DENK politician Sylvana Simons receives security after threats

Dutch-Surinam politician Sylvana Simons of the new party DENK will receive security by the Dutch security service. This is the outcome of a vast array of threats based on racist motives and a recent video that featured the politician.

In the video Simons is displayed in various racist scenes, among which as a naked African aboriginal, Black Pete, and an African-American victim a lynch by the Ku Klux Klan, as was common at the end of the nineteenth century. Vice Prime-Minister and Minister of Social Affairs Lodewijk Asscher has called the video “abhorrent” and “completely unacceptable”.

DENK leader Tunahan Kuzu mentioned that “visible and invisible” security measures are being taken to protect Simons, after a conversation with the Dutch National Coordinator Counter Terrorism, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and members of the DENK party.

New Dutch party DENK presents political program

The new Dutch party DENK has presented its political program for the upcoming elections in 2017. The party was established by two former Labour Party (PvdA) MP’s from Turkish descent. It was soon joined by the Dutch-Surinam Sylvanna Simons and Dutch-Moroccan Farid Azarkan, and focusses on putting on the political agenda minority issues, Islamophobia, and racism in the Netherlands.

According to DENK leader, Tunahan Kuzu, the established parties and media strengthen fear and hatred against foreigners, saying he is not surprised at the existence of fear and xenophobia amongst the Dutch public. Kuzu thinks the established parties go along with the wave of xenophobia triggered by the rhetoric of Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV).

Aside from issues pertaining to Muslims and Islamophobia DENK also wants more regard for Dutch colonial history in places such as Surinam and Indonesia. DENK in particular demands independent research on the Dutch presence in Indonesia between 1945-1949, and an official apology for the Dutch obstruction of the Moluccan wish for independence.

Dutch Parliament approves law on banning burqa

The Dutch Parliament has approved a law prohibiting women from wearing the Burqa and niqabs in public places, namely in education, public transport, hospitals, and government buildings. If women do cover their faces with the burqa or niqab they risk a fine of a maximum of 400 Euro’s. The ban is not applied on wearing them in the streets.

A majority of Dutch political parties supported the law drift of Minister Ronals Plasterk of Internal Affairs (Labour Party), with the exception of the Green Party (Groenlinks), the Social Liberal Party (D66), and the new party DENK, which enjoys support of Muslims and other Dutch minorities.

Judge: case against Wilders’ anti-immigrant remarks will proceed

The Dutch public prosecutor started a case against the Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilder (PVV) in December 2014 on the suspicion of insulting a group of people on the basis of race and for inciting discrimination and hate. The initiative was caused by Wilders’ remarks about Moroccans during a political rally in which he had a crowd of followers chant for “less, less, less” Moroccans. 6400 complains were received, and eventually 61 parties remained, 56 persons and 5 organizations.

Wilders’ lawyer had argued that the case would be political in nature, because the court would give a political judgement about the PVV, her political program, and her voters. This would be a dangerous development, he argued. The court did not agree. While the case has “some political aspects” the court argues that it is eventually the judge who judges where the limits are. This judgement does not entail a judgement about “the sort of democracy the Netherlands should have”, but only about the discriminatory remarks.

The court also disagrees that by proceeding with the case the court would give a judgement about the policy of the PVV or would be limiting the political freedom of Wilders. So the case will proceed and start in two weeks at the heavily guarded court near Schiphol.

One in five Dutch people for closing mosques

22 % of the Dutch people would like all mosques in the Netherlands to close down, as the Dutch anti-Islam party PVV has proposed in the political program for the coming Dutch election. A small majority of 55 % is against the closing of mosques. One in ten of the Dutch people is for the unequal treatment of Muslims.

This came to light in a national poll conducted by I&O Research in corporation with the Dutch news paper Volkskrant and was held amongst 1.456 Dutch people from 18 years of age and older.

A link to the digital version of the research mentioned in this article can be found here:

http://www.ioresearch.nl/Portals/0/I%26O%20Research%20politieke%20peiling%20september%202016%20v3.pdf

Dutch anti-Islam party presents political program

The Party for Freedom (PVV), under the political leadership of Geert Wilders, the Netherlands’ most well-known anti-Islam politician, has presented a one-page political program for the upcoming elections. It is highly unusual for Dutch parties to present their particular programs in such a short and limited format. It seems the program has established somewhat of a record in this regard.

