken to an extreme when the head editor of Politiken claimed that Islamists weren't totalitarian since they weren't in power, as if totalitarianism had to do with the power achieved, and not with the idoelogy. Additionally, Islamists are getting more and power throughout the world, and should not be dismissed as 'powerless'.

Another approach was that globalization requires more self-censorship. However, this approach really goes back to the condescending attitude of naivists. Denmark wasn't expected to acquiesce to Nazi demands, there should be no reason it should agree to Islamist demands.

This naivist attitude is not shared by most Europeans. In a survey from 2000, 91% of Danes said they think one should fight for the basic values of Danish society.

Jespersen and Pittlekow look at why the 'naivists' supported Rushdie, but not Jyllands-Posten. They bring several possible explanations: Leftists couldn't conscientiously support a conservative newspaper and government, there are more Muslim immigrants in Europe, the fear of the increasing power of Islamists. I think they missed the most important reason: Rushdie was a Muslim and so the naivists didn't expect him to be 'holier than thou'.

Jespersen and Pittlekow call on Danes (and Europeans) to hold on to their ethics and ideals, for several reasons:
1. Critical thinking is important for the advancement of European society
2. Doing otherwise would be betraying the Muslims who support liberal freedoms, all over the world.
3. Holding on to the freedom of speech and thought is important also for Muslim countries. If Europe folds so easily, what do we expect from Muslim governments?
4. Concessions and appeasement will only exacerbate the conflict. In the case of the Hijab ban in France, the government made a decision and stuck by it. The fears and threats of riots turned into acceptance. As the Obin report shows about the French educational system, in schools where the administration compromised with the Islamists, there was the most violence against women, Jews and teachers.

Among Muslim immigrants there are those who adapt to Muslim norms and there are those who oppose integration. The largest category, though, are those who just want to live their lives in peace and quiet. They hold traditional Muslim ideas, but they don't see themselves as the vanguard in a war against the West. Jespersen and Pittlekow think this latter group can go either way in the conflict between Islamists and the West and call on Europeans to make sure this group is integrated.

Jespersen and Pittlekow end with a discussion about talking with Islamists. They say it is possible to do so under several conditions, if there's a relevant issue - for example, if Islamists come to power in a Muslim country, there might be political issues to discuss:
1. It must be clear that your own values and principles are not up for discussion.
2. People should be aware of the aims and political methods of the Islamists
3. Islamists shouldn't be able to use these talks as a way to increase their prestige and be seen as the representatives of Muslims everywhere.
4. The possible results of the dialog must be clear

Jespersen and Pittlekow admit that these conditions aren't easy. I'm not sure they're even possible.

For more on the book:
* Danes' Anti-Immigrant Backlash Marks Radical Shift (NPR)
* Denmark: Islamists and Naivists


crowsnest said...


thank you for an excellent synopsis of 'Islamists and Naivists'.

It's a shame that this book has not been translated into English, but, hopefully, this situation may be resolved.

In the meantime, I'll link your article on my site and I will send it to others in the UK.


Crow's Beak.

Anonymous said...

islam wants to introduce sharia law. That is a political act. We should regard Islam as a political party and treat it as such. There should be no grounds for religious concessions.

Eric Grunin said...

Thanks for posting this summary. You contradict yourself in an odd way, however:

"...but there are no plans to translate it into English, apparently due to political correctness. It is hard for me to understand why, as there are many books which are far less 'politically correct'. "

You can't really have it both ways. If it's not so "incorrect" as other books, then the lack of a translation must have some other cause. Lack of commercial prospects, for example.

Esther said...


I agree with you, but that is what I was trying to say. I understood from the authors that the book is not being translated because it's not PC and they could not find a publisher to publish it. It seems strange to me. I don't see a contradiction here.