Holland and Islamophobia: A confused country

The 9/11 attacks and the following ‘war on terror’ marked the beginning of a new world order with new fears and new enemies: terrorist and terrorist states that threaten our Western Democracy.

Holland and Islamophobia: A confused countryIn the nineties no one would have guessed that the sober Dutch attitude would soon be replaced with one that seemed to go in the direction of hysteria. Especially with the sudden rise of a new political star that seemed to come from nowhere: former columnist and university professor Pim Fortuyn. Newspapers couldn’t stop analysing the sudden success of this gay, dandy, star with very strong opinions He was a rebel, who criticized what he saw as the deplorable state of Dutch healthcare and education after eight years of a coalition of socialist and liberal parties. Fortuyn shocked the national opinion with his remarks on the lack of participation of immigrants and their tendency to isolate themselves in their own neighbourhoods, clinging on to their original culture and religion. By calling Islam a ‘retarded culture’ he offended the Muslims in Holland (890.000 at the time). He wanted to close the borders for Muslims and wanted to get rid of the law that forbids discrimination on ground of religion, political or sexual preference.

In march 2002 his local party won the majority of votes in Rotterdam, turning the former socialist harbour city into one with a right winged local government, a happening that was described as a political earthquake.
The establishment was amazed by his popularity and rejected his political attitude concerning Islam and foreigner issues. It was said Fortuyn expressed the opinion of people who not dared to express their opinions concerning immigrants, out of fear of being called a racist.

Meanwhile tension between Muslim and non-Muslim was growing and stirred up by the growing criticism on their lack of participation in society. The need of integration was emphasized by all the leading opinion leaders and a few politicians copied Fortuyns statements hoping to get more sympathy from potential voters.

Fortuyn was not the first to warn against the negative prospectives of segregation In the beginning of the nineties a liberal called Bolkenstein warned against the same dangers. Also in 2000 a member of the biggest socialist party in Holland published an essay The multicultural disaster . Their ideas were received in a positive way by a silent minority. But as they say: timing is everything. And Fortuyn had an excellent timing. But he also was right to a certain extent about the segregation between ethnic groups. This has been growing since the eighties, and is evident in the large cities in which the immigrants live in their own neighbourhoods, have their own shops, mosks and schools. Fortuyn warned in very strong words against the negative effects of the failing integration, proving his right with the high unemployment rates among these groups as well as their higher representation in criminal activities.

Fortuyn claimed that Holland was “full” and wanted to limit the amount of newcomers in Holland by stricter rules for immigrants and asylum seekers.
The establishment accused Fortuyn of being racist and xenophobic. The content of his words might be right, the way he stirred up the discussion was wrong, because he was polarising groups of people. At the same time they were copying his political viewpoints , using softer more reasonable words, Meanwhile his words were often misinterpreted or misused to justify racist ideas by the average man.

May 2002 Fortuyn was killed in broad daylight. A lot of Dutch expected the killer to be a Muslim, and most Muslims feared that this was the case. In fact it was a Dutch vegan activist.
The murder caused a riot. On tv the images of crying, angry and shocked people were broadcasted over and over again. Partly as a result of this event the followers of Fortuyn won 26 of the 150 seats in parliament in the October elections.
While we had gotten used to discussions about failing integration and the “backwardness” of islam, another shocking event brought terrorism on Dutch ground.
In 2004 a young Moroccan , who had converted to radical Islam, shot filmdirector Theo van Gogh. His life ended as if it was a scene from a horrifying movie: while he lay on the ground, bleeding to death from his shot wounds, Mohammed Bouyeri slit his throat with a big knife, cut his belly open and after that stuck a note in Van Gogh’s body addressed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, member of parliament, critic of radical Islam.
She was the woman who initiated the movie Submission, directed by Van Gogh. In Submission a woman covered with handwritten soerah’s from Quran on her naked body, criticizes the God of Islam and the injustices that have been done to her in the name of this religion. The note promised Ayaan the same death, if she would not stop insultingIslam. From this day Holland lost its innocence concerning the multicultural society.

This seemed to be an introduction to radical Islam on Dutch ground, and to radical opinions and actions on different sides: the days after his death right winged young people set fire to mosks and Islamic schools. Muslim leaders in Holland condemned the murder, but it was the beginning of a harsh confrontation.
The topic of Islamic radicalisation suddenly found itself in the spotlights when media, politicians and columnists actively and on a daily basis discussed the need to fight radical Islam, terrorism and the need for integration. The public opinion shifted from being tolerant and optimistic towards an opinion of pointing fingers at Muslims forcing them to take a stand: did they want to be Dutch? What effort were they going to put in to this wish? What was said in their mosks? How were they going to prove they were not radical?

The gap between Muslim and non-Muslim widened and surveys pointed out that there was not much interethnic contact or interest and a growing number of people was afraid of Islam.

Holland and Islamophobia: A confused country
Geert Wilders
Fortuyn paved the way for new right nationalist feelings, that defend their christian-jewish-humanistic heritage. Geert Wilders, former member of the liberal party, formed his own political party that won 9 seats in parliament during the 2006 elections. His main focus lies on criticizing Islam: he talks of the ‘tsunami of Muslims’ and ‘closing the borders for Muslims’. He wants criminal foreigners deported from the country and asks Muslims to burn parts of their holy book. He became known all over the world when he made his film ‘Fitna’ a series of quotes from Quran that justify violence, followed by images of terrorist Muslims attacking western democracy.

But Fortuyn also paved the way for feelings of exclusion among young Muslims who initially were only Muslim in name but were now in large numbers learning Arab and studying Quran. They felt no one was talking with them and were seeking their refugee in their own religious cultural heritage, thus taking a very visible stand: “I am Muslim and proud of it, accept it”. They want integration, but reject the idea of assimilation. The number of women wearing scarves has visibly increased and even wearing the niqaab is not uncommon in the larger cities, although it’s still an exception to the rule. They are hiding in their own cultural group so in a way the anti-Islam sentiments had the opposite effect.
Nowadays integration is a daily topic in the media , and asylum rules have sharpened, The mainstream politics have copied the points of view they rejected in the beginning of this century.

Holland in general became more radical. On the one hand the Dutch are trying to defend their right of freedom of religion and lifestyle. Their underlying fear is that Islam will be too influential in future because the Muslim immigrant groups are growing more rapidly compared to the rest of the population, although they are still a minority. On the other hand Muslims are hiding in their cultural group defending their right to be a Muslim.

Though still 40 % is very negative about Muslims, a recent survey showed that the Dutch have started to think more positive about Muslims. This gives a bit of hope, but to be really comfortable in Holland in the future we will have to ask ourselves: “How do we want to live together?” A question that we all will have to answer in the years to come.
Samar Haddad
(09/09/2008)



This article is published in the framework of the Dar-Med Project

Holland and Islamophobia: A confused country
    "Preventing Violent Radicalisation 2007"

"With financial support from the Preventing Violent Radicalisation Programme
European Commission - Directoracte-General Justice, Freedom and Security"

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