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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006, 15:10 GMT
Dutch Muslims seek a fresh start
By Sam Wilson
BBC News, Amsterdam

Mohammed Farjani
Mohammed Farjani is proud of his integration into Dutch society
Mohammed Farjani says that since his arrival in the Netherlands 38 years ago he has wanted nothing more than to be integrated.

Living among many other Moroccan immigrants in Slotervaart, Amsterdam, he became concerned that the groups of dark-skinned youths sometimes congregating on street corners would intimidate native Dutch.

"We created an association to work for children in order to help them be like Dutch children, not different," he says.

He and other members of his group, the Buurtvaders (neighbourhood fathers), would patrol the streets, trying to persuade the boys to go to school or back to their homes at night.

His organisation has been copied in other Dutch cities, and has been held up as a model of good citizenship.

Mr Farjani proudly shows off photos of himself hosting the mayor of Amsterdam and accepting a European Union award.

Racism is a big problem here in Amsterdam. Ten or 15 years ago the city was tolerant, but not any more
Hassan
Moroccan-born taxi driver
The Buurtvaders have arranged a meeting ahead of Wednesday's general election for local people to put questions to local candidates.

The room is full of Moroccan men, many of them elderly. The only two women are from the political organisations. Much of the meeting is conducted in Moroccan Arabic.

It seems clear that while many of these men want to be active members of Dutch society, they are still very much a Moroccan community. They are examples of both integration and multiculturalism.

Strict regime

In the Netherlands - where about 10% of the population has "non-Western" roots - some see this as a contradiction, as in many parts of Western Europe.

Murdered film-maker Theo van Gogh (left) and ex-Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Theo van Gogh (left) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali provoked controversy
The argument is also raging within the ethnic minority communities.

Tensions over integration came to a head with the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Muslim-turned-atheist MP, who advocated a hard line to bring Muslim communities into line with Dutch norms.

Those views earned her death threats from Islamists, and she eventually left parliament and the country after it was discovered she had immigrated under false pretences.

Since film-maker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch-born Islamist extremist in 2004, there has been a political drive to replace the Netherlands' traditional multiculturalism with integrationist policies, and to stop fresh immigration in its tracks.

"We have been much stricter than previous governments," says Hans Van Baalen, an MP for the VVD (Liberal) Party. It is the second party in the governing coalition and has initiated the new hard line.

He cites the introduction of language tests for newcomers and for those applying for citizenship, and age limits and wealth checks on brides being brought into the country from Turkey and Morocco - what he calls "a fresh wave of unintegrated people".

He fully backs the cabinet's announcement last week that the government intends to ban Muslim women from wearing the all-over covering, the burqa.

"Everyone should be able to be identified," he says.

"But perhaps more importantly, the burqa makes it impossible to really communicate - it's contrary to the idea of an open society."

Alienation

They are views reflected by Irma, the native Dutch manager of a fitness club near the Buurtvaders' hall, who believes the Muslim headscarf is OK, but not the burqa.

PvdA candidate Ahmed Larouz
There is alienation because the discussion we have is all the time talking about Islam, so of course Muslims are targeted
Ahmed Larouz
PvdA candidate
"I have to show my face when I get on a bus, so should they - it's an issue of security," she says.

Hassan, a Moroccan-born taxi driver, says the burqa is "too much - we don't live in the mountains".

Hassan adds: "But that's not the problem [for ethnic-minority Muslims]. The problem is you finish schools and can't get jobs.

"Racism is a big problem here in Amsterdam. Ten or 15 years ago the city was tolerant, but not any more."

One of the candidates campaigning in Slotervaart, PvdA (Labour) Party hopeful Ahmed Larouz, also believes the burqa issue is a distraction. (The number who actually wear it in the Netherlands is thought to be in the dozens.)

His concern, he says, is people's willingness to make such matters hugely divisive, and the feeling this engenders among ethnic minorities.

"Of course there is alienation - because the discussion we have is all the time talking about Islam, so of course Muslims are targeted.

"If we talk about crime we always focus on the religion, which is Islam, or the ethnicity, which is Moroccan, or Turkish, rather than on the social problem that we have to solve.

"When Theo van Gogh was killed, one of the [VVD] ministers said 'there is a war now' - between who? 'Between Muslims and non-Muslims' - and that's the wrong dialogue."

Common ground?

Mr Larouz, a 35-year-old in a smart suit and car, arrived from Morocco 17 years ago and became a high-flying businessman. He started a group, Towards a New Start, which aims to unite Muslim businessmen and provide an example to that community, and is now running for parliament.

Women wearing burqas
The governing coalition approved a burqa ban last week
He is relentlessly positive, but he has a problem, and he knows it.

Some people do not know his story. They know the one about Mohammed Bouyeri - the killer of Theo van Gogh - about the burqa, and about the large numbers of Moroccans and Turks in the country's jails.

AW Symons, another taxi driver, has clear views on the matter.

"They come here and they don't mingle, they don't learn the language and so they don't get good jobs," he says of Muslim immigrants.

"They don't make the effort."

"It will never work, because our values and Muslim values have nothing in common."


SEE ALSO
Dutch emerge from doldrums
20 Nov 06 |  Europe
Dutch Muslims condemn burqa ban
18 Nov 06 |  Europe
The Islamic veil across Europe
06 Oct 06 |  Europe
Why Muslim women wear the veil
05 Oct 06 |  Middle East
Country profile: The Netherlands
25 Jul 06 |  Country profiles
Europe diary: Banning the veil
19 Jan 06 |  Europe

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