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Dutch Muslims Face Greater Challenges


On the morning of November 2, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot on his bicycle going to work. As he stumbled away toward a nearby building, his alleged assailant, Mohammed Bouyeri, shot him again before slitting his throat and impaling a letter in his chest with a butcher knife. Mr. van Gogh's offense? He directed a provocative short film "Submission" that is highly critical of Islam's treatment of women.

The heinous crime has left the Netherlands deeply shaken and brought anti-Muslim anger boiling to the surface. It has also raised serious questions about how well Muslim immigrants are assimilating into Dutch society. Currently, Muslims make up about five percent of the Netherland's 16 million people. Most are Moroccan or Turks, many of whom came as guest workers in the 1960's and never went home. Their children, like Mr. Bouyeri, have full Dutch citizenship.

According to Joanna Apap, director of the Justice and Home Affairs Unit at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, the migrants initially were welcomed into a Dutch society whose economy was booming. That changed after the oil crises in the 1970's and the economic downturn of the following decade. As people became more aware and sometimes resentful of Muslims' different religion and behavior, they began to draw a distinction between native and non-native Dutch.

Ms. Apap says, "The 'native' Dutch meant that there were two parents of Dutch descent. Therefore, anyone who has only one parent of Dutch descent, even if they were born there and lived there their whole life, they were not considered fully Dutch. And I think that was the start of a lot of problems in the Netherlands over the last 14 years."

"It's certainly true that Muslim communities in Europe do feel discriminated against," says Mirjam Dittrich, a policy analyst for the European Policy Center in Brussels, who directs the project on Islam and Muslims in Europe. She says both Europeans and Muslims must do more to get along.

"We also need the help of the members of the Muslim communities themselves," she says. "They have to strongly speak out against terrorism. Through community work at the grass roots level they need to make sure that their neighbors understand their values, understand that Islam is a peaceful religion and give a moderate voice to Islam. So I think work has to be done on both sides."

According to Ms. Dittrich, any changes in Dutch or EU integration policies need to distinguish radicals from the larger Muslim communities in Europe and from Islam as well. A harsh crackdown on the broader Muslim community will only alienate Muslims and contribute to radicalizing still more young Muslim men.

Julia Hall, a Western European specialist with Human Rights Watch, says Europeans could make Muslims feel more at home by changing citizenship requirements.

Ms. Hall says, "Most citizenship laws are very, very difficult with respect to the requirements, and this constantly keeps migrant communities marginalized. If they can't gain access to citizenship, if they can't become a so-called 'full member' of the national community, it really sends a message to these migrant communities that they are not fully enfranchised."

Another way of enfranchising Europe's Muslims is encouraging their political participation. Currently very few Muslim politicians are at the national level of government.

But let's not read too much into the van Gogh murder, says Danny Sriskandarajah, a senior analyst at the Institute for Public Policy Research in London. Yes, it was a brutal crime and should be punished and never repeated, but it hardly speaks for all Muslim immigrants.

"From my understanding, in the past when there have been new and different groups of minorities who have established themselves in European societies, there has been a tendency to say that they haven't integrated very well and that they never will," says Mr. Sriskandarajah. "We saw that happen 60, 70 years ago with Jewish migrants to the United Kingdom. We've seen it happen with Turkish migrants to Germany. There's a sort of repetitiveness to this that every time some new group turns up, the attitude is 'Well, they haven't done enough to integrate.' So I think we need to be very careful not to fall into that trap."

According to Mr. Sriskandarajah, public policy can facilitate integration, but it cannot legislate it. However, he is confident Europe in time will successfully integrate its Muslims just as it has other minorities in the past.

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