European resentment of Muslims is on the rise
October 29, 2007
Ehsan Jami sees himself as the legendary Dutch boy who used his finger to plug a leaking dike.
Jami, a Dutch politician, is trying to prevent a flood of what he views as intolerant Muslim immigrants threatening to overrun the Netherlands and all of Europe.
He’s not alone. In France, Germany and across Western Europe, a vigorous public debate is underway over preservation of national identities, the assimilation of minorities and tolerance of different cultures.
A former Muslim who was born in Iran, Jami is a right-wing member of the Dutch parliament who has used his position to issue strong criticism of Islam.
He’s especially critical of “radical” Muslims but he also takes issue with Islam’s treatment of women and homosexuals.
The harsh rhetoric has made him the most talked-about public figure in Holland and provoked physical attacks and death threats, forcing him into hiding.
“I don’t mind if people are Muslim but I do mind when their values go against Western values,” Jami said in a recent interview, under the watchful eye of his bodyguards. “We have to be very clear with Muslim immigrants that we will not negotiate our values.”
The Netherlands has one of the largest populations of Muslims in Western Europe — about one million, or roughly six per cent of the population, second only to France. The largest groups are people with origins in Morocco or Turkey.
The country has long taken pride in its religious, political and social tolerance, as well as its acceptance of ethnic minorities. And many in the Netherlands’ new coalition government boast a pro-immigrant stance.
But the threats of terrorism and sheer demographics have started to confront traditional Dutch open-mindedness. Studies estimate that Muslims will form the majorities in the Netherlands’ four biggest cities by 2020.
Many Muslims say they don’t feel at home here.
“I’ve lived here for 40 years and I still don’t feel welcome,” said Atel Alireza, a taxi driver from Turkey. “But I would say things have gotten a lot worse since 9/11.”
Apprehension over the growing influx of immigrants extends to many European countries. Islam is now the second-largest religion in Europe, with at least 15 million Muslims residing in Western Europe.
The French Assembly is considering legislation this month that would require DNA tests for immigrants wanting to bring family members to France. The law would also require language tests for immigrants.
In Austria, the interior minister said last week that he wants to double the time that immigrants spend in German language courses to ensure they are assimilated into Austrian society. Guenther Platter told public broadcaster ORF he thinks the current requirement of 300 hours of German instruction is not enough and should “at least be doubled.”
In Switzerland, a campaign poster of the conservative People’s Party ahead of the Oct. 21 national elections depicts three white sheep kicking a black sheep.
The idea behind the poster, say members of the People’s Party — one of the fastest-growing movements in the country — is to show support for a proposed law that would require the deportation of non-citizens convicted of crimes.
In the Netherlands, the fallout from tensions has been legislative proposals to ban the Qu’ran; make it illegal for women to wear burqas in public; and create more legal options for closing mosques known to be hotbeds of radicalism.
So far none of the proposals has gained traction. And Jami’s Dutch Labour Party has distanced itself from Jami and his statements on Islam.
But immigration and Islam are issues that have held sway in Dutch politics particularly since 2002, when the right-wing anti-immigrant populist Pim Fortuyn was assassinated.
The debate intensified in November 2004 after the murder of Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker who had made a movie called Submission that featured a beaten, naked Muslim woman covered in writings from the Qu’ran.
The killer was a young radical Islamist. In retaliation, some Muslim schools and places of worship were torched.
Even Jami, who says he gave up Islam after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, doesn’t paint all Muslims with the same brush.
He said he has nothing against moderate Muslims who adapt to Dutch values. “What I’m against is the creation of special rules for the Muslims,” he said.
Shelley Emling writes for Cox Newspapers.