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Islamic Radicalism in Holland at Odds with Dutch Liberal Traditions

Holland is known for its social tolerance. It has legalized gay marriage, prostitution, euthanasia and marijuana. But many people in the country seem to draw the line when it comes to radical Islamists.

November 2, 2004: Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh is brutally murdered on an Amsterdam street.

His murderer, 26-year-old Mohammed Bouyeri, was angered by Van Gogh's film "Submission" about violence against women in Islamic societies. The murder would turn the traditionally tolerant Dutch against Holland's one million-strong Islamic community.

Geert Wilders is a conservative member of the Dutch parliament. "I believe that we have ignored for political correctness -- wrong reasons of political correctness -- the problems that we have with radical Islam for too long."

Holland, like most industrialized countries in Europe, began to import labor during the economic expansion of the 1960s and 70s. Most immigrants came from the Islamic countries of Turkey and Morocco. Initially, the Dutch expected the workers to leave one day. But many stayed, became Dutch citizens, and raised their families here.

Holland became one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Europe. But in recent years, tension between liberal Dutch society and the more conservative Islamic community began to boil over in a string of violent events, which culminated in the Van Gogh murder.

In the aftermath of the bombings in Madrid and London, many in Europe have second thoughts about the causes of radical Islamist violence.

"We are not tolerant. Tolerance is a myth. This is how we sell ourselves to the foreigners." So says Stan van Houck, an author who was a Dutch radio journalist for 30 years. He says Holland has no history of multiculturalism. And what we are seeing now are the growing pains of Dutch society coming to terms with its multi-ethnic, multi-religious future.

"Here in Holland we call people who are second or third generation Moroccan or Turkish, who have the Dutch nationality, we call them "allochtoon," says Mr. van Houck. “Meaning, they don't belong here, more or less. Which is absurd because they are a part of the Dutch society. It also shows a mentally that we were not prepared for a multicultural society and we didn't accept it also."

The lack of acceptance is seen in the job market. According to a recent study Turkish and Moroccan job applicants were far less likely to be hired than their Dutch counterparts, even when they were more qualified. The official unemployment rate is 4.5 percent. But among Turks and Moroccans, it is more than 16 percent.

According to Fatih Dag, Chairman of the Eaisofiah Turkish Mosque in Amsterdam, that type of overt discrimination marginalizes Muslims and drives young men to the more radical Islamist elements.

"Many of these guys are very marginalized young men. They have totally failed in society. They have nothing. For them it is very attractive to get radicalized."

Mr. van Houck adds, "They radicalize here because of the fact that they don't have hope. They don't have hope and they don't have expectations."

Parlimentarian Geert Wilders, known for his controversial views, disagrees. He says the problem is not a social issue it is simply hate.

"It is an illusion to think that if the integration will be successful, that there will be any change in the radicalism of Islam,” he said. “The amount of terrorism in the Netherlands, there is unfortunately no connection at all. There is only hate in the hands of the radical Islamists."

Faut Eacas, Imam of the Eaisofiah Mosque says radicalization is also a backlash against what is going on in the broader Islamic world.

"Look at what is happening in some of the Islamic countries,” the imam told us. “For example Iraq, Palestine, and Chechnya. People are influenced by incidents there. And also for the fact that they are not able to do something for their brothers. And they think that killing somebody here they can solve the problem."

"I also don't believe in the theory of some people that it is because of some problems in the Middle East,” says Geert Wilders. “Whether it is the U.S. or Dutch participation in Iraq or the Dutch friendship with Israel. Or the Israeli-Palestinan conflict. I mean, you see a lot of theories about why people would get furious with the Dutch. This is not at all the case."

A backlash against Islamic culture is brewing in the Dutch parliament. A proposal backed by right-wing parties is expected to make the Netherlands the first country in Europe to ban the Burka. Muslim groups insist that only a few dozen women in the Netherlands wear the Burka. They say the ban is just a distraction that will only add to the already tense cultural climate.