May 16 2011
Ahmed Marcouch, and Amsterdam politician and MP, has been recognized for his role promoting gay rights in “making homosexuality a discussible subject among Muslim”. The jury awarding the homo-emancipation prize reported being “impressed by the courage and fortitude Mr. Marcouch showed in bringing what is for many a sensitive subject into the open, both at local and national level [sic].” Marcouch has been a local politician in Amsterdam’s Slotervaart neighbourhood before being elected to parliament in last June’s elections.
Public elementary schools in Amsterdam’s Slotervaart district attended overwhelmingly by Muslim students face a great need for Islam classes. A study by the Vrije University of Amsterdam reveals that parents favor Islam classes outside regular school hours. Most who want the classes think that curriculum should also be devoted to teaching other religions and life philosophies.
A hospital in Amsterdam’s Slotervaart neighbourhood is offering counseling to diabetic residents who want to fast during Ramadan. Patients attend the clinic to seek advice or shift the dosage of their medication. Often, they are advised against fasting. Clinic nurse Fatima Malki explains, “We have to tell them it’s not a good idea. We explain to them that there are verses of the Qur’an which allow very sick people to be excused from fasting.”
In less than 10 years the clinic has become a well known resource in the neighbourhood and sees an increase in attendance over Ramadan. Eelco Meesters, head of the specialist diabetes unit at the hospital, tells AFP that the clinic treats over 1,400 patients, over half of whom are immigrants from Morocco, Turkey and Surinam.
Public schools in Amsterdam’s Slotervaart district will not offer Islam classes, Telegraaf reports. The classes were requested a year ago by district mayor Ahmed Marouch, who hoped that offering the classes outside the regular school-day would offer parents an alternative to religious education in the mosques. Currently, in-school Islamic classes are offered to children in Rotterdam and Lelystad. While the education is possible if parents request the classes, it is unclear whether a lack of demand for the classes stems from lack of awareness among parents or a disinterest in the classes themselves.
Two members of the Netherlands’ PvDA in Slotervaart are opposing the plans of mayor Ahmed Marcouch to make homosexuality a discussable topic in Islamic circles. According to Marcouch, the position of gays is an issue which strongly moves the ‘ethnic supporters’ of politicians in Slotervaart.
Miloud Bouzrou and Hassan Kattouss oppose the policy on the grounds that it stigmatizes the Muslim community. Says Kattouss, “We’re against the memo because Mr. Marcouch uses Muslims and Moroccans as an argument to stress the necessity of his gay policy. It’s simply not true that Moroccans and Muslims are intolerant towards gays. You should not accuse that Muslim community of something that it’s not.” Marcouch, the local PvdA leader, expects the fraction leader to have a harsh, reproving talk with the two.
A harassed gay minority in a conservative suburb in otherwise tolerant Amsterdam has found a guardian angel in the local Muslim mayor. Ahmed Marcouch, 41, is on a self-appointed mission to end homophobia in Slotervaart, just a stones’ throw from the capital but light-years away from its anything-goes mentality. To make his point, Mayor Marcouch recently invited Amsterdam’s annual Gay Pride parade to pass through his constituency when it takes place in August. “It is necessary to confront this issue, to say that homosexuals are normal people like all of us and that we require them to be respected,” Marcouch told AFP.Slotervaart’s population is mainly of immigrant origin, many of the Muslim faith, like Moroccan-born Marcouch himself who came to the Netherlands in 1979 at age 10. The suburb has recently been in the news for homophobic incidents, with gays being called names, spat on and generally bothered. The community grew particularly restless over gay men using Slotervaart’s De Oeverlanden public park as a place to meet and have sex, a practice known as “cruising”. After gay lobbyists made complaints over incidents of homophobic violence, the local council erected signs in the park indicating the spots where gay sex is known to take place, in a bid to avoid any unfortunate encounters. “For cultural or religious reasons, some people reject homosexuals and compare them to animals,” said Marcouch, who has been Slotervaart’s mayor since 2006 and was a former spokesman for Amsterdam’s mosques. “They don’t see homosexuals as humans. These people can be orthodox Christians, Muslims or immigrants,” he said. On Marcouch’s initiative, the city council recently adopted an action plan for 2009 to 2011 that allows for the opening of a gay cultural centre. It will also permit gay associations to give briefings at schools and will take measures to teach mothers in immigrant households about gay rights in the Netherlands. The mayor has asked municipal police to be extra vigilant about homophobic aggression, and has even organised debates on the topic in mosques to press home his message. More than 55 percent of the 45,000 inhabitants of Slotervaart are of immigrant origin and 22.4 percent are younger than 17 — two groups that Marcouch says are the least tolerant towards homosexuals. Gays themselves make up about 7.5 percent of the population of Amsterdam. “I always say: your freedom to be an orthodox Muslim is the same as that of a homosexual to be homosexual,” said Marcouch, himself heterosexual. “Freedom is guaranteed in the constitution” of the Netherlands. Alix Rijckaert reports.