The PVV program contains controversial, but not new, political goals, including the closing of all mosques and Islamic schools, forbidding the Quran and headscarves, closing all refugees centers and canceling all the residence permits given to refugees. It also re-states the wish of the PVV for the Netherlands to become “independent again”, meaning to “get out if the EU”.

The program rejects the government policies of the Rutte II cabinet on all fronts and aims to undo some of the large retrenchments as well as to lower several taxes. The finances to take these measures the PVV want to cover by completely eliminating public broadcasting services and the funding for developmental aid, wind mills, art, innovation, and the like, stating that “in stead of financing the whole world and the people we don’t want to have here, will spend the money on the common Dutch people”.

German hijab debate: court vetoes current restrictions on the hijab in the Bavarian justice system – with a caveat

New case brought by an aspiring lawyer

A 25-year-old junior lawyer, Aqilah Sandhu, won a court case against the Bavarian state regarding her right to wear her headscarf while at work ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bayern/kopftuch-verbot-jura-studentin-besiegt-den-freistaat-1.3056761)). In July 2014, the Munich Higher Regional Court had denied Sandhu, at the time a legal intern at the court, the right to wear a hijab while hearing a witness or while participating in court proceedings as judge or prosecutor.

When questioned by Sandhu, her superiors justified this move by pointing to the need for the judiciary to remain religiously and ideologically neutral. The ensuing restrictions not only had an adverse impact on Sandhu’s training but also dimmed her prospects of finding employment in the judicial sector. The Augsburg Administrative Court ruled that the demand that Sandhu remove her hijab had been unlawful.

Debate on the hijab still not settled

However, the reason given for the verdict in Sandhu’s favour were above all formal: when prohibiting the legal intern to wear a hijab, her employer had acted on the basis of customary practice and of an administrative order from the Bavarian Ministry of Justice – not on the basis of a formal law debated and enacted by the Bavarian parliament. Yet it is such a law that would be necessary in order to legitimise any restriction placed on the freedom of religion and the freedom of education, or so the Administrative Court argued.

Thus, the ruling is only a further chapter in the German hijab debate rather than the debate’s conclusion: the Bavarian Ministry of Justice already announced that it would seek to overturn the verdict. And even if future court decisions are again in Sandhu’s favour, the ruling of the administrative court still leaves the Bavarian state the possibility to formally ban religious symbols from the judicial system through the enactment of a new law – a law that the conservative majority in the Bavarian state parliament might very well be willing to pass.

Constitutional question marks

In fact, the state of Berlin opted for such a legislative route: in the capital, a ‘neutrality law’ bans all religious symbols from public institutions. In April 2016, a Muslim teacher, who had sued the authorities after they prohibited her from working in primary school with her hijab, had her case rejected by the Berlin Labour Court: the court argued that the relevant Berlin law treats all religions equally, and that claims of religious discrimination were therefore unfounded ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-04/kopftuchverbot-berlin-urteil-arbeitsgericht-lehrerinnen)).

But even the Berlin case is not clear-cut, since its relationship to a March 2015 judgement by the German Constitutional Court remains ambiguous: the country’s supreme court had argued in 2015 that teachers at public schools had to be allowed to wear a headscarf – unless the hijab causes ‘major disturbances’ in the school’s daily operation, a somewhat vague addendum ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/03/23/the-lifting-of-the-headscarf-ban-one-year-on-german-state-laws-and-practices-slow-to-change/)).

However, the supreme court’s verdict was passed in response to a specific ‘hijab ban’ in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In contrast to the North Rhine-Westphalian law, Berllin’s ‘neutrality law’ does not single out Muslim symbols for prohibition and thus does not privilege Judeo-Christian or any other religious worldviews. The judges at the Labour Court took this to be a decisive difference that legitimised their rejection of the Muslim teacher’s case.

Accepting the hijab or turning towards laicism?

At least current Bavarian practice does not appear to follow a Berlin-style ‘neutrality’, however: one of Aqilah Sandhu’s fellow law students was quoted in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper as saying that “I always were a cross necklace, also when I’m working. The cross has always been visible and no one ever said anything. That’s just unfair.” ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bayern/kopftuch-verbot-jura-studentin-besiegt-den-freistaat-1.3056761))

Thus, legislators in traditionally strongly Catholic Bavaria may soon have to decide whether their objections to the visibility of the hijab are so strong that legislators are willing to enact a kind of ‘laic’ neutrality law that also curbs not just the public expression of Muslim religiosity but also the state’s Catholic heritage.

