AMSTERDAM – Moroccan and Turkish groups in the Netherlands have set up a new action committee named “Genoeg is genoeg” (enough is enough) to organise a campaign against the Dutch government’s tough immigration and integration policies. The organisers are calling for a national demonstration on 17 September in Amsterdam. Two spokesmen for the new organisation outlined the plans for the demonstration during a press conference in the Moroccan capital of Rabat on Monday. Dutch Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk arrived in Rabat for an official visit on Monday. She toured the Dutch embassy where modifications have been made to house the new integration tests that are to be introduced for would-be immigrants to the Netherlands. While there was news on Monday that other European countries are interested in the immigration policies being pioneered by Verdonk, the spokesmen for the new action committee described her policies as discriminatory and racist. “These policies are creating a greater rift between ‘us and them’, one of the representatives said. The ‘Genoeg is genoeg’ group wanted to hold a demonstration in Rabat to coincide with Verdonk’s visit but the authorities did not grant them a permit to do so. The group says there should be no difference between the treatment of Muslims and non-Muslims. It argues that the Cabinet’s integration plans as well as limitations on family reunification and dual nationality hits at the principle of equal rights for all dutch citizens. “We don’t want a separate policy for one group as that leads to Apartheid,” one of the spokesmen said.
By Emma Thomasson AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Europe’s main democracy and rights watchdog expressed concern on Friday about increasing Dutch intolerance towards Muslims that was fanned by the murder last year of a filmmaker critical of Islam. Omur Orhun, ambassador on combating discrimination against Muslims for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), was in the Netherlands to discuss the position of Muslim immigrants. “Holland was reputed to be a country of tolerance where integration, as compared to other European countries, had been achieved acceptably. But recent events have shown there is a problem,” he told a news conference ending a three-day visit. “Especially from representatives of some civil society organisations there were repeatedly feelings of fear expressed. Not claims of physical attacks or abuse, but a climate of fear.” Home to almost 1 million Muslims or 6 percent of the population, the country’s reputation for tolerance and social harmony was shattered by the murder last November of outspoken filmmaker Theo van Gogh and its violent aftermath. A Dutch-Moroccan man was charged with the killing, allegedly motivated by Van Gogh’s criticism of Islam. Dozens of mosques, and Muslim schools were attacked in apparent retaliation. Orhun, who met Dutch politicians as well as Turkish, Moroccan and Surinamese migrant groups and human rights organisations, said the fact the government had invited him to visit the country showed it wanted to tackle the situation. “There is a problem in Holland as far as tolerance and non-discrimination is concerned,” he said. “But the situation is not tragic and the problem can solved with common sense and trying to build bridges.” The Turkish diplomat said tension was on the rise in many Western countries over Muslim immigrants and said he hoped to visit the United States, Germany, France and Britain soon. “There is mistrust and stigmatisation of Muslims and a growing fault line between the Muslim communities and the host societies,” Orhun said. Orhun recommended that Islam should not be politicised by countries that are home to Muslim migrants or by the immigrants themselves, who must also do more to distance themselves from radicalism and condemn violence committed in Islam’s name. Western governments could also do more to counter stigmatising of Muslim youths, for example by helping them get apprenticeships for jobs, he said. “The sense of being accepted would tend to decrease this radicalisation. Equal opportunities would also create lesser possibilities, lesser chances of radicalisation,” he said.
AMSTERDAM – Young Turkish and Moroccan mothers have the same opinions about combining work and family duties than women from other ethnic groups, research indicates. But the Dutch Family Council also said that the husbands of Turkish and Moroccan man have different opinions regarding emancipation, newspaper Trouw reported on Tuesday. The results of the study were being presented during a ‘Family Parliament’ at the Rotterdam city hall also on Tuesday. Dozens of immigrant families were to discuss with politicians the issue of parenthood in a multicultural city.