Ahmed Marcouch, chairman of the heavily immigrant Amsterdam neighborhood of Slotervaart, is taking it upon himself to fight persistent homophobia in the locality, including presenting a memorandum with measures to make the neighborhood more gay-friendly.
Name-calling, being spit on, and harassment are common experiences for gay persons passing street corners – and a number of Muslim youth are believed to be responsible for the attacks, in an apparent clash between the public acceptability of homosexuality in Amsterdam and rejection of homosexuality in Islamic practice.
Marcouch, a Muslim himself who was born in Morocco, is hoping to heal such clashes and put an end to such attacks. He has made an appearance at “Pink Eid al-Fitr” – a gay celebration of the Muslim holiday marking the end of the Ramadan, and debated religious leaders by arguing that Islam and homosexuality can co-exist. “Taking things one step further, we’re going to take the confrontational approach and it will be painful at times,” says Marcouch, who plans to assist the organization of a gay pride parade to start in Slotervaart this year.
Ahmed Marcouch, chairman of the Amsterdam neighborhood of Slotervaart, said that Dutch politics and society should give orthodox Muslims space to practice their faith, and subsequently, show that the values of freedom of religion are high on their agenda. According to Marcouch, freedom of religion in modern society is demonstrated by its connection with the orthodox believer. Marcouch added that politicians who are afraid of Islamization are mistaken, and that the opposite is taking place – the Dutchification of Islam.
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The mayor of the Amsterdam neighborhood Slotervaart, Ahmed Marcouch, has said that public schools ought to offer more space for religion, particularly Islam. According to Marouch, this would take some of the burden and responsibility off of the mosque, by allowing for a more open and public practice of religion for Muslim children and young people. Marcouch also wants creationism to be taught alongside evolution. According to him, public schools should also be more respectful of Muslim customs and holidays, and allow for space where children do not have to constantly justify headscarves, and gender segregated activities like swimming. The ultimate goal, said Mr. Marcouch, is to hope that a Muslim child can enter a public school without feeling like he has to renounce his religion.
By Erich Wiedemann For one Amsterdam mayor, the Netherlands’ famous tolerance has gone too far. Morrocan-born Ahmed Marcouch is taking the tough cop approach in a rough Amsterdam neighborhood, pushing his fellow immigrants to integrate. But some consider him a traitor. A street festival is in full swing in Amsterdam’s Slotervaart neighborhood. The occasion is the dedication of a new community center for Christians and Muslims designed to foster interaction between the two groups. As the crowd listens to music, munches on fish snacks and Arab pastries and drinks fruit juice, Ahmed Marcouch, the district’s 38-year-old mayor, holds a speech. He talks about progress and mutual understanding between different ethnic communities. At the end of his talk, Marcouch poses for pictures with an attractive young woman wearing a headscarf. The festival and the speech are nice gestures, but atypical. Normally life in Slotervaart isn’t nearly as convivial as the speakers paint it. Crime and unemployment are significantly higher than the national average, and one in three of the neighborhood’s young people are high-school dropouts.