Wilders criticised for call to ban the Koran

A call by the controversial MP Geert Wilders to ban the Koran in the Netherlands has led to a flood of negative reactions from politicians and community leaders in the Dutch media today. Christian Democrat foreign minister Maxine Verhagen is quoted by ANP news agency as saying that Wilders has _exceeded the boundaries of decency’ with his comments. Religious freedom, like the freedom of expression, is the foundation of the Dutch constitution, he said. Verhagen has sent Dutch ambassadors abroad a copy of a letter in which the cabinet distances itself from Wilders’ comments. Statements by Wilders earlier this year that Dutch Muslims should rip up the Koran caused considerable anger in a number of countries. Integration minister Ella Vogelaar already made it clear yesterday that banning the Koran in the Netherlands is out of the question as far as the cabinet is concerned and will remain so. Wilders’ comments damage inter-community relations, she said.

Dutch lawmaker calls for the closure of all Muslim schools

Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, the controversial leader and founder of the Freedom Party (PVV), has called for the immediate closure of all Muslim schools in the Netherlands in an article published Tuesday. The move was necessary “to protect children against the ongoing spreading of Islam,” Wilders wrote on Dutch news websitem, Nieuwsnieuws. “We have too much Islam in the Netherlands. Islam is effectively more a violent political ideology than a religion,” he wrote. During the 2006 elections, Wilders’ PVV surprised everyone by gaining nine seats in the 175-seat Dutch parliament. Wilders had been an MP for several years – first for the Liberal-right VVD party and then as an independent member. Last year was the first time he contested the elections with his own party. Yassin Hartog, interim director of the ISBO, the umbrella organization of Muslim schools in the Netherlands, considers Wilders’ words to be a “provocation.” “I don’t think there is much reason for another controversy about Muslim schools in Holland. Muslim education in Holland is well-rooted in the national school system,” Hartog said. Holland is known for its uniquely broad range of schools and educational systems. Public schools are fully funded by the government, and special schools receive substantial government funding. Some 40 per cent of Dutch schools are public. The remaining 60 percent are special schools, some of which are based on specific educational systems such as Montessori, while others are based upon a religious denomination. In the last 15 years a few dozen Muslim schools have been established, predominantly elementary schools. In recent months, however, several Muslim schools made the Dutch headlines after school inspections found they did not meet the minimum educational standards, especially for the Dutch language and integration into Dutch society.

Saudis protest Dutch politician’s anti-Islam remarks

The Saudi ambassador to the Netherlands, Waleed al-Khareejy, has demanded that a Dutch anti-immigration politician apologise and retract his recent attack on Islam and the Koran. The demand, made informally, was immediately rejected by Geert Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV).

Who Will Be The People’s Champion Now?

