Spiegel Interview with Author Leon de Winter: 'The Europeans Are Chasing Illusions'

Part 2: 'We Know Who We Are Dealing with Here'

De Winter: But we know who we are dealing with here. These people pursue their objectives with all possible means. If we wait to see what happens, then we have already accepted their ground rules. We are placing our fate in the hands of fanatics and fundamentalists. When you deal with diplomats from Iran or politicians from the Middle East, you cannot act as if you were dealing with the state governor of Hesse or Bavaria! It's another world. You cannot negotiate without threatening to use force, especially if you want to prevent the development of nuclear arms by people who are practically longing for the apocalypse.

SPIEGEL: You have misread at least one situation in the past with your hawkish positions. Shortly before the war in Iraq, you published an essay in SPIEGEL, which could have been interpreted as a call to arms. You wrote that we have to cut off the monster's head -- meaning Saddam Hussein's -- and that if that didn't happen, the monster would send our heads rolling. But now we've learned that Saddam's secret military arsenal was a myth.

De Winter: At the time, Saddam Hussein acted as if he had weapons of mass destruction. He threw the United Nations inspectors out of the country; he ordered thousands of Kurds to be killed with chemical weapons.

SPIEGEL: That was long before that.

De Winter: What do you mean by "long"? He did it, and we had to assume that he would do it again at any time. And, besides, getting rid of a tyrant is never a wrong move, even if later on you have to accept the chaos that we are all familiar with for a period of time.

SPIEGEL: In the 1990s, Philip Roth wrote a novel called "Operation Shylock," in which the Jews abandon Israel because it has become too dangerous. Did you have this book in mind when you wrote yours?

De Winter: No. I had the idea for "The Right to Return" when I wrote my last book, "Malibu." I read something about the Mameluks, who were not originally Muslims, but were abducted as children or taken from their parents as "taxes" to be raised as warriors. I was captivated by this story. What happens to children who are basically forced to switch sides? What would a Mameluk story be like today? I've transferred the whole thing to the future, the future of Israel. Roth's "Shylock" is a great novel, but it has no connection with reality. That's not my field. I write realistic thrillers.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters in Gaza
AFP

Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters in Gaza

SPIEGEL: In "The Right of Return," Jewish children are transformed into Muslim terrorists to spread fear and desperation throughout Israel. That's not especially realistic, either. Actually, it's more like introducing a new level of anxiety…

De Winter: Exactly, the ultimate horror.

SPIEGEL: Do these Jewish suicide bombers serve as a metaphor for those Jews throughout the world who oppose Israel or at least sharply criticize the country?

De Winter: Yes, definitely. On the one hand, I unconditionally support the right to freedom of speech. Everyone should be able to say whatever they want to say -- even if it's absolute nonsense. It wouldn't be fair to say that those Jews who back the anti-Semites are just a bunch of sick or crazy people because there are some intelligent people among them. But there is an absurd or pathological element to it: the fear of being identified as a Jew or, actually, as a bad Jew. They would like to be good Jews and well liked because of it.

SPIEGEL: In your home country, the Netherlands, there is a widespread fear of Islamization. You have written a great deal on this topic yourself, and some of this sounds rather apocalyptic. Does this still reflect your view of the world?

De Winter: Not during the day. Only when I wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning and can't fall asleep again. That's when I really start to worry about everything -- about my taxes, my children, my dog and my cats. And, of course, about the state of our society and what will happen to it. We are living in exciting times. And you know the Chinese curse: "May you live in exciting times!" Not since the end of World War II have things been as exciting as they are today. We are experiencing a new phenomenon: the mass immigration of Muslims to countries where the "infidels" live.

SPIEGEL: What do you expect the consequences of this will be?

De Winter: There are signs that a modern Islam is emerging. An increasing number of young, liberal Muslims are trying to practice their own form of religion because they have been inspired by the idea of freedom. But, of course, radical Islam remains a problem. It has a very strong appeal for frustrated young men with violent tendencies who at some point in time discover that the world is full of injustice and want to do something about it. It's a bit like an adventure: the dramatic farewell videos, the last message to the world and then -- the explosion. On top of that, there is the promise of sex after death, something many of them can only dream of. I can understand how young men become fanatics. But I also see something entirely different: how it is primarily young Muslim women here in Holland who become integrated into society; how they get an education and move forward because they have their freedom. And they seize this opportunity.

SPIEGEL: So it's only a matter of time before the problem solves itself?

De Winter: We don't know how long it will take and how many victims it will claim. It could take 40 or 50 years before integration has really occurred. Everything is in a state of flux, and nobody can say where the journey will take us.

SPIEGEL: And, in these exciting times, you are now moving to the US with your family?

De Winter: Yes, we're going to Los Angeles for a year, to the most multicultural city in the US. I want to experience first-hand the election campaign and the period immediately following the elections. I feel comfortable in the US, and especially in LA, where there are no real locals and everyone is an immigrant.

SPIEGEL: Does your love for the States have something to do with your Jewish origins?

De Winter: That's certainly possible. But if that were the case, then I would feel most at home in Israel. I travel a lot to Israel, but I wouldn't want to live there.

SPIEGEL: Why not?

De Winter: Because of all the things that we have talked about. If I had lived during the 1920s, I would probably have also emigrated to Palestine. But today? I don't see it as the duty of every Jew to live in Israel. As far as I'm concerned, America is the Promised Land because everyone can live there as they please, no matter where they come from and no matter which god they worship -- as long as they work and respect the laws.

SPIEGEL: A fairly idealistic view of the United States.

De Winter: Please leave me with at least one illusion!

SPIEGEL: Your last novel, "Malibu," was published six years ago. Usually it takes you two to three years to write a new book. Why did it take so long this time?

De Winter: I tried to save the world. That's also a terrible Jewish habit. Above all, I tried to save Europe. I really thought that I could make a difference by writing political commentaries, columns, lead articles, essays for SPIEGEL. It became an obsession. I couldn't do anything else. I spent the whole day on the Internet and got upset about everything. That's not healthy for a writer.

SPIEGEL: Are you feeling better now?

De Winter: You can't imagine how wonderful, how liberating it is to write a novel, even one with such a sad story. It's such a relief to be able to control reality instead of being swallowed up by it. In my novels, I'm God. Everything obeys my command.

SPIEGEL: Thank you for this interview, Mr. de Winter

Interview conducted by Martin Doerry and Henryk M. Broder at de Winter's home in Bloemendaal.

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