Europeans talk of ethnic tolerance. But events in the Netherlands show how dangerously they are divided


 Artículo de Stryker McGuire en “Newsweek” del 17/11/2004


Por su interés y relevancia, he seleccionado el artículo que sigue para incluirlo en este sitio web. (L. B.-B.)


 Nov. 22 issue - What's wrong with this picture? The airspace over the city is declared off-limits to all unauthorized aircraft. Some 200 police, including rooftop snipers and antiterror forces in balaclavas and bulletproof armor, descend on a neighborhood near the main train station. At one house, three officers are wounded by a hurled grenade. After a 14-hour siege, assault teams arrest two suspects and charge them under antiterrorism laws. "We cannot let ourselves be blinded by people who seek to drag us into a spiral of violence," the prime minister tells a shaken nation.



So what's wrong? The city is The Hague, and the country is the Netherlands—famed for tidy bicycle lanes, a well-mannered citizenry and the court where Slobodan Milosevic is on trial for war crimes. "The International City of Peace," as The Hague styles itself, is a bastion of global law and order, literally—home to the Peace Palace, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. As for Holland, the land of Erasmus and Spinoza, it was once hard to imagine a more tolerant society, or one that, after its occupation by Nazi Germany and the annihilation of 130,000 Dutch Jews at Auschwitz and Sobibor, was more committed to consigning political violence to history.


Over the past two weeks, though, all established notions of Dutch life have been turned on their head. The tumult began on Nov. 2 with the gory killing of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose documentary "Submission" was an attack on Islamic treatment of Muslim women. His alleged assailant, a Muslim who considered van Gogh's film blasphemy, fired half a dozen bullets into his body, slit his throat and, with a knife, pinned to van Gogh's chest a note proclaiming jihad against Holland, Europe and the United States.

The police quickly arrested a suspect—a 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan named Mohammed Bouyeri—and scooped up seven other young Muslims, charging them under antiterror laws. Within days an escalating spiral of violence engulfed the country. A Moroccan immigrant was killed in the town of Breda. Attacks on mosques and Muslim schools brought retaliatory attacks on Protestant churches. Meanwhile, antiterror police launched a series of raids, including the one in The Hague, which police said they traced to a separate plot to kill the woman who wrote the script for "Submission," Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The drama is in some ways peculiarly Dutch, but it has sent shock waves through the rest of Europe. The violence is clear evidence that immigration, if badly managed, can be a destabilizing force even in the most seemingly settled of European societies. It underscores the fact that the clashes of civilization taking place at the global level—between Muslims and Christians, between religious fundamentalism and secularism—are also unfolding inside individual communities and countries on a smaller but still dangerous scale. And it shows that the war on terror is sometimes just down the street: police last week claimed to find a number of links between Bouyeri and international terror groups.

With 16 million inhabitants, including 1 million Muslims, the Netherlands is Europe's most densely populated country. Because much of the nation lies below sea level on land reclaimed from the sea (the polder) and protected by fragile dikes, Dutch society has long depended for its survival and well-being on the ability of its people to get along and live side by side in mutual respect. Holland's weakness is not immigration, per se; it is the special 21st-century mix of badly managed immigration, religious fundamentalism and international terror networks.

French political scientist Catherine de Wenden believes the Netherlands erred first and foremost by failing to integrate its immigrant population, which is predominantly Muslim from Turkey and Morocco. By funding religious schools that isolated many migrant children from mainstream Dutch life and by not doing enough to encourage immigrants to learn Dutch, even as job prospects were diminishing, the government created ghettoes of discontent, especially among those who came from outside Europe. University of Amsterdam anthropologist Thijl Sunier says immigrants to Holland—and even their second- and third-generation descendants—are treated like "foreign guests." They are "visiting an island," Sunier says, and, unlike immigrants in, say, Britain, most of them live outside the greater society.

Tensions over what to do about immigration have risen sharply in recent years. By the 2002 national elections, immigration had taken center stage—the heart of a Dutch identity crisis. Populist politician Pim Fortuyn called for Holland to rethink its policies. His simple slogan—"Holland is full"—resonated enough with ordinary Dutch that his party quickly became the most popular in the country. Then a radical environmentalist assassinated him. Ever since, unease over immigration has defined the nation.

