Immigrant tensions remain five years after Van Gogh killing
No Islamic terrorist attacks have taken place in the Netherlands since the murder of Theo van Gogh.
Five years ago Monday Dutch filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam by a fanatical Muslim who was infuriated by Van Gogh's anti-Islam insults. The killing has been compared with the terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid and London and it boosted already high ethnic tensions.
The anniversary of the attack prompted foreign journalists to check on the multicultural tensions and Muslim radicalisation in the Dutch capital. The Netherlands' immigration issues have remained high on the agenda, fuelled by populist politician Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV). But no attacks, home grown or from outside, have taken place since November 2, 2004.
That was the morning Mohammed B. followed Theo van Gogh on his bicycle before
he shot him eight times with a handgun. The 47-year-old filmmaker fell to
the ground, where his assassin slit his throat and pinned a note to his body
with a knife. The note was a death threat to Ayaan Hirsi Ali with whom Van
Gogh had made the short film Submission, about the abuse of women
under Islam, and called for jihad.
B., son of Moroccan immigrants, was born and raised in Amsterdam. "The turnaround in his behaviour happened in this building", Achmed Marcouch told reporters on a tour of the Amsterdam immigrant neighbourhood Slotervaart last week. Marcouch has been Slotervaart's borough chairman since 2006 and the building he showed the journalists was the community centre Eigenwijks, where B. was a volunteer. He is now serving a life sentence for the murder.
A spokesperson for the city clarified why the tour was organised: to prevent over-simplified stories from making international headlines. So Marcouch, Moroccan-Dutch youth workers, mosque representatives, integration expert Jean Tillie and municipality officers were drummed up to escort the journalists. They presented material from the "We Amsterdammers" campaign - aimed at connecting different ethnic groups in the city - census statistics, anti-discrimination posters and a city- sponsored real-life soap.
Marcouch and Tillie explained how successful the campaign has been, as no new incidents have taken place. "Not much has happened, despite the fact that we in the Netherlands seem to be making an effort to let things escalate", Tillie said, referring to Geert Wilders. "His party is constantly bashing Muslims. The fact that nothing else has happened, proves how effective the policies have been."
But French correspondent Didier Burg, who works for Belgian newspaper Le Soir and Radio France Internationale, was sceptical about the presentation. "Gay's are still a target for Muslim youth in Amsterdam and the polls suggest the PVV will become the biggest party. How can you call that a success?" he asked Marcouch.
The borough chairman, himself born in Morocco, replied that Islam is not a root cause of gay hostility from immigrant youngsters. "They don't harass homosexuals for religious reasons. Criminal Moroccan kids call themselves Muslims, but they never go to mosque and do everything Allah has forbidden."
Jean-Pierre Stroobants, a Belgian reporter working for French daily Le Monde, expressed his surprise at the fierceness of the Dutch public debate. According to him, the magnitude of the problems doesn't justify the tone. "When I visit Slotervaart or the Baarsjes [another immigrant borough in Amsterdam] I am expecting radicals on the corner of every street, continuous police actions and prisons full of salafists. But that barely takes place here. I think radicalisation in Belgium and France is a lot worse."
He thinks Dutch society has overreacted. "But at least they are doing something. In Belgium we are letting the problems fester and waiting to see what happens."
The Guardian correspondent Guy Thornton says the Brits have not significantly changed their opinion about the Netherlands in the past five years. "It is still the fun country Britons visit to spend a few days in Amsterdam. We have just realised you too have issues."