{We ask who is waiting in the wings to take up the populist banner for the general election in November now that Leefbaar Nederland and the LPF are on the way out.} It looked as if the traditional political parties in the Netherlands were in trouble in the early part of the decade. After eight years of the consensus driven ‘Purple’ coalition between Labour (PvdA), Liberals (VVD) and Democrat D66, ordinary people in the street felt locked out from the corridors of power in The Hague – and they were ready to force themselves back in. The Trojan horse was to be a new kind of party, Leefbaar Nederland (Liveable Netherlands – LN). Founded in 1999 by Jan Nagel and Henk Westbroek of the successful Leefbaar parties in Hilversum and Utrecht, LN wasn’t going to be fettered by either left or right-wing philosophies. The main elements of its programme for the general election in May 2002 were: more of a say for ordinary people (at the expense of the traditional parties); less bureaucracy; and a more balanced (selective) asylum policy. Having the outspoken ‘professor’ and writer Pim Fortuyn at the helm significantly increased the party’s appeal. Early predictions were that LN could win up to 20 seats. Pim factor But everything went wrong three months before the election when the party executive sacked Fortuyn after he called for an end to immigration and for the removal of the anti-discrimination clause from the Constitution. Prosecutor Fred Teeven replaced Fortuyn as leader. LN won two seats while Fortuyn’s new political party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), won 28 of the 150 seats in parliament. Although Fortuyn was assassinated nine days before the election, his party joined a centre-right coalition in triumph. The celebrations were short-lived. The government collapsed ignominiously 87 days later due to LPF infighting. The LPF managed to hang on to eight seats in the subsequent election in January 2003. Leefbaar Nederland lost both its seats. Opinion polls have consistently suggested the LPF, which has been reduced to six seats by further wrangling, will join LN on the political scrap heap after the election next November. Hit by a serious debt problem, LN has decided to dissolve; the LPF has chosen to fight on and appoint a “big name” to lead its election campaign. Yet it faces competition from a host of other groups and personalities who hope to capture the ‘people’s vote’. Here’s a rundown of the main contenders: – Geert Wilders – his hair has a life of its own A Conservative with an striking coiffure, Wilders (42) from the south-eastern city of Venlo presents himself as the natural successor to Pim Fortuyn – the new voice of the common man and woman of the Netherlands. Wilders is probably the second best known Dutch politician internationally after Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Both are former members of the Liberal Party (VVD), both are critics of fundamentalist Islam, both are against immigration from Muslim countries, and both had to go into hiding after Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November 2004. Two months before the killing, Wilders split with the Liberals over the party support for EU-accession talks with Turkey. He recently set up the Partij van de Vrijheid (Party of the Freedom) to contest the election in November. As has occurred frequently since Leefbaar Nederland rocked political certainties in the Netherlands, opinion polls were wildly enthusiast about the latest political contender. Wilders was tipped to win anything up to 30 seats. More recent surveys suggest he may get eight seats – still impressive for a new party. – Marco Pastors – ‘Pim’ stripe suits are his trademarl Given to wearing pinstripe suits in imitation of Fortuyn, Marco Pastors, 40, is a man with a mission – to bring the ‘Rotterdam approach’ – law & order, and compulsory integration for immigrants to the rest of the country. Pastors took over the leadership of Leefbaar Rotterdam after Fortuyn was murdered. The Fortuyn revolution began in the local elections two months before the national poll. Although Leefbaar Rotterdam was the largest group on the city council, Pastors never stopped seeing conspiracies and imagining the established parties were out for revenge. One sign of this, as far as he is concerned, was when he was forced off the city’s executive council for speaking his mind about Muslim immigrants, despite an agreement not to. A second sign was the local election in March this year when the Labour Party beat Leefbaar Rotterdam into second place. Pastors effectively abandoned any responsibility for the future government of the city. He has set his mind to continue the Fortuyn revolution on the national stage with a new political party. He is known to have approached several like minded Fortuynists, including the LPF’s Joost Eerdmans and former immigration minister Hilbrand Nawijn (ex-LPF). But his attempts to lure Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk away from the Liberals have failed so far. Details about the new party remain sketchy. – Hilbrand Nawijn – often pleased with himself The head of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) from 1988 to 1996, Nawijn became the LPF’s immigration minister in the short-lived 2002 coalition government. He introduced the uncompromising approach to immigration and asylum that Verdonk now follows. Consequently, Nawijn took great pleasure in calling on Verdonk to strip Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali of her Dutch nationality for lying about her name. When not scowling about things he objects to, like lying asylum seekers, Nawijn is usually seen sporting a self-satisfied smirk. Elected to parliament with a huge personal vote in 2003, despite being on the bottom of the LPF list of candidates, he left the LPF in January 2005 in a row about his close ties with Filip Dewinter, leader of the far-right Vlaams Belang party in Belgium. His new party, Groep Nawijn, won five seats on Zoetermeer city council in March. However, it emerged in late July that Nawijn was one of the candidates being considered as the election leader for the LPF. Nawijn confirmed he was interested. LPF survivors Gerard van As – rebranded LPF will survive Most commentators – and opinion polls – suggest the LPF is washed up. The countless internal rows, frequent leadership changes and occasional mad-cap antics of its MPs have destroyed its credibility. That is the majority view. There is a minority opinion, held by a handful of LPFers, that the 2006 election can be a new beginning. Current leader Gerard van As has said the party will soon come with a new name and exciting new leader who will thrill the electorate. According to reports the ‘new’ name for the Lijst Pim Fortuyn is likely to include the name Fortuyn. And one of the three candidates for the leadership position is Nawijn, who left the LPF because his colleagues didn’t like him hanging around with the leader of the right-wing Vlaams Belang. Van As may be confident the LPF will survive; some of the other MPs are not. – Justice spokesman Joost Eerdmans is being courted by more than one suitor. – Matt Herben, twice called upon to lead the LPF and twice ditched for being ineffective, has faded into the background. – MP Max Hermans is also being wooed by other parties, and his personal LPF website no longer works. – MP Margot Kraneveldt resigned her seat in early July and rejoined the Labour Party. Her replacement, Gonny van Oudenallen, was expelled by the LPF over questions about her financial dealings while a councillor in Amsterdam. Van Oudenallen is now sitting as an independent, unconcerned by the prospect of losing her seat in November. A snap-shot of the main contenders for Fortuyn’s crown. The Dutch public will have to decide which, if any, are worthy to wear it.