Why Zac Goldsmith’s “extremism” attacks on Sadiq Khan were wrong

As the dust settles on Sadiq Khan’s victory in London’s mayoral election, attentions are turning to Zac Goldsmith’s campaign and his aggressive focus on his rival’s past encounters with Muslim hardliners. A Guardian op-ed under the headline “Forgive and forget Zac Goldsmith’s racist campaign? No chance” has been shared some 25,000 times. In the Spectator, Toby Young argued: “Zac Goldsmith has nothing to be ashamed of”. Both pieces make some good and some bad points. But I sympathise more with the first. Here is why.

To begin, some concessions. Elections are a rough-and-tumble business. Candidates should expect their characters and suitability for office to be challenged; their weaknesses to be daubed in primary colours on 10-meter high billboards. And within reason, that is good. It flushes out bad ideas and unsuitable candidates for the benefit of an electorate that has better things to do than worry about the nuances of their every policy.

The themes on which Mr Goldsmith so contentiously challenged Mr Khan are hardly irrelevant. In the past year Islamist terror attacks have hit the two European capitals closest to London. Labour clearly has ingrained problems of anti-Semitism and has form when it comes to tolerating conservative practices (like gender-segregated civic events) among its British Muslim supporters. And it is true that Mr Khan has links to certain reactionary Muslims, some of whom have expressed extremist views. His new role gives him influence over London’s schools, the front-line of the government’s anti-radicalisation “Prevent” strategy. It also gives him oversight of the Met police, as well as powers of patronage and discretionary spending which Ken Livingstone, his Labour predecessor, deployed in part to the benefit of conservative Muslims.

Yet to be valid and responsible, Tory “questions” about Mr Khan’s connections needed to do three things. Given the tensions surrounding the subject, each had to kill any suggestion that Labour’s candidate sympathised with extremism. Each needed to specify in clear and concrete terms how his past encounters affected his suitability to be mayor. And each needed an appropriate degree of prominence in a Conservative campaign that had, itself, big questions to answer about its man’s plans for transport, housing and policing.

Mr Goldsmith failed each one of these tests. First, he played up ambiguities as to what, precisely, his rival had done wrong. When pushed, he insisted that he was not trying to portray Britain’s most prominent Muslim politician as an extremist. Yet his campaign seemed to imply as much. By routinely calling Mr Khan a “radical” it blurred the Labour candidate’s support for Jeremy Corbyn, his party’s far-left leader, with his links in British Islam. A spoof Tory leaflet published in the Private Eye, a satirical magazine, captured the “I’m not racist, but…” character of these insinuations: “Think about it. Funny name, Khan, isn’t it?” The Conservative candidate was surely too worldly not to have realised how reckless this was, at a time when political outfits from the Trump campaign to the AfD in Germany were questioning Muslims’ basic compatibility with Western democracies and societies.

Second, the Goldsmith campaign failed to pin down what this had to do with Mr Khan’s suitability to be mayor. The claims it raised publicly (and the more lurid ones it quietly briefed to journalists) fall into three categories. Some had to do with his background as a civil liberties lawyer; like his links to Suliman Gani, a radical imam, his “association” with whom included angry clashes over gay marriage and Mr Khan’s involvement in a bid to boot Mr Gani out of his mosque. Other crimes like having a sibling-in-law who had flirted with conservative Islam—a transgression of which Tony Blair is also guilty—pointed to Mr Khan’s Muslim family background. The third category involved his characteristic blend, hardly unique among politicians, of naiveté and electoral opportunism. Into this final basket can be counted his role on the not-impeccable Muslim Council of Britain, his defence of Recep Ergodan’s Turkey and even those unproven suggestions that he played up his Liberal Democrat opponent’s Ahmadi (a persecuted minority within Sunni Islam) identity when fighting to keep his south-London parliamentary seat in 2010. Instead of differentiating between examples, or offering their own additional categories, Mr Goldsmith’s campaigners ground them together into a rough paste of “unanswered questions” and “extremist associations” that that they smeared all over Mr Khan.

Third, Mr Goldsmith gave such observations an undue prominence in his campaign, especially towards the end. London house-prices are on track to hit £1m by 2030 and are wrecking the capital’s social mix. On this, the Tory candidate had nothing substantive to say. On transport and policing his offer was almost as inadequate. But he seemed obsessed with Mr Khan’s relationship with his co-religionists; devoting his giant op-ed in the last Mail on Sunday before the election not to any of the bread-and-butter problems affecting Londoners but to a garbled mess of an argument that smudged together Mr Corbyn’s economic leftism, Labour’s anti-Semitism problem (of which the party’s candidate for the London mayoralty had been perhaps the foremost critic) and Mr Khan’s background, faith and personal traits.

