Dhaka, Bangladesh
Muslims in the Netherlands

Muslims in the Netherlands

(From yesterday's issue) In the Netherlands, the state does recognize certain groups and provide them with state resources for education, broadcasting, and spiritual care in prisons and in the army. There is generally no difficulty in qualifying for this status, and Islam has been granted these privileges. 16) Existing regulations and laws have been applied to Muslims and, if necessary, adapted to their needs. Muslims in the Government Muslims maintain a presence in Dutch politics as Muslim parties running candidates in local elections and as parliamentarians sitting in the national government. The most visible Muslims involved in the Dutch government in the past decade have been Ahmed Aboutaleb, elected mayor of Rotterdam in 2008, and Ayan Hirsi Ali, the parliamentarian whose controversial exit from parliament in 2006 was widely covered in international media. Muslims in National Parliament Prior to the most recent federal elections in 2010, the Public Political Institute (IPP) following the most recent national elections revealed that the number of parliamentarians who are immigrants to the Netherlands has risen to 10.7%, up from 8% in 2006. " 17) There are now 6 MPs of Turkish origin and 5 of Moroccan origin, the study reveals, with a total of 16 seats going to allocthonen Dutch. Four MPs of Turkish origin are incumbents: Coskun Coruz (CDA), Khadija Arib (PvDA), Tofik Dibi (GL) and Sadet Karabulut(SP). 18) Two cabinet members in the previous government, out of a total of 13 cabinet ministers, had Muslim backgrounds: Nebahat Albayrak was Secretary State of Justice, and Ahmed Aboutaleb was State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment. Following the June 2010 national elections, 5% of the parliament are practicing Muslims, an accurate reflection of the proportion of Muslims in Dutch society as a whole. MPs identifying as Muslim are not necessarily affiliated with Islamic parties. Ahmed Marcouch, who came to the Netherlands as a 10 year old boy, was elected to the parliament after working actively in Amsterdam local politics in the neighbourhood of Slotervaart, known for its high proportion of Muslims. In May 2011 Marcouch was awarded a prize for his work to promote gay rights in the Moroccon Muslim community in the Netherlands. Other national parliamentarians include Tofik Dibi, whose parents emigrated to the Netherlands from Morocco, has been an MP for the Green Left since 2006, and Coskun Coruz was born in Turkey and moved to the Netherlands at the age of six, and now sits as an MP for the Christian Democrats. 20) Local Islamic Parties Two political parties in the Netherlands currently seek to represent Muslims in municipalities, though neither won a seat in the most recent elections. The Netherlands Muslim Party (NMP) ran the most candidates in the March local elections, with candidates in the Hague, Rotterdam, Noordoostpolder, Almere, Woerden, Alkmaar and Tilburg. However, it did not succeed in winning any seats. The NMP was founded in 2007 by Henny Kreeft, a convert of Dutch background; men and women of both Dutch and non-Dutch ethnicity participate in the board. The party has yet to occupy seats in the Parliament. Currently, the NMP endorses the separation of church and state and Kreeft emphasizes that it does not support the establishment of "a Muslim republic" in the Netherlands. The party's vision statement 27 emphasizes its commitment to democracy and consultation (shura (Arabic) or overleg (Dutch)), and stresses that it has no intention of changing or installing new legal systems (Article 1.1). The party seeks a "moderate middle road for which Islamic values and norms will be an important source of inspiration for political action, but expressly embraces democracy and rejects the blind application of shari'a law" (Article 1.2). The party platform advocates freedom of religion and religious expression, and sees youth as a particularly important target for political investment. The NMP outlines a position assuming equality between men and women, which extends into party membership and participation (3.1). In regards to homosexuality, the party does not condemn homosexuals but takes a position against gay marriage (Article 3.2). The platform also expressly outlines a position on euthanasia and abortion, both of which are legalized in the Netherlands. Working from the position against the taking of a life, the party in most cases is against euthanasia, and similarly abortion, although it except cases of rape and potential maternal mortality (3.3). 22) A second party, the Islamic Democrats (ID), occupied one seat in the local municipal council following elections in 2006. The party representative was A. Khoulani, of Moroccan-Dutch descent ran a candidate in the Hague. The party's run in the Hague in 2010 elections was unsuccessful. Although the party initially planned to post candidates in other municipalities, these plans were put on hold as a result of internal conflicts in the party. To date, the two Muslim parties have not attempted to merge into a single party, and neither ran candidates in the June 2010 national elections. Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam October 2008 marked an important development for Muslims in the Dutch government. Moroccan-born Muslim politician Ahmed Aboutaleb was elected Mayor of Rotterdam, a position he maintains today. The event has been hailed in media and political circles as a significant historical turning point for the Netherlands, a country still somewhat mired in the grips of the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant backlash prompted by the murder of Submission filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.16 Aboutaleb, the Labour Party member and 2007 State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment of the IV Balkenende government, began serving his term on January 1, 2009. He currently possesses dual Dutch-Moroccan citizenship. Rotterdam is one of the first major European cities to appoint a Muslim immigrant as its mayor,17 and the first foreign-born Labour Party politician. Born in Beni Sedi, Morocco, Aboutaleb grew up in a small village as a son of an imam. Together with his mother and brothers, he moved to the Netherlands at age 14 where he went on to study telecommunications in college. After graduation, Aboutaleb worked in television and radio, and then moved into communications for Ministry of Welfare, Health, and Cultural Affairs. He went on to serve as head of information at the Social and Economic Council (SER) and manager of the Communications and Publications sector at Statistics Netherlands (CBS). He directed the FORUM Institute for Multicultural Development as well as the Social, Economic, and Cultural Development Sector of the municipality of Amsterdam. Aboutaleb served as alderman (council member next in status to Mayor) for Work and Income, Education, Youth, Diversity and Urban Policy in Amsterdam, has served on Education boards, and helped develop and implement the Dutch coalition for Peace in the Middle East. He also served on the Board of a multicultural studies center at the University of Tilburg. 26) Aboutaleb's appointment met with criticism from right-wing Dutch political parties Leefbar Rotterdam and Party for Freedom. Geert Wilders stated publicly that "appointing a Moroccan as mayor of the second largest Dutch city is just as ridiculous as appointing a Dutchman as mayor of Mecca. Instead, he should become mayor of Rabat in Morocco. With him as mayor, Rotterdam will be Rabat on the banks of the river Maas. Soon we may even have an imam serving as arch bishop. This is madness.') Aboutaleb's Labour Party colleagues such as Rob Oudkerk and some Dutch media members, however, support his appointment. Dutch newspaper The Daily Trouw claims the appointment represents integration progress for the Netherlands: "The city which six years ago under the leadership of Pim Fortuyn rose up in revolt against the country's immigration policy will now have a Moroccan-Dutch mayor. The decision of Rotterdam's city council in favour of Ahmed Aboutaleb could not have been more spectacular. Naturally, a candidate for the post of mayor should always be judged first and foremost by his leadership qualities, but this decision has a much more far-reaching significance on a par with [Barack] Obama being elected President of the United States. It propels the national debate about integration a huge step forwards." Ayan Hirsi Ali, former Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali's political life is of particular significance to Muslims in the Netherlands because of a political scandal regarding her immigration to the Netherlands. Hirsi Ali was elected to Parliament as a VVD candidate in 2002. In May 2006, the television program Zembla23 reported that Hirsi Ali had presented false information on her application for asylum. On May 16, 2006, she resigned from Parliament under the assumption that her citizenship would be revoked by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk. (To be continued)

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