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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Dutch reconsider Islamic values
By Roger Hardy
BBC Islamic affairs analyst

Amsterdam scene
The report says Islam does not contradict women's rights
A new report submitted to the Dutch government has sparked controversy by arguing that Islam does not conflict with either human rights or Dutch values.

Islam has been a hot topic in the Netherlands since the killing of a controversial film-maker, Theo van Gogh, by a young Muslim in 2004.

In a country traditionally seen as one of the most liberal and tolerant in Europe, Islam and Muslims are now viewed with suspicion.

The report is the fruit of three years' work by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), a think-tank in The Hague which advises the government.

It examines the evolution of thinking about democracy and human rights in a dozen Muslim countries, ranging from Egypt and Iran to Indonesia.

Jan Schoonenboom, a member of the council who supervised the research, says it highlights the variety and dynamism of Islamic activism.

While there are radical, jihadi trends, there are also more mainstream Islamic movements which are moving, albeit slowly, towards democratisation.

Us and them

The report has already been roundly attacked.

Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a fierce critic of Islamists

The Somali-born Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a well-known critic of Islam, has said it lacks professionalism and undermines free speech.

On the contrary, Mr Schoonenboom told the BBC, by discussing Islam in this way the report is opening up serious debate and challenging widely-accepted stereotypes.

He and his colleagues take issue with Ms Hirsi Ali and others who say Islam is not compatible with democracy or women's rights or Dutch values.

Such generalisations, he says, are not just wrong but dangerous - creating a divide between us and them.

The report also looks at the topical issue of how the world should respond to the growing influence of Islamist groups such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Call for new stance

Rather than isolating these groups, it argues, the Netherlands and the European Union should reach out to them to encourage progress towards democracy.

By cutting aid to Hamas, says Mr Schoonenboom, the United States and EU have created a gap which countries like Iran and Qatar are rushing to fill.

The 250-page report was handed in to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 12 April.

Supporters and opponents are now waiting for the government to submit its formal response to parliament.




SEE ALSO
Dutch MP defies Muslim pressure
24 Jan 06 |  Europe
Dutch pledge Islamist crackdown
05 Nov 04 |  Europe

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