There is a broader point here. Politicians are human and thus possess hinterlands, blind spots and inconsistencies. By definition they have an overdeveloped appetite for approval that prompts them to feign sympathy, delve into parts of society where they would not otherwise venture and humour certain audiences when they ought to avoid or upbraid them. How many Conservative or Labour candidates, confronted on the doorstep by an elderly voter ranting about “the coloureds”, would call him what he is—a racist—to his face? Moreover, no politician can exist in a hermetically sealed vacuum. Britons broadly accept that in their rulers. Some politicians have wealthy backgrounds that might inhibit their understanding of material insecurity, or religious backgrounds that make them intolerant of alternative lifestyles. Many are closer than is politic—or at least reflective of the median voter’s experiences—to bankers, strikers, bible-bashers, imams, die-hard environmentalists or other representatives of esoteric social segments.

Yet as a rule we tolerate, indeed often welcome, such florae in Britain’s civic life because their tendrils extend deep into its society. Mr Goldsmith, who has links to plenty of people unsuited to setting the agenda in City Hall, exemplifies this. His father was a hardline Eurosceptic accused of being corporate raider. His former brother-in-law, Imran Khan, has all sorts of links to Islamism through his political career in Pakistan. The magazine Mr Goldsmith edited, the Ecologist, carries articles opposing economic growth, cheering on activists who break the law and looking approvingly on third-world insurrectionists. Such connections are among the factors cited when journalists describe him, approvingly, as an “independent minded” MP.

None of this compares directly to Mr Khan’s links to Muslim radicals. But while that subject is more troubling than, say, ecological extremism, should it be treated so differently? I venture (as I did in a column in January) that the very problems of British Islam make it all the more pressing to draw its representatives into the country’s politics. Can Britain combat the self-exclusion of some of its Muslims, the anti-Semitism that infects their politics and the radicalisation of the most naive among them without prominent Muslims in public life who have first-hand experience of these problems and their causes? Can the establishment support a new generation of moderates—including the liberal, telegenic imams to whose rise Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Jewish Board of Deputies, drew my attention only last week—while dismissing Mr Khan?

It is hard to imagine a successful, liberal Muslim politician who, as she advanced from her neighbourhood to the national stage, never crossed paths with the sort of reactionary that so dominated Mr Goldsmith’s criticisms of Mr Khan. And who, given British politicians’ inclination to indulge their audiences, publicly challenged every last Islamic conservative that she encountered. Which poses the question: if London’s new mayor is the “wrong” sort of Muslim to hold a major public office, what does the “right” one look like?

Sadiq Khan: British dream now a reality for London’s first Muslim mayor

In Pakistan, the chances that the son of a bus or rickshaw driver could secure a high-ranking political position in the country’s capital city are minuscule. But now, the people of London have elected Sadiq Khan – the son of an immigrant Pakistani bus driver – to be their first Muslim mayor.

While unable to influence the nation’s foreign or economic policy, Khan will have responsibility for key areas in London, such as transport, housing, policing and the environment. And being directly elected gives the London mayor a personal mandate which no other parliamentarian in Westminster – including those in the cabinet – enjoy.

Now, at the age of 45, he is mayor of London: the economic and cultural heart of the UK, the largest city in western Europe and one of the most important cities in the world. He is the immigrant success story – for him, the British dream has become a reality.

Khan’s Islamic faith catapulted the city’s mayoral contest into the international limelight, at a time when Muslims are facing growing hostility in the West. In the US, presidential hopeful Donald Trump has said that he will ban Muslims from entering the country; while in Europe, the far right is gaining traction by campaigning on explicitly anti-Muslim platforms.

During the mayoral campaign, Khan’s “Muslimness” was viewed as a liability by some – including members of his own party. His Conservative rival, Zac Goldsmith, accused Khan of sharing platforms with Islamic extremists – the implication was clear: that the public should be wary of his “radical” views. Goldsmith’s highly controversial campaign has been heavily criticised – notably by senior Conservative Andrew Boff – for its divisive “dog-whistle” politics.

Khan’s victory supports what a number of Muslim commentators have argued all along: that having a Muslim mayor could help defeat Islamist ideology, by showing that the West is not anti-Islam – and that Muslims can “make it” there. Khan himself has spoken about the symbolic value of becoming the first Muslim mayor of a city which experienced terrorist attacks in 2005, perpetrated in the name of Islam.

