WORLD

THE BACKLASH AGAINST ISLAM

Dutch Muslims are under increasing pressure to integrate

MICHAEL PETROU June 5 2006
WORLD

THE BACKLASH AGAINST ISLAM

Dutch Muslims are under increasing pressure to integrate

MICHAEL PETROU June 5 2006

THE BACKLASH AGAINST ISLAM

WORLD

Dutch Muslims are under increasing pressure to integrate

MICHAEL PETROU

If there were ever a Somali immigrant whom even the most xenophobic Dutch should have embraced, it was Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The former MP is one of the country’s most outspoken critics of conservative Islam, and she has firmly demanded the integration of immigrants into Dutch society. Doing so demanded tremendous courage. In 2004, a Dutch Islamist named Muhammed Bouyeri stabbed, shot and almost beheaded filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had collaborated with Hirsi Ali on a movie that was critical of Islam. Bouyeri left a five-page note impaled to van Gogh’s chest that threatened Hirsi Ali’s life. She went into hiding and has required round-the-clock protection ever since.

But Hirsi Ali refused to be silenced. She defended the right of European newspapers to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, and she has continued to speak out against the subjugation of women in Muslim societies. Denigrated as a traitor by many Muslims, she might have consoled herself with the belief that she was supported by most of Dutch society, and especially her own centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. All this came crashing down earlier this month, when hardline Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk— a member of Hirsi Ali’s own party—said her Dutch citizenship was invalidated because of allegations in a TV documentary that Hirsi Ali had lied in her 1992 asylum application. Hirsi Ali reportedly concealed the route she had taken to reach Holland, her real name, and her true date of birth.

Hirsi Ali says she freely admitted as much many times, including when she was vetted in 2002 as a candidate for parliament. Now, her case has provoked an uproar. And it highlights the increasingly uneasy relationship between native Dutch and Holland’s immigrant, and especially Muslim, population.

Modern Dutch society was built on the concept of “pillars”: different communities were free to keep to their own identities. People were encouraged to accept their neighbours but not necessarily assimilate. When the first

waves of Muslim migrants arrived as “guest workers” in the 1960s and 1970s, there was little pressure to integrate. But the children of these immigrants were born at a much faster rate than the native Dutch. Currently, the majority of children under the age of 14 in the three largest cities are what the government describes as “of non-Western background.” Most of these are Muslim—and they are radically changing Dutch society.

Two years ago, a Dutch all-party parliamentary report concluded that efforts to build a harmonious, multi-ethnic country had failed. It pointed to growing ghettos of ethnic Moroccans and Turks, with decreasing integration. “Our policy is not working,” says Jeroen Dijsselbloem, spokesman on integration and migration policy for the leftcentre Labour Party. “The number of social contacts between groups is going down. Instead of moving toward an integrated society, segregation is almost complete.”

The “parallel” Muslim societies suffer from much higher levels of unemployment and poverty. And the influence of a rigid and conservative Islam is growing. “There has been a period of several decades in which we have left one another alone,” Dijsselbloem says. “That doesn’t work anymore. If gays in Amsterdam are being discriminated against or violently attacked in the streets by violent youngsters, it just proves that you can’t keep these societies apart.”

“Marriage migration” is another concern. According to Dijsselbloem, 60 to 70 per cent of second-generation Moroccans and Turks marry someone from outside Holland, often from their family’s home village. “The youngsters who are bom here, who are educated here, who are just starting their career, are basically set back in their emancipation process by marrying a boy or girl from a village who has hardly any education,” he says. “A girl who was born here marries this boy from the north Moroccan mountains who is very traditional, who tells the girl to stay at home. This is going on.”

