By EMERSON VERMAAT
I hope to warn young people who are deceived by Islamism. No longer do I believe in the feasibility of Islamism. It failed utterly. It promised Muslims the moon, yet in Iraq and Pakistan did it result in sectarian violence. It has totally degenerated into nihilism. If they (the Islamists) manage to come to power somewhere, they'll create a state that is totally isolated from the rest of the world. I'm opposed to attacking civilians, I am also opposed to sectarian violence. Violence should only be permitted against the military. Look at Iraq: all those (terror) attacks and mass murders - it has totally degenerated. Islamism's purpose is disastrous, it's madness."
It was on October 27, 2010, that Jason Walters, a prominent member of the Dutch terror network the "Hofstad Group," made this remarkable confession. Walters (American father, Dutch mother) is on trial once again, but now in Amsterdam. The High Court or "Hoge Raad" ruled on February 2, 2010, that the Hofstad terrorist case must be tried again. The High Court ruled the definitions for the "existence and structure of a criminal or terrorist organization" used by the Appeals Court were "too strict" and has ordered the case to be retried.
Who is Jason Walters? He was the only member of the Hofstad Group who was a convert to Islam. The Hofstad Group was largely rounded up in November 2004 after Hofstad Group leader Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan, killed Dutch columnist and filmmaker Theo van Gogh. In the courtroom Hofstad Group members and their lawyers invariably claimed that the group was just a group of friends, not a terrorist network or organization. Yet, key members of the group admired Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri and frequent meetings were held at Bouyeri's home in Amsterdam West. (They were never part of Al-Qaeda, though.)
"Madrassas" in Pakistan: jihadist hotbeds
Walters traveled to Pakistan in the summer of 2003. In court he later claimed that the only thing he had done there was visiting "madrassas" or "Koranic schools." He did not say, though, that the same kind of "Koranic schools" play an important role in recruitment and support of terrorists. It was in Pakistan's madrassas that the Taliban movement made its successful start in the 1990s. Indeed, many Pakistani madrassas can still be described as jihadist hotbeds. It is not just a matter of theological education.
After his return to Holland in September 2003, Walters chatted on the Internet with friends and admirers. He proudly mentioned his "basic training" in Pakistan. There, so he claimed at least, they instructed him how to handle Kalashnikovs, Seminovs, Zakayevs, TT pistols and Makarovs and how to throw a hand grenade. (Few nineteen year old boys in Holland - Walters' age at the time – are aware of the existence of these kinds of weapons.) "I even can do a summersault having a pistol in my hand and then shoot." He claims to have met people who belonged to the Taliban. He had nothing but praise for these people: "Their character is just perfect." He specifically mentioned Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the Pakistani terrorist organization "Jaish-e-Mohammed" (JEM), author of the book "Virgins of Jihad." Walters referred to him as "a great scholar." "I failed to meet him, though. Maybe I'll succeed next time." Although he played it down in the courtroom, Walters and some other Hofstad Group members also tried to recruit people for the jihad.
When he reappeared in court on October 27, 2010, Walters repeated previous implausible claims that he had just been boasting and exaggerating back in 2003 to make a favorable impression on radical fellow Muslims. He denied he had ever been trained in a (terrorist) training camp, no, he had only visited a number of Pakistani madrassas near Lahore and Islamabad none of which were identified by him. He did admit, however, that "many madrassas in Pakistan do sympathize with the jihad" (=holy war). "But they don't provide military training," he added. Yet, he admitted he had seen weapons there. Not Kalashnikovs, but guns and rifles. "Everybody has a rifle there." This claim, too, is not very credible. AK-47's or Kalashnikovs are ubiquitous in Pakistan, especially in centers where militants are being trained.
And quite a number of Pakistani madrassas do provide military (jihadist) training. They are mentioned in the well documented book "A to Z of Jehadi Organizations in Pakistan," published in Lahore in 2005 and written by Muhammad Amir Rana. "There is a very long list of madrassas that send their students for jehadi (=jihadi) training," Rana claims. He describes in detail the "military activities" of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), the largest military training center being "Madrassa Syed Shaheed" in Balakot. "It comes directly under the supervision of Maulana Masood Azhar," the JEM leader, Rana writes. So, many madrassas in Pakistan are not as innocent as Jason Walters claims. And why did he heap praise on JEM leader Malauna Masood Azhar? It is quite likely he met JEM militants in Pakistan .