But Khan’s victory says as much about social mobility as it does about race and religion. Had Khan’s father stayed in Pakistan, it is inconceivable that his son would have succeeded in that country’s political system, where privilege and connections win elections. By contrast, many Pakistanis who migrated to the UK in the post-war era were subsistence farmers and manual labourers. In many cases, they were illiterate in their own mother tongue. They took up positions in the service industries of the south, the factories and foundries of the Midlands and the mills of northern England. And while some succeeded in pulling themselves out of poverty, the UK’s Pakistani community still has some of the highest levels of unemployment and underachievement in the UK. Many British Pakistanis live in some of the UK’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

And of course, British politics is also now dominated by an “old boys’ network”: the cliques of Etonions and Bullingdon club members, personified by the prime minister, David Cameron, the chancellor, George Osborne – and indeed London’s outgoing mayor, Boris Johnson. Yet the working-class Khan managed to win out against a Conservative rival with family pedigree, wealth and friends in powerful political, media and business circles.

For many, this is a triumph of meritocracy over privilege – a sign that the political establishment is becoming more inclusive and representative of the ethnic, religious and socioeconomic diversity of the wider population.

And Khan is not the only second-generation Pakistani to have entered high political office in the UK. Sajid Javid, the current secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, is the son of a Pakistani immigrant who worked in the mills of the north before becoming a bus driver. So too did the father of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who rose to become a member of David Cameron’s cabinet, and was the first Muslim woman to sit at the highest table in the land. In the 2015 general election alone, ten individuals of Pakistani heritage were elected to the British parliament.

And now, in London, the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver is in charge. He has become Europe’s most powerful Muslim politician. Khan’s victory has shown us that the British dream can become a reality.

Global press reaction to Sadiq Khan a mix of curiosity and ignorance

In London, the religion of the Labour candidate for the city’s mayor became an issue only when his Conservative opponent made it one, by attempting to link his rival to Islamist extremism in a campaign criticised as divisive and racist.

Abroad, however, it seems the faith and family background of Sadiq Khan is seen through a somewhat different prism: in much foreign media coverage of the elections, it was more important than his politics.

“Sadiq Khan likely to become the first Muslim mayor of London,” was the headline in France’s leading left leaning news weekly L’Obs. The country’s largest commercial broadcaster, TF1, went for: “Sadiq Khan: Muslim, immigrant’s son, self-made man – and future mayor”? The Metronews freesheet went further, saying a Khan victory would make the Tooting MP “the first Muslim mayor of a European capital”.

Le Monde went out of its way to note that Khan, “the son of an immigrant bus driver from Pakistan”, described his moderate Islamic faith as “part of my identity” – adding that his opponent Zac Goldsmith was “the son of a Franco-British billionaire of Jewish origin”.

Khan’s religion was prominent in media coverage of the election in the Netherlands, where Ahmed Aboutaleb has been the Muslim mayor of the country’s second largest city, Rotterdam, since 2009. The headline of the authoritative NRC Handsblad was: “The green millionaire v the leftwing Muslim”, while the right leaning De Telegraaf chose simply: “London could get its first Muslim mayor”.

In Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung remarked – although not in its headline – that London seemed on course for its first Muslim mayor, while Switzerland’s Le Temps noted that the duel between the sons of “a billionaire, and a bus driver” could see the city becoming “the first European capital to be run by a Muslim”.

Different perceptions of Islam and integration were compounded in some countries by a wildly different continental view of Pakistan. “Is Khan’s Pakistani origin not an obstacle?” asked a journalist on the Swiss radio station RTS. “Is Pakistan not associated with fundamentalism and terror?”

The station’s interviewee replied that in a city in which almost 40% of residents were born outside the UK, and whose Muslim population makes up 12% of the total (and more than 30% in some boroughs), the popular image of Pakistan was more usually to do with corner shops and academic excellence.

But perhaps the most striking example of how differently much of the world sees London – and the importance of religion – from the way the city plainly sees itself came from the US, where Donald Trump caused uproar with a call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

“DEVELOPING: FIRST MUSLIM MAYOR OF LONDONISTAN” was the top headline on the popular news aggregator site The Drudge Report, followed closely by: “Jewish leaders express concern over voting problems” and “FLASHBACK: Parts of city 50% Islamic”.