Dutch Convert To Islam: Veiled And Viewed As A ‘Traitor’

A Woman’s Experience Illustrates Europe’s Struggle With Its Identity Rabi’a Frank sees her Dutch home town through the narrow slit of the black veil that covers her face. The looks she receives from the townspeople are seldom kindly. On a recent winter afternoon, the wind tugged at her ankle-length taupe skirt, olive head scarf and black, rectangular face veil as she walked to her car from an Islamic prayer meeting in downtown Breda. Two blond teenagers on bicycles stared, their faces screwed into hostile snarls. Other passersby gawked. Some stepped off the sidewalk to avoid coming too near. She tried to act like it didn’t offend her. But it did. She knows what they think of Muslim women like her. “If you cover yourself, you are oppressed — that’s it,” said Frank, a lanky, 29-year-old Dutch woman who converted to Islam 11 years ago, about the time she married her Moroccan husband. “You are being brainwashed by your husband or your friends.” Or, you’re a potential terrorist. “Sometimes I make a joke and say, ‘Oh, you don’t have to be scared of me.’ ” Other times, she gets so fed up that she yanks up her hand under her robe like it’s a pistol and shouts, “Boom!” Frank spoke on a recent day in her living room in this city of 162,000 people near the Netherlands’ southern border with Belgium. “They don’t have the right to treat me different,” she said. “It’s like staring at someone in a wheelchair. It’s not polite. I’m human, even if you don’t like the way I appear.” This day-to-day struggle for acceptance on the streets of her home town is one woman’s confrontation with a deepening rift in West European societies, where the emergence of a 15 million-member Muslim minority is reshaping concepts of national and personal identity. Some European governments have passed laws they say are intended to help preserve national identity. Critics argue that the measures reflect Islamophobia and fears of terrorism triggered by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent transit bombings in Madrid and London. The Netherlands, with nearly 1 million Muslims, almost 6 percent of its population, is particularly on edge. The 2002 assassination of an anti-immigrant politician, Pim Fortuyn, by an animal rights activist was followed by the execution-style murder in 2004 of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had just released a controversial film seen as anti-Islamic. A young Muslim radical admitted to the killing. A country with a history of tolerance is now adopting or debating some of the most restrictive anti-immigration and anti-Muslim laws in Europe. One proposed measure would ban women from wearing face veils, called niqab , in public. Another would outlaw the speaking of languages other than Dutch on the street. Immigrants must learn some Dutch, pass a history and geography test and, to get a feel for whether they can live in this society, watch a film on Dutch culture that includes two gay men kissing and a topless woman walking on a beach. Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch parliament, said he was drafting a bill that would ban all immigration for the next five years. “Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism,” Wilders said in an interview in his tiny office in the parliament building in The Hague. “We should not be ashamed of it. This is who we are and who we should stay.” In Belgium, some cities have banned women from wearing face veils and burqas , which cover the entire body and face, in public places. A year ago, France barred women and girls from wearing head scarves in public schools. A London school district has imposed a similar ban. The Path of a Convert For natives such as Frank who have converted to Islam, the hostility is often greater than that directed at immigrants. “They think you are a traitor,” said Frank, whose thin, pale face is framed by long blondish-brown curls. “You’re not acting like a Dutch girl anymore. “I’m a Muslim, a woman and also Dutch,” she continued. “What upsets people is that I’m a Muslim first.” Frank can recall the instant she decided to wear a face veil: She had just stepped into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport last year after making her first hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and going to Medina, in Saudi Arabia. They are the holiest sites in Islam. It is more difficult, she said, to describe the evolution that took the former Rebecca Frank to her dramatic decision. It began at age 14 as teenage defiance. She developed a crush on a 16-year-old Moroccan boy named Ali who had moved to the Netherlands as a child with his parents. He was exotic, he was different — and, to the daughter of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, he was off-limits. Over the years, as the relationship became more serious, Ali told Rebecca he could not marry her because she was not Muslim, even though he was not particularly religious. It’s not about Islam, he explained, it’s about culture. Without consulting him, she began reading books about Moroccan culture and Islam. Then she decided to read the Koran. “I felt like, ‘This is it,’ ” said Frank, whose parents were divorced and who, like many teenagers, was searching for an identity. When Ali took her to meet his mother and announced they planned to marry, his mother said she would “break both legs” if he did that, Frank said. Her future husband didn’t see his family for the next three months. Her own mother was so upset over the wedding that she brought flowers to the 18-year-old bride, broke down in tears and left before the Islamic ceremony began. Her father did attend the wedding. Clothing as a Statement Like most of her Muslim convert friends, Frank said, she found that the process of fully embracing Islamic thinking and dress was gradual. But eventually the clothing became the outward statement of her identity. “I smiled at all the Muslim women I saw in the streets,” she said. “But to them, I was just a plain Dutch girl with brown hair and blue eyes. I wanted to be recognized as a Muslim woman.” She changed her name from Rebecca to Rabi’a and began giving lectures about Islam. After she published an article on Islam in a local newspaper, a woman wrote her a letter demanding: “Go back to your own country.” “I’m in it now!” she thought angrily. The more Frank studied her religion, the more convinced she became that she should take the final step and wear not only a head scarf but a face veil. “It took me two years to convince my husband I wanted to do it,” Frank said. “He really didn’t want me to wear it because of the reaction when we go out together.” Frank had begun focusing on the words of one of the Koran’s foremost ancient interpreters, Rasulullah, who warned that “a woman who reveals her body” violates the tenets of Islam. During her pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia with her husband and mother-in-law, she covered her face in public for the first time. Far from feeling oppressed, she said, she felt liberated. “It’s like the song,” Frank said. She began softly singing the English lyrics of “The Veil,” a popular song on Muslim Web sites. They tell her, ‘Girl, don’t you know this is the West and you are free? / You don’t need to be oppressed, ashamed of your femininity.’ / She just shakes her head and speaks so assuredly. . . ./ This Hijab, this mark of piety / Is an act of faith, a symbol / For all the world to see. But on the streets of Breda, covered by her veil, Frank stands out as an anomaly — a curiosity to some, a freak to others. A few weeks ago, her middle son, 7-year-old Ismail, pleaded with her, “Why don’t you take it off? The children are laughing at you at school.” “I won’t take it off,” she insisted. “For me, it’s like driving a car without a seat belt.” She gazed out her living room window at the street that winds through her suburban enclave of brick townhouses and front gardens browned by winter frosts. “I am a Muslim,” she said with finality. “That’s my identity.”

