In April 2006, the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, better known by its acronym WRR (1), issued four studies on various aspects of Islamism. A fifth report summarized these findings for policy purposes. The WRR has been advising the Dutch government on a multitude of social and political issues since its official inception in 1976. These recent studies dealt with the possibilities within modern Islamic revivalism. They argue that the future of Islamic activism need not necessarily lead to a dramatic clash with the West. The first of these studies by Nasr Abu Zayd, "Reformation of Islamic Thought: A Critical Historical Analysis," clearly shows that this was not simply a window-dressing of Islam for Dutch society. Abu Zayd presented a realistic picture of the possibility and context for a progressive approach to Islam in the light of recent polarization. He was somewhat pessimistic about the future of progressive and liberal Islam in the light of the Iraq war, and a generally conservative Islamization.
The second publication was an edited book of studies that reviewed shariah in the national legal systems of 12 different countries (Otto et al., 2006). The third was a study by Otto entitled "Sharia en nationaal recht: rechtsystemen in Moslimlanden tussen traditie, politiek en rechtstaat." It was a critical presentation and review of the history and meaning of Shariah from its inception, and its particular significance in the legal contexts of different countries (Otto, 2006). Berger's study "Klassieke Sharia en Vernieuwing" also dealt with a comprehensive review of the Sharia as a corpus of rulings in theory, and its application in practice. It also included an extensive section on areas where prevailing interpretations of the Shariah contradicted human rights norms in a number of aspects (Berger, 2006).
The WRR review report, "Dynamism in Islamic Activism: Connection Points for Democracy and Human Rights" ("Dynamiek in islamitisch activisme: aanknopingspunten voor democratisering en mensenrechten"), considered the implications of these studies for the foreign policies pursued by the European Union and the Netherlands in their relationship with Muslim countries and the further development of democracies. The authors argued that democratization trends were not the monopoly of secular movements as the current EU policy presumed. Changes in Islamist practices and movements presented opportunities to engage constructively with its representatives ("Wetenschaplijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid," 2006). As the titles indicates, the report represented an argument that European and Dutch society should actively exploit the diversity within Muslim debate over Shariah, the Qur'an and democratic values, and should look out for possible areas of constructive engagement:
An atmosphere of confrontation and sloganised thinking does not create durable conditions for security, democratization and increasing respect for human rights. The only reasonable alternative is to focus on the common points of democracy and human rights in Islamic activism itself. This report presents an analysis that illustrates that there are such common points. (2)
Not surprisingly, the reports provoked angry protests from a vociferous sector of the Dutch public and political establishment. It did not take long for the critics of Islam to heap scorn on the overall report and its apparently positive evaluation of the future of Islam and Islamic politics. This is not surprising, as the reports directly challenged statements and perceptions of Islam in Dutch public debate in the last decade and a half. In one of the studies, Otto himself cited as example the kind of statements from populist politician, Geert Wilders, that has dominated the sensationalist press: "Negenennegentig procent van alle problemen in de wereld hebben op de een of andere manier met de islam te maken. Dat is de realiteit. Ja, ook in Nederland" (from the newspaper Trouw, 16 oktober 2004) (Otto et al. …