Immigration has polarised the Netherlands as never before but, as Alex Duval Smith reports, its traditional values of tolerance have found some unlikely defenders . Martyn Loosman, impeccably turned out in a traditional costume of baggy trousers and a red and white striped shirt, buffs up the Dutch Queen Wilhemina coins on his belt buckle. ‘The government is going too far by proposing body searches and forcing suspected terrorists to report weekly to police,’ he says before sloping off, his black clogs scraping nonchalantly against the cobblestones of the fishing village of Urk. Forty miles south, in an Amsterdam coffee shop, advertising copywriter Geert Beck toys with his blond dreadlocks while sucking on a joint. ‘There are too many immigrants in Holland. They are stealing our society.’ The men, both 29, represent the contradictions in the Netherlands’ liberal society and pose questions over whether it has died or was only ever superficial. In a country where euthanasia is legal, one million people are on sick leave with no questions asked, prostitutes pay income tax and you can buy cannabis with your coffee, the government has for the past three months been passing radically intolerant laws. Immigration tops the political agenda all over Europe – in Britain ahead of the general election, in Denmark where the right was re-elected last week on an anti-foreigner platform and in Spain, which has infuriated its European Union partners by launching an amnesty for thousands of people without work permits – the Netherlands has reasons for a clampdown. In November 2004 – 911 days after the 9/11 attacks – controversial film-maker Theo Van Gogh was brutally murdered in an Amsterdam street. His alleged attacker, Dutch-Moroccan Mohammed Bouyeri shot him, strangled him, then stuck a note on his chest with a knife threatening war on Europe in the name of Islam. Within hours of the killing, prompted by Van Gogh’s controversial short film, Submission, which criticises radical Islam’s attitude to women, Integration Minister Rita Verdonk told 10,000 mourners gathered in front of Amster dam’s royal palace that Dutch tolerance ‘stops here and will not go any further’. There followed a cascade of reprisals. By the end of the year, more than 20 mosques, religious schools and churches had been attacked. Submission’s screenwriter, Somali-born MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, still receives regular death threats. ‘People say Holland changed after the Van Gogh murder but we started asking ourselves questions long before that,’ said Loosman, who is unemployed. ‘I have done many different jobs but right now I do not want to work. I will get a job when I want one,’ he says as he walks with two friends through Urk’s winter fair – a pageant of basket-weaving, lace-making and wood-turning, punctuated by the sounds of a fairground organ. The village is festooned with Urk’s flag, a mackerel on red, white and blue stripes, and stalls sell smoked fish. In Calvinist Urk, a picture-postcard fishing village, there are only white people. Urk was an island until the great damming projects of the Thirties, and its mentality remains insular. Its dialect is incomprehensible to other Dutch people, businesses close at noon on Saturdays because that is the start of the Lord’s Day, and women go to church in black dresses. There are 16 churches for 17,000 people and some people still do not watch television on Sundays, or use the phone or ride their bicycles. ‘We call ourselves Holland’s indigenous Muslims because we are different,’ said Loosman. ‘People in the rest of the country make fun of us, saying we are rigid and high and mighty. ‘But I am proud to be an Urker. We have a history going back 1,000 years. During the Second World War we hid hundreds of Jews in the reeds to save them from the Germans. The other day I saw a photograph which was an aerial view of Urk as an island, and I felt sorry that we are no longer that way.’ Being attached to the mainland has changed everything for the Urkers. Friday’s fair was Urk’s first, created to improve its image. ‘In the last two years things have happened here which are not good,’ said Loosman. ‘First there was a split in one of the Reform churches. It was very nasty. Then, when some Kurds came here to do road work, there was a fight with local people. It was all over the Dutch papers. We are holding the fair, in which everyone is invited to wear local costume, to show we are friendly.’ Urk’s idea of a good image is somewhat different from those of other towns and villages in the Netherlands now engaged in the national pastime of working out what it means to be one of the world’s 16 million Dutch people. Many individuals and local authorities have forged links with the immigrants, said to be 5.8 per cent of the population. A ‘white march’ for peace was launched by a web- site called ‘Don’t touch my neighbours’ and Moroccans in Amsterdam started a ‘We won’t tolerate it’ campaign reminiscent of the France’s ‘Don’t touch my mate’ anti-racism drive in the Eighties. In Delft, a local association has started courses in ‘Moroccan culture and civilisation’, partly as a protest against new rules making immigrants take ‘acclimatisation courses’ and exams before being granted residency. Halfway between The Hague and Amsterdam, the local council of Alphen aan den Rijn has gone further than most with a campaign, under the slogan: ‘Let’s throw away our prejudices.’ The mayor, Nico Schoof, has plastered these words on bus stops, dustcarts and on the wrappers of Dutch waffles and Surinamese pancakes in cafes. Supermarkets have even slapped it on ‘fair trade’ such as bananas. Yet at government level the victim of another murder, the far-right politician Pim Fortuyn, is enjoying posthumous triumph. Fortuyn, who called Islam a ‘retarded religion’ and was killed on the eve of elec tions in May 2002, had run on a ticket calling for the Netherlands’ borders to be closed, integration to be obligatory and for measures against Muslim extremists. After his death, his party won 26 seats, though it lost all but eight of them six months later. In the past two years, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister, has done Fortuyn proud. The previous government of Social Democrat Wim Kok began the trend in 2001 by hardening the asylum laws so much that the country was condemned by Human Rights Watch. Asylum applications, which had totalled 43,000 in 2000, fell to 13,400 in 2003. Balkenede then pushed through rules banning all unsuccessful applicants fromstaying in the country. Now Fortuyn has a successor of sorts, Geert Wilders, 41, reckoned by opinion polls to have the third largest number of supporters in the country, though a general election is not due until 2007. Wilders, who left the liberal VVD last September because he objected to its moderate stance over Turkey joining the EU, appears to have wider support than Fortuyn, including some academics. But his party has not yet been tested in an election and he has no manifesto, apart from calls for a ban on extremist mosques. Yet most people in the Netherlands – Dutch or not – remain proud of their liberal traditions. Doing his bit for multiculturalism is the Surinamese comedian, J_rgen Raymann, 38, whose show at Emmeloord on Friday, had a all-white, often elderly, audience in stitches of laughter. His jokes – about food, dancing and accents – tackled racism head-on, making fun of immigrants and of the Dutch. ‘I try to hold up a mirror to myself and make them look at it, but I also hold up a mirror to them,’ said Raymann. ‘I try to put across the idea that Holland is a great country with fantastic health services, infrastructure, a tradition of compassion and no natural disasters. ‘Even though the weather is like a beautiful woman with premenstrual tension there are plenty of reasons to feel happy here. The Dutch have been spoilt and because they were so comfortable for many years, they felt guilty and became all politically correct. We are paying the price now. There is a panic. Everyone in a headscarf is a potential terrorist, and the media accentuates those views.’ Raymann believes the Netherlands ‘nee
ds to take a stand. We have to kick out the extremists and start a dialogue with the moderates. Dutch are not xenophobic, they are in a panic. When they have got over it, they will get back to their proud, tradition of moderation’. Others, however, feel lost. Loosman looks out to sea from Urk lighthouse, wishing his village was still an island. ‘Five years from now, I do not know where we will be. I am proud to be an Urker but the world seems to be pushing us in a direction we do not want to go.’ Geert Beck, the cannabis smoker at the Amsterdam coffee shop, does not want to be pushed either. ‘Our society is free, if you respect the rules. We Dutch know this but others have come here with different values and taken advantage of our trust.’
Ian Traynor in UDEN, the Netherlands Kneeling in the sodden, charred remains of the primary school, Hari Boukameans took a Stanley knife to a melted computer. He twisted and he gouged – trying to recover the hard drive, hoping to salvage a little bit of the precious Dutch culture of live and let live from the flames of hatred that consumed his workplace. The Moroccan gave up. He slumped in the smelly, black mass of ashes. “This is really evil,” he groaned. Spray painting a white cross and White Power slogans on to the grey brick walls of the Muslim school the previous night, Dutch racists had set the place ablaze. The fire gutted the school and traumatised this comfortable town of 40,000 in the middle of the Netherlands.
The president of the Association of Friends of the Moroccan Town, Mohamed Alami, has published an open letter directed to the Spanish Government, the political parties and the different institutions and organizations in which he denounces the entrance in Spain of questionable imams that are harming the Muslims in Spain. El presidente de la Asociaci_n de Amigos del Pueblo Marroqu_, Mohamed Alami, ha publicado una carta abierta dirigida al Gobierno espa_ol, a los partidos pol_ticos y a las diferentes instituciones y organizaciones en la que denuncia la entrada en Espa_a de decenas de supuestos imanes que est_n perjudicando al colectivo musulm_n que hay en Espa_a.
