Published 22 Jan 07
By Abigail R. Esman
World Defense Review columnist
Europe Held Hostage
Samir Azzouz doesn't want to play with girls. So he no longer has to.
Azzouz, the 20-year-old member of Holland's radical Islamic Hofstadgroep, was sentenced in December to an eight-year prison term after investigators uncovered evidence that he planned to attack government buildings and various members of Parliament. (This, it should be noted, was after his previous arrests on a variety of charges, including the purchase of materials for the production of explosives, and armed robbery.) Now Azzouz and other members of the Hofstadgroep, along with various convicted terrorists from another Dutch organization, spend their days and nights in a special high-security prison, an exclusive institution, you might say, for terrorists only.
The problem is some of those terrorists are women.
Samir finds this unacceptable. It is, he says, against his religion to share quarters with females to him he is neither related nor wed. And so earlier this month, he embarked on a hunger strike in protest.
This is not the first time Azzouz has complained: apparently it's not easy being a convicted terrorist in the Netherlands these days. Earlier, he griped that animals in the national zoo received better treatment than he and his buddies were living with in jail – an observation I certainly hope, in fact, was accurate. But it is the first time he has use the religion card, and the first time he succeeded: as a result of (one might say "reward for") his strike, he has been re-housed in a separate center, at least for the time being.
That decision was made by officials who feared, ultimately, for Azzouz's health and well-being; not only was he not eating, but he refused to take his medication, prescribed for irritable bowel syndrome (and I confess that the irony of a terrorist with a weak stomach amuses me no end). So he grew ill, and out of humanitarian concern, the State succumbed. In fact, if he gets his way entirely, not only will Dutch taxpayers – those people for whom he has expressed such hatred and contempt – have to bear the expense of a special facility for terrorists, but rather, for two of them – one for boys and one for girls, like the restrooms at McDonalds.
Some have argued, and I suppose it could also be true, that officials gave in not because of his health but because they feared him becoming a martyr. Instead, of course, they made him a hero: in his own little way, even as a prisoner, Samir Azzouz literally terrorized a Western government to accede to his demands.
Moral relativists would have a field day with this. These are the kinds of questions they adore: do we, as an enlightened society, respectful of the freedom of religion, have the right to impose upon the practice of that religion? Is it not hypocrisy that we fear – and object to – the possible establishment of Sharia law should Muslims become a majority in Europe (which is inevitable), while we now impose on them our own sense of right and wrong? How far does it go? Do we force orthodox Jews and Muslims to eat pork in prison, too? If not one, then why the other? Isn't our goal to provide an example of tolerance and acceptance? And from another angle, if a terrorist takes measures that could threaten his own life, is the State responsible for saving him?
Let me make clear that I do not join with the "let him be" crowd. I'm simply pointing out the questions as a matter of trying to keep an open mind, of trying to see both sides, in an effort to be, in one way or another, fair.
But the problem is, it's hard to know what "fair" is in this context. Not only is the new focus on Islamic terrorism affecting our military, national security, and immigration procedures, but the question of what constitutes "appropriate" treatment of convicted terrorists is raising new challenges for courts, legal experts, and ethicists. These are not questions we are accustomed to having to answer – and certainly not at such a grand scale. And we need to start figuring them out.
Radical Islam is growing throughout all of Europe, and arguably more so in the Netherlands than anywhere else. Experts trace this in part to the aforementioned "fairness," the open-mindedness of Dutch culture, the famous Dutch tolerance. When Muslim immigrants said their religion demanded certain things, Holland simply stepped aside. To interfere with a man murdering his bride because she happened not to bleed on her wedding night – well, that would be religious oppression, wouldn't it? And so for years – until, in fact, the arrival of the controversial former Parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Holland's lawmakers literally let such things go.
But the fact is, no one has prevented poor Samir from practicing his religion. No one (to my knowledge) has said he may not pray, that he may not own a Koran. (Besides, as one astute columnist, Paul Lieben, noted in the Dutch newsweekly Elsevier, how in the world is he going to handle having to live with all those virgins he'll be getting as his reward in Paradise?)
Let's get clear about this: Samir Azzouz is not just some guy sitting harmlessly in a teahouse. This is a man who possessed plan drawings of the Parliament building and Dutch power centers, along with material to make enough explosives to destroy them. This is a man who, though born and raised in the Netherlands, that center of liberal democracy, traveled to Chechnya to join the jihad against Russia (he was sent back for lack of proper papers), and of whom the Dutch secret service (AIVD) has said, "The AIVD considers this radical Muslim as one of the core members of the Hofstadgroep." That's quite a list of accomplishments for a guy who, were he living in America, wouldn't even be old enough to buy a beer (not that he would, of course, devout Muslim that he is). That's why he's in jail.
And even during his trial, he proclaimed to the Dutch people:
"You have seen the pictures of what happens to them in the prisons of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib You are therefore held responsible. We will, by Allah, take revenge for each tear that fell out of the eyes of the mothers and children of the Muslims. We will take revenge for each Muslim that was killed while he fought for Allah. You're considered as fighters because you have chosen this government. Your fortunes and your blood are permitted to us. Just as you have spilled the blood of the Muslim citizens in Iraq, we will spill your blood here, and because you have stolen the possessions of the Muslims in Iraq or followed the example of your American bosses, we will appropriate your properties."
[Source: Islam in Europe blog]
Yet despite all this, Holland is bending over backwards to accommodate the man. Geert Wilders, one of the politicians Samir Azzouz had hoped to kill one day, asked in a statement to the Ministry of Justice," Why has the government had such weak knees in this case?" Or as Lieben observed, "who is holding whom prisoner here?"
It's an important question. Because it occurs to me now that this has been the problem all along: those who refused assimilation have dictated the rules from the beginning. Europe has been in prison now for decades – and never even noticed. Now, it spins itself in circles while its jailors all play "Monkey In The Middle" with the key.
— Abigail R. Esman is an award-winning author-journalist who divides her time between New York and The Netherlands. In addition to her column in World Defense Review, her work has appeared in Foreign Policy, Salon.com, Esquire, Vogue, Glamour, Town & Country, The Christian Science Monitor, The New Republic and many others. She is currently working on a book about Muslim extremism and democracy in the West.
Visit Esman on the web at abigailesman.com.
© 2007 Abigail R. Esman
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