Purse-Snatching Death Fans Dutch Debate on Intolerance By JENNIFER HAMM

Pacific News Service
Friday April 01, 2005

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands—After a 19-year-old man of Moroccan descent was run down and killed in January by a Dutch woman driver trying to recover her stolen purse, mourners blamed Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk for the death.  

Gathered at a makeshift m emorial here earlier this winter, the mourners said Verdonk’s tough immigration reforms have increased Dutch xenophobia against Muslims, spurring the woman’s violent reaction against the alleged thief.  

Yet some voices here say that it is, ironically, the famous Dutch tolerance —euthanasia, gay marriage and soft-drug use are allowed here—that may have laid the foundation for current ethnic tensions.  

“The problem is we have been tolerant of the intolerant, and now we are paying the bill,” says Bart Jan Spruyt, director of the conservative Edmund Burke Foundation in The Hague.  

In a nation of 16 million, 1 million residents are Muslim. But according to Spruyt, cultural relativism has reigned so long that there has been little, if any, push to integrate immigrants from Morocco and Turkey into Dutch society.  

As a result, he says, “Muslim immigrants...developed their own parallel society” that is not only alienated from the Dutch mainstream, but also has a “hatred of the modern West” that led, Spruyt says, to the execution-style murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh last November.  

Van Gogh, a descendant of the painter Vincent van Gogh, was shot, stabbed and had his throat slit in Amsterdam by an alleged Islamic radical with Dutch and Moroccan citizenship.  

The murder was in apparent retribution for Van Gogh’s criticism of Islam in a film that depicted Muslim women with texts from the Koran written on their bodies. The implication was that Islam tolerates violence against women.  

A January screening of th e film was canceled due to threats, which have become commonplace and have forced several politicians to live in secret locations under constant guard.  

Among those is Geert Wilders, a member of Parliament and one of the most outspoken figures in Dutch p olitics.  

“Islam and democracy are fully incompatible,” Wilders told the Washington Post in February. “They will never be compatible—not today, and not in a million years.”  

Wilders has called for a five-year ban on all non-Western immigrants as well as the pre-emptive arrest of those considered to be Islamic radicals.  

Yassin Hartog, coordinator of Islam & Citizenship, a nonprofit that promotes active Muslim citizenship in Dutch society, says that such measures would only aggravate tensions and increase separation.  

Hartog, who is native Dutch but converted to Islam in the early 1990s, says “increased interaction” is the only solution.  

“Muslims will have to move about in Dutch society more, and Dutch people will have to learn that they cannot have a one-sided debate which only serves to give Muslims a message,” he says.  

Indeed, Muslims and Dutch share core democratic values and there “is no empirical ground for an often assumed incompatibility of Islam with democratic rights and liberties in the Netherlands,” wrote Karen Phalet, a research fellow with the Utrecht-based European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations, in a report called “Muslim in the Netherlands.”  

But conservatives such as Spruyt argue that Islam prevents a division between secular and religious law.  

“That is at the heart of the matter,” Spruyt says. “You have to understand that the rules of your personal faith are not the rules of your country.”  

In the Netherlands, those rules are becoming increasingly tough on immigrants.  

Efforts are underway to require non-Western immigrants to pass an integration exam. The test would compel an estimated 14,000 annual applicants to demonstrate competency in the Dutch language as well as an understanding of societal norms, su ch as acceptance of topless sunbathing and gay marriage.  

Such initiatives are the result of a shift in the political climate in the Netherlands that started with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and was strengthened by the slaying of politician Pim Fortuyn.  

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Fortuyn gained popularity by declaring that “Holland is full,” referring to the nation’s status as the most densely populated country in Europe.  

He pointed the finger at Muslims, saying they were “busy conquering Western Europe” and called for a “Cold War against Islam.”  

The message resonated with many native Dutch, particularly in cities such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam where many immigrants live.  

When Fortuyn was gunned down by an animal rights activist in May 2002, the country was shocked. Nine days later, his party took second place in the national elections and was ultimately included in the centre-right coalition government that was formed.  

Still in power, the coalition pushed through nearly 100 new anti-terror measures in February. In airports and train stations, police will be allowed to search anyone at any time. Terror suspects not yet tried in a court of law can be banned from public places and from doing certain jobs, and will be requir ed to report to police regularly.  

In the meantime, the trial for the alleged killer of van Gogh is getting underway. And for the first time, Hartog notes, the defendant’s picture has been released to the public. Traditionally, defendant identities are k ept private.  

The woman driver who killed the alleged purse thief will not be charged, and her identity has not been made public.  

“In the minds of many young Moroccans,” says Hartog, “all Dutchmen are equal, but some are more equal than others.”  


Jennifer Hamm is a freelance journalist based in the Netherlands, and can be reached through her website, www.JenniferHamm.com.