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Last Updated: Monday, 19 September 2005, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Love bridges Dutch racial divide
By Ivan O'Mahoney
Producer/director, World Weddings: A Game of Two Halves

Mohammed Allach and his wife, Sanne
Mohammed and Sanne are marrying amid rising racial tensions

Mohammed Allach - the most prominent Muslim footballer in the Netherlands - is about to marry his blonde Dutch fiancee, Sanne.

In the famously tolerant Netherlands a multicultural wedding should not be anything exceptional, but as Mohammed and Sanne will tell you, things are not what they used to be.

Last November, controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim fundamentalist.

In the aftermath, simmering racial tensions boiled over and a spate of arson attacks set mosques, Islamic primary schools and churches ablaze.

While the Netherlands' social consensus is crumbling, Sanne and Mohammed are hoping their union will be a symbol of harmony and racial tolerance.

I got e-mails from Muslim women who'd been spat at in markets, even beaten
Mohammed Allach

"The killing of Van Gogh made a big impact on me," says Mohammed, who is of Moroccan descent but was born in the Netherlands.

"For the first time, I didn't feel at home here. It was really frightening.

"I got e-mails from Muslim women who'd been spat at in markets, even beaten. Their children too."

One million of the Netherlands' 16 million people are Muslim. Mohammed says that their further integration into Dutch society is the only way out of the current crisis.

"The Dutch should give young Moroccans better opportunities," he says, but acknowledges that Moroccans too have to try harder.

"They assume a victim mentality too easily. Instead they should work hard at making the most of themselves."

Similar values

Mohammed recently founded Moroquistars, an organisation aiming to improve understanding between white Dutch youths and young Moroccans, using sports events as a bridge.

Sanne quit her job as a marketing manager to run Mohammed's foundation.

"It's all a matter of engaging with each other," says Sanne.

film-maker Theo van Gogh
Tensions rose after the death of film-maker Theo van Gogh

"Once you actually talk to Muslims, you'll find often their values are pretty similar to ours."

But it is a message that many Dutch are sceptical about.

At a party with Sanne's former work colleagues the conversation is jolly until it turns to the issue of immigration.

"I have a friend at an employment agency," says Sanne's friend Els. "She tells me she'll hire 100 Turks for factory work, but never Moroccans, because they are all lazy."

"And what about the prisons?" asks another colleague. "All the inmates are dark skinned. I am not saying they are all Moroccans, but ..."

A third colleague jumps in. "Most crimes are committed by Moroccans, that's a fact."

Public unease

While Moroccan crime might be disproportionate to their numbers, most crime is actually committed by whites, not Moroccans.

Yet it is Moroccan crime that usually makes headlines, leaving young Muslims feeling that they are deliberately targeted.

Divisive forces, however, do exist on both sides of society's spectrum.

One issue that deeply worries the Dutch is the rise in Islamic fundamentalism.

It is close to home for Sanne and Mohammed.

Sanne's sister Marlou was a teacher at an Islamic primary school five years ago when during a lesson a nine-year-old Muslim boy announced that he wanted to become a jet pilot "to bomb the Jews".

It turned out that the boy had been shown a Hamas propaganda video during religion classes.

A subsequent report by the Dutch intelligence service suggested 20% of Muslim schools in the Netherlands were funded by extreme Islamist sources.

Perceptions of Muslims worsened when after Van Gogh's killing, Dutch police raided a house in The Hague, claiming it had broken up an Islamic terrorist cell that had intended to attack Dutch targets.


Despite the dark clouds over the multicultural landscape, Mohammed and Sanne are optimistic.

There is light relief in the wedding preparations when Mo and Sanne visit the local jeweller.

Young people in the Netherlands mix when they are young, but when they marry they stick with their own colour
Mohammed Allach

"Catholics wear their ring on the left hand," says the jeweller, "Protestants on the right."

That is of little use to Mohammed.

"What about Muslims?" he asks jokingly.

"Not a clue," replies the jeweller. In Eindhoven, a city of 200,000 this is the first interracial marriage he has encountered.

"Young people in the Netherlands," he says apologetically, "mix when they are young, but when they marry they stick with their own colour. It's safer."

Meanwhile Mo's team Venlo is doing well in the league.

They have secured a spot in the play-offs for promotion to the premiership.

The fans are happy, chanting "Allach is great, ole, ole!"

The local anthem affectionately puns on Mohammed's family name and religion.

But Mohammed says that recent events have also led to serious racial abuse against Muslim footballers - including the use of an obscene term coined by Van Gogh himself.

"It's all connected to what's going on in the world," says Mohammed. "It started with 9/11, then the Van Gogh killing. Islam is the subject."

Mohammed and Sanne
Mohammed and Sanne's wedding is everything they hoped for

To counter racism in football the Dutch football association has just imposed a new policy under which referees are required to stop the game when racist abuse is chanted.

The Dutch government says it too is tackling the rise in racial tensions.

It is proposing a radical new law which will make it compulsory for most would-be non-Western immigrants to take a Dutch citizenship test before they leave their countries.

Mohammed's younger brother Monsif sped up his marriage to a Moroccan girl named Imhem to beat the new law.

"When we heard about the new immigration policy, many Moroccans and Turks quickly brought a bride from their home countries.

"I am not against the test, but it's just a hassle. Like getting your driver's licence."

Two days before the wedding, Mohammed's football season ends in disappointment.

His team didn't win the play-offs; promotion is off for at least a year.

"Mixed emotions," he says. "We did well in the league but not the play-offs.

"I am sad now, but in two days time I'll be the happiest guy on earth."

The wedding is exactly what Mo and Sanne had hoped for: multicultural, relaxed, everyone having fun.

The mayor says that seeing this young mixed couple get married fills him with hope for the future of the Netherlands.

World Weddings: A Game of Two Halves will be broadcast in the UK on BBC Two at 2200 BST on Tuesday, 20 September, 2005.

World Weddings 2004
07 May 04 |  This World
Life of slain Dutch film-maker
02 Nov 04 |  Entertainment
Van Gogh killer jailed for life
26 Jul 05 |  Europe
Attacks harden Dutch attitudes
01 Dec 04 |  Europe
Dutch fear loss of tolerance
03 Nov 04 |  Europe
Obituary: Pim Fortuyn
06 May 02 |  Europe


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