The head of an association of Moroccan migrant workers has said that Spain needs a council to oversee mosques and Muslim clerics as a solution to combat “extremists.”
A Tunisian being sought under an international arrest warrant is the leader of the Madrid train bomb suspects, says Spain’s High Court. Court papers say Sarhane ben Abdelmajid Fakhet is “the leader and co-ordinator” of people implicated in the attacks. He is one of six people named as bombing suspects on the international arrest warrant issued by the court. Meanwhile, security officials say they believe drug-trafficking was key to helping finance the 11 March attacks. Drugs link The arrest warrant says Mr Fakhet, alias El Tunecino (The Tunisian), began agitating for a jihad, or holy war, in Madrid from mid-2003, if not before. A Moroccan, Jamal Ahmidan, is also wanted as a suspected leader of the group. The four others, Moroccans Said Berraj, Agdennabi Kounjaa and brothers Mohammed and Rachid Oulad Akcha, are wanted after supposedly being identified by police as part of the group who placed the rucksack bombs in the trains. Judge Juan del Olmo, in charge of investigating the attacks, says all are wanted for murder and belonging to a terrorist group. He also says the bombs were prepared in a house in a semi-rural area outside Madrid, which was rented by one of the suspects. Thirteen rucksack bombs were left on four packed commuter trains the morning of the 11 March resulting in the death of 191 people and leaving at least 1,800 injured. Interior Minister Angel Acebes has named the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group as the main focus of investigation, but he insisted that other “terrorist” organisations had not been ruled out. The BBC’s Katya Adler in Madrid says Spanish security officials now say they believe drug-trafficking played a significant role not only in financing the bombings but also in establishing relationships between key protagonists. Family Media reports say Jamal Ahmidan, who has alleged links to al-Qaeda, was orginally recruited by Muslim radicals while serving a prison sentence in Morocco for drug-trafficking. He is accused of driving a stash of hashish to northern Spain at the end of February to exchange it for 240 pounds of explosives stolen from a mine there. Spaniard Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, now in custody, is accused of supplying the explosives. He also faces multiple counts of murder, as well as attempted murder, robbery and terrorism charges. Spanish police have 19 people in custody, including 11 Moroccans or Moroccan-born Spaniards, two Indians, two Spaniards and three Syrians. Fourteen of the suspects have been provisionally charged with mass murder or collaborating with or belonging to a terrorist group. The Oulad Akcha brothers on the arrest warrant are reported to be related to the only woman charged in the case, Naima Oulad Akcha. Some of the other men have the same surnames as other suspects in custody or who have been questioned by investigators.
Though Islam is woven into the fabric of the country’s history, Moroccans and other Arabs living there today are struggling to find their place in society as well as their role in the Muslim world. Mustafa Bougrine is a Moroccan who has lived in Spain for 19 years. He’s married to a Spanish woman and runs a restaurant. He fears that a new feeling of Islamophobia may be growing in the Spanish population. “When people hear the word ‘Islam’, they think about Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi, but that’s not Islam,” he says. “I’m against every form of fanaticism, suicide bombers and everything that is referred to as ‘jihad’. Muslims here in Spain believe in democracy and peaceful coexistence between Christians, Jews and Muslims.” Change is definitely brewing among Madrid’s Muslims. The city’s Lavapies neighborhood (see related link below), where many immigrants live and the suspected culprits of the March 11 terrorist attacks ran a telephone shop, has practically come to a standstill. The mosque on the M30 highway beltway is the largest in Madrid. But these days it’s conspicuously empty. Before last Thursday’s terrorist attacks on the city, as many as 1,000 would come at a single time to pray here. Now it’s difficult to find more than 50 people who have come here to pray in the direction of Mecca. Many Muslims are staying home and out of the public eye as Spanish investigators shift their focus from Basque separatists toward the attack’s suspected Moroccan culprits. Spanish newspapers are reporting sources alleging links between Thursday’s terrorist attacks and bombings in Casablanca last May that also killed dozens of Spaniards. The developments have sent shockwaves through Spain’s Muslim community, which is struggling to establish its own identity in a staunchly Catholic country. An influx of economic refugees Close to 600,000 Muslims live in Spain, with the majority originating from northern Africa’s Maghreb