NETHER­LANDS CON­SID­ERS NEW RE­LA­TION­SHIP WITH MUS­LIMS

There are many first, sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tion Mus­lims in the Nether­lands who play sig­nif­i­cant roles in both pub­lic life and pri­vate work, writes ALISSA J. RUBIN

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer, an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing the Mid­dle East for ‘The New York Times’, is the 2016 Pulitzer Prize win­ner for In­ter­na­tional Re­port­ing

LIKE many Mus­lims, Ahmed Aboutaleb has been dis­turbed by the an­gry tenor of the Dutch elec­tion cam­paign. Far-right can­di­dates have dis­par­aged Is­lam, of­ten de­pict­ing Mus­lims as out­siders un­will­ing to in­te­grate into Dutch cul­ture.

It is espe­cially jar­ring for Aboutaleb, given that he is the mayor of Rot­ter­dam, a flu­ent Dutch speaker and one of the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar politi­cians. Nor is he alone — the speaker of the Dutch Par­lia­ment is Mus­lim. The Nether­lands also has Mus­lim so­cial work­ers, jour­nal­ists, co­me­di­ans, en­trepreneurs and bankers.

“There’s a feel­ing that if there are too many cul­tural in­flu­ences from other parts of the world, then what does that mean for our Dutch tra­di­tions and cul­ture?” said Aboutaleb, whose city, the Nether­lands sec­ond largest, is 15 per cent to 20 per cent Mus­lim and home to im­mi­grants from 174 coun­tries.

To­day’s elec­tions will be­gin Europe’s year of po­lit­i­cal reck­on­ing. The Dutch elec­tions, com­ing ahead of oth­ers in France, Ger­many and pos­si­bly Italy, will be the first test of Europe’s thresh­old for tol­er­ance as populist par­ties rise by at­tack­ing the Euro­pean Union and im­mi­gra­tion, mak­ing na­tion­al­is­tic calls to pre­serve dis­tinct lo­cal cul­tures.

It is an espe­cially strik­ing gauge of the strength of anti-es­tab­lish­ment forces that such calls are fall­ing on re­cep­tive ears even in the Nether­lands, a coun­try that for gen­er­a­tions has seen suc­ces­sive waves of Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion. If any­thing, the Nether­lands is a pic­ture of rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful as­sim­i­la­tion, espe­cially when com­pared with nearby France or Bel­gium.

In the Nether­lands, Geert Wilders, one of the most stri­dently anti-Mus­lim politi­cians in Europe, re­cently de­scribed some Moroc­cans as “scum”. His Party for Free­dom is ex­pected to be one of three to re­ceive the most votes, chal­leng­ing the cen­treright gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte.

If bar­ri­ers ex­ist, many Mus­lims — like Aboutaleb, 55, who ar­rived in this low-ly­ing coun­try from a moun­tain vil­lage in Morocco when he was a teenager, speak­ing hardly a word of Dutch — say hard work is nonethe­less re­warded. But, Aboutaleb’s ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess story, and his sense that he was given many op­por­tu­ni­ties by the Nether­lands, is more char­ac­ter­is­tic of an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion.

There is no doubt that reli­gious prej­u­dice is on the rise in re­sponse to both the re­cent in­flux of Mus­lim im­mi­grants and grow­ing fears of ter­ror­ism in Europe. Both are read­ily ma­nip­u­lated by politi­cians, who pro­mote the idea that there are now so many non­white, non-Chris­tians in the Nether­lands that Dutch tra­di­tions will be lost or oblit­er­ated.

Yet, there is a seed of fact: there are more and more non-Western mi­grants or their chil­dren in the Nether­lands, com­pris­ing about 10 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion in a coun­try of about 17 mil­lion. But, not all are Mus­lim. There are, for ex­am­ple, a num­ber of In­di­ans who are Hin­dus or Bud­dhists.

The lat­est fig­ures re­leased by the Nether­lands’ Cen­tral Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics show a net in­crease of 56,000 im­mi­grants in 2015 and 88,000 last year, with the largest num­ber last year, about 29,000, com­ing from Syria.

The num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that have pop­u­la­tions with 10 per cent to 25 per cent non-Western mi­grants dou­bled be­tween 2002 and 2015, ac­cord­ing to the Nether­lands In­sti­tute for So­cial Re­search, a gov­ern­ment agency that stud­ies so­cial pol­icy.

And, there are many first, sec­ond and now third gen­er­a­tion Mus­lims in the Nether­lands who play sig­nif­i­cant roles in both pub­lic life and pri­vate work.

“Wilders speaks to a part of Dutch so­ci­ety that feels their Dutch iden­tity is threat­ened,” said Fouad El Kan­faoui, 28, a banker at ABN Amro in The Hague and a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Moroc­can Mus­lim. He also serves as the chair­man of the Am­bi­tious Net­work­ing So­ci­ety, an or­gan­i­sa­tion for young busi­ness­peo­ple, en­trepreneurs and those in the arts who are mostly of a Moroc­can back­ground.

“The Dutch su­per­mar­kets and bak­eries are leav­ing,” he said. “In­stead of Hans’ bak­ery, it’s Muham­mad’s bak­ery. When tra­di­tions change, it’s dif­fi­cult. When it’s con­fronting them per­son­ally, it’s chal­leng­ing.”

Achraf Bouali, 42, born in Morocco, left a diplo­matic post to run for Par­lia­ment in the cur­rent elec­tion on the slate of D66, the lead­ing left-lean­ing party. The party has a strong fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment and is so­cially lib­eral.

He sees the cur­rent anti-im­mi­gra­tion pol­i­tics as a prod­uct of ex­ter­nal fac­tors that have re­ver­ber­ated in the Nether­lands — ter­ror­ism in Europe, the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, which left many Dutch feel­ing less well off and less se­cure; and, the re­cent wave of im­mi­grants com­ing to Europe from war-torn re­gions in the Mid­dle East.

But part of what gives Mus­lim politi­cians like him hope is that in the past, many Mus­lim im­mi­grants have blended quite seam­lessly into Dutch so­ci­ety.

In the 1990s, tens of thou­sands of Mus­lims came from Bos­nia dur­ing the civil wars in the for­mer Yu­goslavia. Afghans came dur­ing their coun­try’s civil war and the Tal­iban pe­riod. Both groups have in­te­grated well.

Be­fore them, large num­bers of Indo-Dutch im­mi­grants came in the 1940s from what was then Dutch parts of In­done­sia. Moroc­cans and Turks came for jobs in the 1960s and 1970s.

The modest Schilder­swijk neigh­bour­hood of The Hague, which has been the scene of ri­ots

The Dutch elec­tions, com­ing ahead of oth­ers in France, Ger­many and pos­si­bly Italy, will be the first test of Europe’s thresh­old for tol­er­ance as populist par­ties rise by at­tack­ing the Euro­pean Union and im­mi­gra­tion, mak­ing na­tion­al­is­tic calls to pre­serve dis­tinct lo­cal cul­tures.

in the past, has be­come syn­ony­mous in the Dutch me­dia with the trou­bled Mus­lim part of town.

Jan Kok, a ca­reer po­lice in­spec­tor in The Hague, has be­come a sort of chief cul­tural of­fi­cer for the po­lice force and works with three sta­tion houses around the city to im­prove re­la­tions with Mus­lims.

He cre­ated a manda­tory course for new po­lice re­cruits to teach them about work­ing with mi­nori­ties and a course for those al­ready on the force.

He said many young im­mi­grant men “grow up with­out a fa­ther, with­out re­spect for the po­lice, for the rules in the Nether­lands”.

But he is em­pa­thetic to their deeper strug­gle.

“They have a prob­lem with their iden­tity: Am I a Dutch­man, am I a Moroc­can, am I both?

“Ev­ery­one needs to be­long some­where — to a church, to a mosque — and most of them don’t have that.”

He added: “And then you have Wilders and Rutte, the prime min­is­ter, say­ing ‘You don’t like it here, then go away’, but these boys were born here. Where are they go­ing to go?” NYT

NYT PIC

A mar­ket in Almere, a Dutch city home to im­mi­grants from 153 na­tion­al­i­ties. Many Mus­lims in the Nether­lands are ex­press­ing alarm at the way far-right elec­tion can­di­dates have de­picted Mus­lims as out­siders un­will­ing to in­te­grate into Dutch cul­ture.

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