Jason Walters' recent criticism of militant Islam sounds credible
Walters was not convicted by previous courts for traveling to Pakistan in the summer of 2003 or for attempting to recruit other young Dutch males for the jihad. Traveling to a Pakistani training camp and recruiting others for the jihad was not punishable under Dutch penal law at the time. (It now is.) Walters was later convicted by both the court and the Appeals Court for throwing a grenade at the police's arrest team (AT) on November 9, 2004. The specially trained AT tried to enter his apartment in Antheunis Street Number 92 in The Hague. A few policemen were seriously wounded, but no one was killed. A policeman heard Walters say: "You may call me Black Death!" Walters somehow knew how to properly throw a grenade, this had probably been part of his jihadist training in Pakistan.
Now Walters is on trial again. But different from what happened at previous trials, he now openly denounces terrorism, violence and "Salafism" (ultra- conservative Islam). Shortly before the new trial began, Walters sent an open letter to the Amsterdam based daily "De Volkskrant," distancing himself from "the ideals I once cherished." They "are morally bankrupt." "I am appalled when I see how a once lofty (noble) 'liberation struggle' which should have been the starting point for a new, just world – especially in Iraq – has degenerated into a bloody escalation of violence, sectarianism and religious mania. This has been accompanied by unprecedented atrocities." No longer does Walters blame the Americans alone for the violence in Iraq, he now also blames Al-Qaeda and the Islamists. "People who have been liberated from dictatorships such as the one in Iraq by, among others, the Islamists have rejected massively the ideology in the name of which they should have been 'liberated' after they discovered what it practically means to live under it (i.e. this ideology, V.). They concluded that it does not offer any perspectives for the future. This forced me to a critical review of my viewpoints which made me realize that they are indefensible."
He writes that he hopes "to issue a warning to young people not to be misled by false promises and ideals." "The attempt to realize an Islamic state has resulted in total failure." He does not hesitate to criticize Islam and the "underlying premise under which the world is divided between believers and infidels, and that the latter's only intention is to destroy the former." The Islamists' belong to another world, they "have no links to the societies on behalf of which they claim to wage a struggle." The struggles of society "have been hijacked by Salafists whose agenda is totally different." Traditional and rural sharia law is based on outmoded views, it is "an anachronism in the modern world." Muslims, especially, Salafists must rethink their position. "We must accept the modern world and all its achievements, the democratic rule of law among them. This should be our point of orientation for our place in society." Very courageous words indeed.
Walters' remarkable praise for Kemal Atatürk, secular society and modern science
In the court session on Wednesday October 27, 2010, Walters criticized the former Ottoman empire and backward Islamic traditions. "It is strange that even after the fall of the Ottoman empire (in 1922/23, V.) people still embrace political Islam. The conservative religious establishment failed, therefore the (Ottoman) Empire collapsed after the First World War." He praised "Kemal Atatürk's land reforms as a result of which Turkey was connected to the rest of the world whereas the rest of the Arab world remained poor and backward." "The authority of the Koran is a dogma for Muslims. It's a fallacy and conflicts with the findings of modern science." "If the Koran contains only one error – and science has proven that this is the case – , that would be sufficient to refute Islam." He blamed Islam for its tendency "to invariably look inwardly." ("Islam kijkt constant naar zichzelf.") "I do not accept the authority if the Scriptures any longer, but I accept the authority of reason and science." "Islam is a religion which asserts absolute authority over its followers. It is the highest form of truth and knowledge," Walters continued in the courtroom. He said he read a lot of books in the past two years. (He has been in prison since November 2004, but initially he wasn't interested in history and philosophy.) He feels particularly attracted to Plato's "Dialogues," Descartes, Hegel, Popper, Kant and other philosophers. Hegel's 19th century lectures on "The Philosophy of History" is not an easy read and I don't know if Jason Walters ever read this book. In the introduction Hegel makes the following interesting statement: "What experience and history teaches us is that peoples and governments have never learned anything from history, or act on principles deduced from it."
Walters says he regrets that he once applauded the killing of Theo van Gogh on November 2, 2004. "I was really happy about it then. We saw Theo van Gogh as the devil's accomplice, the evil one who insults Islam." "That was an outrageous remark. I feel ashamed of it." "When I look back at myself, I cannot imagine how it was possible that I believed all this nonsense. It was a period of obscurantism. Superstition and factual errors abounded." When the prosecutor asked Jason whether he now condemned his past behavior, he replied: "Yes I do, absolutely." "It's difficult for me to understand my own behavior. I have changed my mind."
This is highly important. Not only does Jason regret the way he voiced his past opinions but also does he regret his past behavior. He would be more credible, however, if he would now publicly apologize to those policemen who were wounded after he attacked them with a deadly grenade.