Faced with a divided society, the Dutch parliament is trying to force newcomers to integrate. Since March 15, prospective immigrants have been required to pass a Dutch language and culture test before they can enter Holland. The exam costs 350 euros; for another 60 euros, potential immigrants can purchase a “preparatory kit,” including an educational video that informs viewers about the Netherlands. It also depicts topless women, and men kissing each other. “The idea is that when you are preparing to immigrate, you will be better prepared when you get here,” says Henk Snoeken, in charge of the inte-

gration policy. “Of course everyone is free to have their own cultures, but you have to know about the culture you’re moving to.”

The Dutch government is also trying to integrate minorities already in the country. Newcomers are required to take around 600 hours of “culture classes”; next year, an exam will be instituted, and those who do not pass may be refused a permanent residency permit. Even some foreign-born Dutch citizens will be required to take the exam. In total, Snoeken estimates there are 500,000 people already in the Netherlands who will need to take the test. Those who refuse may be fined.

Dijsselbloem says the new integration policies are part of the “emancipation process” that needs to happen among Dutch Muslims. But many Muslims aren’t so sure they even want to integrate into Dutch society. Mohammed Lakdim and Mohamed Azahaf, aged 20 and 22, live in Amsterdam. In the evenings, they hang out at the Argan youth centre, a social club popular with other young Muslims. Clean-shaven, wearing blue jeans, both were born in Holland; their parents are from Morocco.

“They are talking about

integration for people like us,” says Lakdim. “But they didn’t ask us if we want to change our culture or our religion. I don’t want to change for anyone. The problem with integration is, it’s like telling a bird to go into the ocean and swim like a fish.” Azahaf is equally frustrated. “Whenever I ask them what they mean by integration, they don’t have an answer, because, me, I’m born here, I speak Dutch better than a Dutch guy, I’m working, I’m doing everything I’m supposed to,” he says. “They want that we don’t go to the mosque—what they want is that we do the same as all normal Dutch people, drinking, going to the disco. But I don’t want that. I want to be Muslim.”

A few blocks from Dijsselbloem’s office in The Hague is Osman’s Shoarma Grillroom. It caters to Turks, who tend to be less con-

servative than the Moroccans. The owner, Osman Macit, is 53 and has been in Holland almost half his life. He’s what’s known colloquially as a “white illegal”—someone who works and pays taxes in Holland but does not have a residency permit. He seems reluctant to complain, but does say of the native Dutch: “They don’t accept me.” Eventually, Macit, a successful businessman, will be asked to take a test to prove that he is sufficiently integrated to live here.

One of Macit’s friends and customers is Coskun Hamazhaya, 39. Hamazhaya emigrated to Holland from Turkey when he was a teenager, joining his father, who was a guest worker. He is a full citizen, and has worked as both a policeman and now a social worker. He thinks Dutch voters are becoming more nationalistic, and the new laws are meant to appease them. “I am very liberal, and my woman is very liberal, too,” he says. “But you can live here maybe even 100 years, and they don’t accept you. I go out and Dutch

THE PROBLEM WITH INTEGRATION IS, IT’S LIKE TELLING A BIRD TO GO INTO THE SEA AND SWIM LIKE A FISH’

people see that I am not blond. We will integrate, but Dutch people will not.” Hamazhaya even moved into a native Dutch neighbourhood, where he lived beside an old and infirm man. “I said, ‘Neighbour, when you need something, tell me. I will get it for you— it is our culture to help.’ ” Hamazhaya says his neighbour looked shocked. He never called on Hamazhaya, and no one ever welcomed him to their street. “I don’t understand it. They like restaurants from other countries, but they won’t have coffee with their Turkish neighbours. I think they are afraid of us.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, meanwhile, says she is packing her bags and is ready to leave Holland. She has been offered a job at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. U.S. deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick has described her as “a very courageous and impressive woman,” and said Hirsi Ali is welcome in the United States. Verdonk, the Dutch immigration minister, is now scrambling to keep Hirsi Ali in Holland. She said she will implement a parliamentary motion to investigate whether Hirsi Ali can keep her Dutch citizenship. It’s almost certainly too late. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has given no indication she wants to stay. M