“I have called Filip Dewinter a fascist for twenty years. I was wrong. The fascists are with the Muslims. Dewinter thus had always been right. And this is from an old leftist boy such as myself.”
— Benno Barnard
Our Flemish correspondent VH reported on Thursday about the silencing of Benno Barnard at the University of Antwerp. Dr. Barnard was about to give a lecture on the differences between Islam and Christianity, but loud shouting and threats from a crowd of young Muslims forced the cancellation of his talk.
VH has compiled a follow-up report about the incident from miscellaneous Dutch-language sources. First, a translated interview with Benno Barnard from De Standaard.
“This was the best lecture I ever could have given”
by Nikolas Vanhecke
Q: The title of the lecture that you intended to give in the University of Antwerp reads “Long live God, down with Allah.” The lecture is primarily about the Judeo-Christian tradition. Why did you choose that title?
A: Obviously, in the title I make use of the rhetorical technique of the provocation. A characteristic of the Judeo-Christian tradition is debate. This interaction goes back to the Old Testament and led to the Enlightenment, humanism and democracy. Provocation is the clearest form of disagreement. Our entire culture exists because of that.
Islam does not know that debate. To clarify the difference, I switch on the metaphor of Allah.
Q: In other words, the Islam is an undemocratic religion.
A: The real Islam does not know the possibility of democratization. There are democratically sound Muslims, but they do not stick to the strict rules of Islam. Sharia is described in the Quran, and it is those laws the real Islam preaches.
There is a quote from Kemal Ataturk: “Islam, that absurd theology of an immoral Bedouin, is a rotting corpse which poisons our lives.” And I can give you still more such as this from unexpected sources who criticize Islam. Secularization is in violation of Islam, as it emerged from Mecca and Medina.
And all that nonsense about the real Islam, you can study at the University of Antwerp in the context of active pluralism. Some of the members of Sharia4Belgium are studying at the UA. That way they also found out about the lecture. Or did you think it is followed outside the university?
Q: Would you have preferred to have given your reading or do you find the incident stronger than your lecture?
A: That was the best lecture I could give. I speak two sentences and get no further because they start roaring ‘Allahu akhbar’. Welcome to the future! By their action they have formulated a part of my thesis.
Q: In 2004, along with other writers, you called on people not to vote for the (then) Vlaams Blok. Last year you agreed with Filip Dewinter in his criticism of Islam. What has changed you?
A: “I have studied Islam thoroughly, by reading the Koran but also by reading other books. Nowadays I think Filip Dewinter is a prophet. I always called him a racist, but had blinders on then. He understood very early what the true nature of Sharia is. As a Belgicist, though, I am not a lover of Vlaams Belang [VB strives for an independent Flanders—translator].”
Q: What are you then?
A: I have often called myself a left-wing conservative. I advocate a leftist emancipation. Many leftist people are actually right-wing without knowing it. From a misunderstanding of social reality they support Muslims. Then at a certain point you get feminists who defend the burka. Education has been ruined by a mistaken equal opportunities policy of the Social Democrats. I am the opposite of a racist.
This whole story is in theory the most harmful of all for moderate Muslims. One of the police officers yesterday [Wednesday March 31] was a Muslim, and he was abused as a traitor.
Q: Were you actually warned beforehand that protection would be needed?
A: The police had contacted the university. Their safety unit had noticed messages on the website Sharia4Belgium and also knew that the group “Youth for Islam” was calling via SMS for the boycott.
Q: Were you still shocked by the incident?
A: What do you think? At that moment it seems so unrealistic that it is exactly as if you are watching yourself on television. In retrospect it only begins to dawn. Luckily I had bodyguards, otherwise I would not be able to speak to anyone today.
Benno Barnard “delighted” with actions of radical Muslims
“This was my best lecture ever,” writer Benno Barnard responds cynically to the radical Muslim youth who Wednesday night in Antwerp tried to silence him. “They have proven that my criticism of Islam is justified.”
After minutes-long shouting of abuse the room was cleared and the lecture was canceled. “An affront to free expression”, the organizer Jurgen Slembrouck calls it. “I’m dreadfully upset by it. The public knew that after the reading they could put forward their questions and critical comments. But we were held hostage by radical youths, who also the besmirched the reputation of moderate Muslims. I can only hope that many Muslims stand up and say they don’t want such a thing happening in their name.”
Barnard has few illusions in this area. The Dutch writer had already been particularly critical towards Islam, and this has only sharpened his views. “The Christian and Jewish tradition is one of tolerance. Islam doesn’t preach tolerance, but violence. And a moderate Islam does not exist. Of course there are opposing forces within the Muslim community. But they only exist because many Muslims have no knowledge of their own religion. My lecture was to be about all that. A somewhat dull, academic text actually. But it was my best lecture ever, as those extreme youth have proved my point.”
The author hopes “that all those sleeping leftists, as I also once was myself, now wake up and acknowledge the intolerance of Islam”. “Regarding the dangers of Islam, Filip Dewinter is a prophet. The man has been right for twenty years. It is surely unacceptable that in 2010 in Belgium you need police protection because you dare to express criticism of Islam.”
Benno Barnard repeats his opinion of Filip Dewinter in the newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen [reprinted on the front page of this Friday’s edition]: “I have called Filip Dewinter a fascist for twenty years. I was wrong. The fascists are with the Muslims. Dewinter thus had always been right. And this is from an old leftist boy such as myself.”
Updates from Belgian/Dutch papers:
The attack by Muslims on the writer Benno Barnard makes for a lot of turmoil in Belgium. Barnard has [again] received threats since Wednesday, but he did not want to give details about that. “I do not like being at the center of a sandal,” he said.
The incident has provoked strong reactions. “The right to freedom of expression is a pillar in our society,” said Minister of Internal Affairs Annemie Turtelboom. She let it be known that she will have the website [sharia4belgium] permanently watched. Offences will be passed on to the judiciary. The website was no longer online this Friday.
Antwerp Mayor Patrick Janssens [SP.a; Flemish Socialist Party] has filed a lawsuit against the radical Muslim organization Sharia4Belgium. “The mayor is supposed to ensure that the law is respected in his city. This includes the right to free speech. This is a symbolic case that must be promptly responded to. I have commissioned the legal department of the city to examine what we can do against it.”
Barnard has nothing good to say about the Rector of the University of Antwerp. “The man said that my view is extreme. They defend Sharia and then I am extreme?” The Dutch writer found it “an odd experience, thirty Salafi youth who hysterically at me came up to me while screaming ‘Allahu akhbar’. They also said ‘kaaskop’ [‘cheese-head’] and ‘vieze Hollander’ [‘filthy Dutchman’]. In that respect they are perfectly integrated.”
Previous posts in English about Benno Barnard: