Dutch prevention projects to fight radicalisation
Samar Haddad - 27/11/2008
After the attacks on the WTC in 2001, but especially after the murder of Dutch film director Theo van Gogh by an Islamic radical, Dutch government decided to develop local methods to prevent young migrants radicalisation. Today, it’s still early to judge prevention of Islamic radicalism in Amsterdam. The city of Utrecht is only starting with a policy that is supposed to prevent the Islamic radicalism threat and the growing extreme nationalist radicalism.
After a report drafted by the Dutch service for safety and security (AIVD) that warned against the dangers of Islamic radicalism, both Amsterdam and Utrecht, decided to continue researching the possible threat of Islamic radicalism. Amsterdam as well as Utrecht have a large Muslim community and wanted to prevent a second murder committed out of radical Islamic ideas. Dutch director Theo van Gogh was killed in 2004 by a 18-year old Moroccan. Research claimed that 2 percent (or almost 1500) of young Muslims in Amsterdam were in one way or another open to radical ideas. To prevent further radicalisation and violent actions coming out of that they discussed setting up projects and campaigns.
Although a lot of reports have been written and lots of conferences have been held, these prevention projects are hardly visible. Every now and then the national government calls for attention with “Holland against terrorism” campaign that states: “More than 200.000 professionals are working together to prevent terrorism”. Among these professionals are the national security service, the police and the air force. In the campaign the government tries to commit citizens to the cause by asking them to cooperate when they see or hear something suspicious, like a bag without an owner in a train or on a platform. This can lead (and also has led) to a false alarm.
But the daily efforts of cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht are not under the spotlights.
They try to prevent racism and polarisation (especially among youngsters) and to create cities in which all groups feel equally at home. One of the main focus lies on creating a good atmosphere in the neighbourhood, for example by renovating suburbs and creating more affordable and available sport activities for children and youngsters. They also help parents with child care support, especially in area’s with migrants living on a minimum wage.
Amsterdam started working together with schools, mosques, health institutions, police, youth workers and migrant organisations in their effort to prevent radicalism. For example by reporting suspicious behaviour of youngsters. But also by simply talking with young people about radicalisation in schools and mosques.
Are there indications the policy is working in Amsterdam?
‘That’s hard to say’, says Jean Tillie, researcher for the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies in Amsterdam. He’s also researcher and writer of the report ‘Processes of radicalisation’, that was one of the reasons to start with the project in Amsterdam. ‘The projects have started hardly one year ago, so we will have to wait and see how well they work.’
Patience is necessary, Ahmed Marcouch knows that. He is the first Moroccan, socialist chairman of the Amsterdam area Slotervaart (a so called ‘Moroccan’ neighbourhood) and initiator of the project that is supposed to become a national example. Nevertheless he would like some institutions to speed up things, he told the Dutch Press Agency. He criticizes the tendency of these organisations (amongst them organisations of migrants) to put the image of their organisation or ethnic group above reporting suspicious behaviour.
The 23 files he did receive over the last six months gave him reason to be concerned. On of the files contained a poem of a young child that said ‘once I would like to go to heaven, in a space shuttle or as a Taliban. So many virgins for me when I disappear’.
In that case the school visited the parents and offered help. Another youngster wrote a piece in which he says that he hopes Islam will conquer the world and expresses his wish to behead Geert Wilders, leader of the nationalist Party for Freedom, and well known for his anti-Islamic ideas. The school expelled the boy. A totally wrong reaction according to Marcouch. The radicalisation expert of the area intervened and organised a meeting between school and the parents. The boy returned to school but his development is being observed carefully. Teachers are now offered a training in recognising radical ideas and behaviour.
Although the threat of radicalisation is low in Utrecht (300.000 inhabitants, 38.000 Moroccan and Turkish), according to research from the Centre of Safety and Crisis management, it is advisable to keep it that way by preventing polarisation and radicalisation. However it’s not the Islamic radicalism that is the biggest problem, but right winged nationalist radicalism.
Utrecht has not yet implemented the prevention plan because of the extensive research that is lead. In September the local government promised that it would start working on prevention thanks to an inclusive policy for the youth, in which education, work and activities in the hours after school would create a feeling that Utrecht belongs to everybody, and that no one is excluded.
Spokesman Huib van Seventer says that during the past 18 months there were fifteen signals of persons and groups in Utrecht that are spreading radical ideas. ‘We don’t know exactly how many people are having radical ideas; you can count the cars in the streets, but radicalisation is a process that develops within people. The tension lies in the fact that we want to prevent people from committing extreme acts, on the other hand: people that are angry with society and want revenge, are not breaking the law until they act.’
If it’s too early to assess the effect of these methods, it is important to note that Government officials in the Netherlands use a double strategy to fight radicalism: prevention if possible, repression if necessary. It is also interesting to underline that Islamic radicalisation lives together with the radicalisation of right wing youth. These two forms of radicalisation influence each other and have to be confronted simultaneously.
This article is part of a series of features on the radicalisation in Europe and the Mediterranean. It was drafted within the framework of the DARMED project, realised by Cospe (Co-operation for the Development of Emerging Countries) and supported by the EU .
"Preventing Violent Radicalisation 2007"