Europe's fear of Muslims increases
By SHELLEY EMLING
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/21/07
Amsterdam, the Netherlands Ehsan Jami sees himself as the legendary Dutch boy who used his finger to plug a leaking dike.
Jami, a Dutch politician, is trying to prevent a flood of what he views as intolerant Muslim immigrants threatening to overrun the Netherlands and all of Europe.
He's not alone. In France, Germany and across Western Europe, a vigorous public debate is under way over preservation of national identities, the assimilation of minorities and tolerance of different cultures.
A former Muslim who was born in Iran, Jami is a right-wing member of the Dutch parliament who has used his position to issue strong criticism of Islam.
He's especially critical of “radical” Muslims but he also takes issue with Islam's treatment of women and homosexuals.
The harsh rhetoric has made him the most talked-about public figure in Holland and provoked physical attacks and death threats, forcing him into hiding.
“I don't mind if people are Muslim, but I do mind when their values go against Western values,” Jami said in a recent interview, under the watchful eye of his bodyguards. “We have to be very clear with Muslim immigrants that we will not negotiate our values.”
The Netherlands has one of the largest populations of Muslims in Western Europe about 1 million, roughly 6 percent of the population, second only to France. The largest groups are people with origins in Morocco or Turkey.
The country has long taken pride in its religious, political and social tolerance, as well as its acceptance of ethnic minorities. And many in the Netherlands' new coalition government boast a pro-immigrant stance.
But the threats of terrorism and sheer demographics are challenging traditional Dutch open-mindedness. Studies estimate that Muslims will form the majorities in the Netherlands' four biggest cities by 2020.
Many Muslims say they don't feel at home here.
“I've lived here for 40 years and I still don't feel welcome,” said Atel Alireza, a taxi driver from Turkey. “But I would say things have gotten a lot worse since 9/11.
“People around here look at you more suspiciously then they used to,” he said. “People look at all Muslims like they are about to do something bad.”
The tensions have spawned legislative proposals to ban the Quran, make it illegal for women to wear burkas in public and create more legal options for closing mosques known to be hotbeds of radicalism.
So far none of the proposals has gained traction. And Jami's Dutch Labor Party has distanced itself from Jami and his statements on Islam.
But immigration and Islam are issues that have held sway in Dutch politics particularly since 2002, when the right-wing anti-immigrant populist Pim Fortuyn was assassinated.
The debate intensified in November 2004 after the murder of Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker who had made a movie called “Submission” that featured a beaten, naked Muslim woman covered in writings from the Quran.
The killer was a young radical Islamist. In retaliation, some Muslim schools and places of worship were torched.
Tensions also have been exacerbated by the plight of Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch member of parliament who has criticized the repression of women in Muslim culture.
She was given special security protection in 2004 and was forced to flee to the United States after receiving death threats. She recently returned to the Netherlands.
Marcel Maussen, an expert on immigration at the Institute of Migration and Ethnic Studies in Amsterdam, said there's been an “overfocus” on Muslims in the Netherlands ever since the murders of Fortuyn and van Gogh.
Gregory Maniatis, an expert on immigrant integration issues at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., said the coalition government formed earlier this year has signaled it will take a softer approach to immigration than the previous government.
For example, Maniatis pointed to the amnesty for illegal immigrants approved in June by the Dutch government that will benefit up to 30,000 people.
“I think this is a sign that they're moving from a fortress Europe mentality to a more pro-immigrant sentiment,” he said. “There is still a backdrop of outspokenness that exists in the Netherlands. But they are realizing that immigration is an important part of Europe's future.”
Even Jami, who says he gave up Islam after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, doesn't paint all Muslims with the same brush.
He said there is only a small group of Muslims perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 that he'd call “radical.” He said he has nothing against moderate Muslims who adapt to Dutch values.
“What I'm against is the creation of special rules for the Muslims,” he said.
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