Enter Van Gogh's accused killer. Bouyeri was a member of what's called the "one point five" generation: born in the Netherlands, but of Moroccan-born parents. A man like Bouyeri would never feel at home in Holland, supposes Mohamed Bibi of the Rotterdam immigrant-support organization PBR. Abandoning his studies, unable to find a job, craving identity, he would "seek calm in Islam," says Bibi. For all but an almost infinitesimal number of adherents, the religion would be a comfort and a guide, not a springboard to murder and terror. But Bibi believes Bouyeri's alienation from mainstream society may have been so profound as to render him choice fodder for recruiters who encouraged his radicalization.

The same may be true of other Muslim "lost boys" who have been linked to Bouyeri since his arrest. According to reports in the Netherlands, some of the other young suspects arrested have links to the terror group Takfir wal Hijra. The group's alleged leader, Mohammed Achraf, who has been held in a Swiss prison since August, telephoned Bouyeri in September at his home in Amsterdam, according to Dutch intelligence. Spanish police believe Achraf is linked to a plot to bomb a Madrid court building.

Watching events unfold in the Netherlands, the rest of the region knows it's looking into a mirror. The once admired Dutch "polder model" has grown increasingly ill suited to today's Europe, much less tomorrow's. Already the Netherlands has the second largest Muslim population in Europe in percentage terms (6 percent, compared with 7 percent in France). Britain, Denmark and Sweden all have just over 3 percent. Norway, Finland and Ireland have among the smallest Muslim populations in Western Europe, under 1 percent. But even in such countries, tensions often run high because of the speed at which the Muslim community has grown. In Ireland, for instance, the number of Muslims quadrupled (to 19,000) between 1991 and 2002, spawning headlines like this one in the Irish Daily Mirror last April: ALLAH BE RAISED. Declining native populations mean most of these countries will continue to suck in immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. If Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union survives political opposition, that country's 68 million Muslims will in 15 to 20 years be part of the EU.

Accommodating Muslims who take their faith seriously will thus increasingly become the issue for Europe. Religion, especially religious fundamentalism of any stripe, does not fit easily into highly secularized, modern European society. Witness the French government's ban on Muslim headscarves (and any other "conspicuous" religious symbols) in state schools. Witness, too, Bavaria, which last week became the latest of four German states to ban Muslim schoolteachers from wearing headscarves. (Bavaria does not ban Christian or Jewish symbols.) Van Gogh's case, says Fuad Nahdi, the founding editor of Britain's QNews, "brings us back to Salman Rushdie and the question of what is the status of religion in a modern secular state."

In Holland, the short-term response to van Gogh's murder and its aftermath will be tougher immigration policies, coupled with measures to encourage integration and assimilation. Already the Dutch Parliament has voted to shut down Muslim radio stations and Web sites. But it's an open question whether such steps will contain the damage or spread it.

The problem for the Netherlands, and Europe, is that issues of religion and immigration have become explosively conflated with terrorism. Three days after the van Gogh killing, Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm said, "We are declaring war" to "make radical Islamic movements disappear from the Netherlands." The fanatical blow of an assassin against a filmmaker on a busy Amsterdam street thus, rightly or wrongly, becomes part of a chain stretching from the World Trade Center and Bali through the Madrid train bombings to Abu Ghraib and Fallujah. "Of course we have to take measures against violent and aggressive behavior," says Amsterdam city official Ahmed Aboutaleb. "But let's not let these measures get out of hand."

Dutch police, however, are no longer erring on the side of caution. Last week's 14-hour siege in The Hague yielded a personal phone book containing the name of Abdeladim Akouad, who is being held in Spain in connection with the 2003 Casablanca suicide bombings that killed 45 people. With police combing the country and dozens of suspects of all sorts being paraded into Dutch jails, the Netherlands is re-examining much more than its ethnic mix. "We must ask ourselves if we have not been naive over the past few years—ask ourselves if we have not for so long agreed to take in anybody [as immigrants]," said Dutch Justice Minister Rita Verdonk last week. "We Dutch are easy prey," says Jon Wolter Wabeke, a senior judge in Amsterdam. "We're vulnerable because we're a soft, tolerant society."

Now, suggests anthropologist Sunier, the Dutch are anxiously redefining the limits of tolerance. Early casualties are sure to be the country's immigrants, especially Muslims. As the ghosts of Erasmus and Spinoza look on, Holland's challenge will be not to bury the culture of tolerance entirely.

With Friso Endt in The Hague, Eric Pape in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and Emily Flynn and Marie Valla in London