countries, mostly Morocco which is located just kilometers across the Straight of Gibraltar. Islam is not a new religion in Spain. No other European country has as many traces of the religion in its history. For several hundred years, right up till the end of the 15th century, Islam was a dominant presence on the Iberian Peninsula. Most of those living here today came during the 1980s. Their numbers grew in the 1990s as they took jobs in Spain’s growing agricultural, construction, hospitality and service industry. They are the silent majority of Spain’s Muslims. Many of the dominant voices heard in Spain are those of Spanish Islam converts or leaders of Islamic cultural centers financed by the Saudi Arabian government — groups that play a prominent role in negotiating the rights and duties of Muslims within the Spanish state. Finding their place But for most Moroccans, eking out a living is the most important aspect of daily life. Through countless grassroots associations, Moroccans in Spain are fighting for their economic survival as well as the construction of mosques in their neighborhoods. Muhammad Chouirdi works for the Association of Moroccan Workers and Immigrants. He finds alarming the miserable circumstances under which his fellow countrymen are forced to fulfill their religious obligations. Strapped for cash, the temptation to take money from other Arab groups is tempting, but the political dangers are considerable. Moroccan Muslim leaders like Chouidiri are also wary of other branches of Islam, which they fear are being accepted uncritically by Moroccan immigrants. “We suspect that small Moroccan living-room mosques on the outskirts of Madrid are already receiving Saudi Arabian money,” Chouirdi explains. “By doing so, Saudi Arabia is trying to spread its form of Islam and practices — primarily Wahhabi Muslim. The probelm is that Moroccan immigrants have a low level of education and there’s a danger that they will not recognize the danger of these religious practices. For them, practicing Islam means praying give times a day and following many rules. What we get from the outside world — in this case from Saudi Arabia — is accepted with out critical discussion.” Islam from Saudi Arabia, with its fundamentalist characteristics, has spread in Spain in recent years. All the big representative mosques in Spain were built with Saudi money. And frequently the Saudis have also sent imams who interpret the Quran according to the Wahhabis. Wahhabism rejects all modernity, any dialogue between religions, any opening up to other cultures. The breeding ground for last week’s attacks could have been here. For both the culprits in the Casablanca bombing in 2003 and the alleged perpetrators of the Madrid attacks belong to terrorist groups that have been influenced by Wahhabi ideologists. A religious border Now people are asking themselves how a minority in the Muslim community could have become susceptible to Islamist propaganda. The disparities between Spain’s Catholic and Muslim societies could provide some clues. A look at Ceuta, one of the two Spanish cities on the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, is revealing. Ceuta is the gateway to Europe. The border between Africa and Europe, between Islamic Morocco and Catholic Spain, is here. Half of Ceuta’s 72,000 residents are Christian, while the other half are Muslim, mainly of Moroccan origin. The chairman of Islamic Community of Ceuta, Abselam Hamadi, says that many Muslims still feel like second-class citizens, that they don’t have the same opportunities Christians have. “Only few Muslims get jobs in Ceuta’s state administration. The response is always the same: professional qualifications lacking. That’s not the truth, of course. But if more Muslims were accepted, there would be more Muslims than Christians in the administration one day, and that scares the Christians.” The fact is, Ceuta’s Muslim residents have dramatically lower standards of living and levels of education than Christian residents. They mainly live in the El Principe district, a poor, entirely Muslim neighborhood right on the border to Morocco, where integration doesn’t exist. Young Muslims born in Spain to Moroccan parents live here. They don’t feel Moroccan, but they aren’t fully accepted by Spanish society either. Many fear the promises of the “real Islamic message” may be received with open arms in communities like Ceuta, creating the kind of dangerous backdrop that could breed future terrorism.
The presence of more than 200 000 people of Moroccan origin in today’s Belgium is to a large extent a consequence of inflow of workers after the bilateral agreement was signed between the two countries 40 years ago. The EMIM (‘l’Espace M_morial de l’Immmigration Marocaine) was found in order to celebrate the 40 years of Moroccan presence in Belgium. It organizes and co-ordinates a two and a half month programme of various seminars, concerts, debates which take place in different parts of the country.