Jason said he hoped he could do something for society, once he would be free again. "There are still young people who are being seduced by Islamism. I hope I'll be able to warn them against traveling abroad and against radicalization. I know how the Salafists operate. They are people with extreme religious views." He also said he did not criticize what he referred to as "normal Islam" – "that's 95 percent of the Muslims." "I only have a problem with the Salafists, the extremists." "I don't criticize Islam, only the Salafists. Normal Islam is not political, it is prayer, fasting, etc. I do not want to give the impression that I criticize them."
I believe Jason Walters is sincere in his criticism of militant Islam or Islamism. I closely followed nearly all court sessions dealing with the Hofstad Group and the Jason Walters case. The first court session began on December 5, 2004. But now, six years later, Walters says he does not believe in Salafism and Islamism any longer. He now wants to warn others that the path of Salafism and Islamist terrorism leads to death and destruction. As it did (and still does) in Iraq and Pakistan. This is really very good. He emphatically denied he had been brainwashed by anyone in the past few years. He told the court last week that he had been supported throughout by his mother, his two sisters, an uncle and an aunt. "I am very grateful to them," he said. Both Jason's mother and father strongly oppose militant Islam and terrorism, so do his two sisters. His parents are divorced, though. His mother's positive influence on him seems to be rather strong. We may now refer to Jason Walters as a former terrorist and Salafist who openly renounces his past views. He would be well advised, however, to apologize publicly to the policemen who were injured as he attacked them with a deadly grenade in November 2004. It was a deeply traumatic event which disrupted their lives and the lives of their families.
Emerson Vermaat, a law graduate, is an investigative reporter specialized in terrorism, crime and European history. Website: emersonvermaat.com
Author's notes at the Hofstad Group Trial, Appeals Court, Amsterdam-Osdorp, October 27, 2010. All the quotes from Walters at this trial. So far, few journalists have followed this important trial. The verdict will be in December.
Emerson Vermaat, Jason Walters – From Muslim convert to Jihadist, in: Militant Islam Monitor, December 20, 2005.
Emerson Vermaat, Nederlandse Jihad. Het proces tegen de Hofstadgroep (Soesterberg, The Netherlands: Uitgeverij Aspekt, 2006). A detailed account of the spectacular first Hofstad Group Trial in 2005 and 2006.
Muhammad Amir Rana, A to Z of Jehadi Organizations in Pakistan (Lahore: Mashall Books, 2005), p. 232 ("A long list of madrassas that send their students for jehadi training…"; 24 Jaish-e-Mohammed madrassas which "are directly involved in jihadi activities"), p. 224-227 ("Madrassa Syed Ahmed Shaheed, Balakot, is the largest military traning center of Jaish-e- Mohammed…"), p. 233, 234 ("Jaish-e-Mohammad's military activities").
Emerson Vermaat, Hofstad Group – Wrong decision by Dutch Appeals Court, in: Militant Islam Monitor, January 31, 2008.
De Volkskrant (Amsterdam), October 16, 2010, p. 6, 7 (Saturday "Ten Eerste"). Jason Walters' open letter to De Volkskrant: "De idealen die ik eens huldigde zijn teloor gegaan en ik ben tot het besef gekomen dat ze moreel bankroet zijn. Met afgrijzen heb ik toegezien hoe een ooit hooggestemde 'vrijheidsstrijd', die het startsein zou moeten zijn voor een nieuwe, rechtvaardige wereld – met name in Irak – is verworden tot een bloedige escalatie van geweld, sektarisme en godsdienstwaanzin. Daarbij zijn ongehoorde wreedheden en misdaden begaan. Mensen in landen die (mede) door Islamisten zijn bevrijd van dictaturen zoals Irak, hebben massaal de ideologie verworpen in welke naam ze 'bevrijd' zouden zijn nadat ze er in de praktijk onder hebben moeten leven. Ze concludeerden dat deze geen enkel toekomstperpectief biedt. Dit heeft mij ertoe gedwongen mijn standpunten kritisch te herzien, wat heeft geleid tot het besef van de onhoudbaarheid ervan."
G.W.F. Hegel, Philosphie der Geschichte (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam Jun., 1975), 45. "Was die Erfahrung aber und die Geschichte lehren, ist dieses, dass Völker und Regierungen niemals etwas aus der Geschichte gelernt und nach Lehren, die aus derselben zu ziehen gewesen wären, gehandelt haben."
© 2010 Emerson Vermaat. All rights reserved.