Netherlands Considers Burqa Ban

The Dutch immigration minister says she will look into the legality of banning the burqa, the robes worn by some Muslim women to cover their bodies. Rita Verdonk made the pledge after a majority in parliament said it would support such a ban. The proposal was put forward by independent politician Geert Wilders. “That women should walk the streets in a totally unrecognisable manner is an insult to everyone who believes in equal rights,” he said. “This law is a comfort to moderate Muslims and will contribute to integration in the Netherlands,” he added in a statement. His proposal is supported by two of the parties in the governing centre-right coalition, as well as the opposition right-wing party founded by the late Pim Fortuyn. Mrs Verdonk did not say when she might complete her investigation. If the Netherlands does decide to ban the burqa, it will be the first European country to do so.

Dutch Virtue Of Tolerance Under Strain

By Roger Cohen AMSTERDAM In the Dutch interiors painted by the great artists of the Golden Age, all appears in order: the ruffs of white linen and polished surfaces speak of a luminous calm. But often a furtive glance caught in a mirror, or a keyhole view of another world, suggests a charged tension behind the elegance. The Netherlands today can still offer a picturesque tranquillity, with its swarms of straight-backed bike riders and its canals reflected in the handsome windows of gabled homes. But cut a keyhole through Dutch decorum and violence appears: a filmmaker shot and stabbed by an Islamic fanatic, politicians in hiding from jihadist threats, a newspaper columnist menaced into silence, people living in fear. Immigration, particularly of Muslims, has long been an issue in Europe, a challenge to overburdened welfare systems and to the self-image of countries where every village hoists a church spire to the sky. But what was once a subject of worthy debate is now more a matter of survival. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Netherlands, where a familiar European combination of troubled history and quiet hypocrisy, wrapped in a veneer of tolerance, has yielded unexpected bloodshed. “We see that our much-vaunted tolerance toward immigrants was often just indifference and we are left wondering: What have we become?” said Job Cohen, the mayor of Amsterdam. The murders, in 2002 and 2004 respectively, of the taboo-trampling politician Pym Fortuyn and the Islam-bashing movie director Theo van Gogh have left the Dutch bereft of certainties. They are not alone in their questioning. Islam is now of Europe, a European religion. But Europe, after terrorist killings in Madrid and Amsterdam and London, sees more threat than promise in the immigrant tide from its Muslim fringes. Geert Wilders is a rightist member of the Dutch Parliament living in a secret location under police protection because Islamic radicals say they will kill him. That, in what was until recently the placid Western democracy par excellence, is extraordinary. “All non-Western immigration must be stopped,” Wilders said. “Pure Islam is violent.” Other politicians, like Cohen, see the solution more in building bridges than barriers. They argue, like Tony Blair and George W. Bush, that a perversion of Islam, not Islam itself, threatens the West. But nobody, even in laid-back Amsterdam, is indifferent to immigration any longer. That Europe needs immigrants, and that they will seek to come from adjacent North Africa and other poor Muslim areas, is evident. It needs them to do jobs, from asparagus picking to care of the elderly, that others do not want to do. […]