There were more than 100 ‘incidents’ at mosques in the Netherlands between 2005 and 2010 – far more than in other countries. The incidents are detailed in a new Dutch book about Islamophobia and discrimination. Those responsible for the trouble mostly go unpunished and Muslims often file no criminal reports.
In the 1990s, the Netherlands was known for being extremely tolerant of foreign religions, says Frank Bovenkerk, emeritus professor at the University of Amsterdam (UVA).
“... until surveys suddenly showed considerable animosity towards Islam was developing. The researchers thought: ‘This kind of split with the past isn’t possible’. But it in fact was.”
Then came the 9/11 attacks in the United States and the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist in 2004. Dr Bovenkerk blames Dutch politicians for fanning the flames of hostility towards Muslims: “After Van Gogh’s murder, the then deputy prime minister, Gerrit Zalm, said that we were “now at war”.
Things went differently in the United States as Dr Bovenkerk points out:
“The first thing president Bush did after 9/11 was to visit a mosque because he knew that he mustn’t jeopardise his relationship with Muslim Americans. They were really careful about that there. But in the Netherlands, we went along much more easily with politicians such as Pim Fortuyn and later Geert Wilders, who exploited the aversion to Islam for political gain.”
Ineke van der Valk has written a book about Islamophobia and discrimination in the Netherlands. She lists 117 incidents at Dutch mosques between 2005 and 2010. The number in the US was just 42 during the same period.
The incidents include arson, the daubing of slogans on walls, vandalism and much more.
“A suspect letter containing powder, telephone threats, hanging a dead sheep on the building, with ‘No Mosque’ daubed on the body. Or a pig’s head. Or sheep’s or pig’s blood daubed on the wall ...”
These incidents happened surprisingly often in small places. Ms Van der Valk thinks immigrants are much more accepted in large towns because immigration has been going on there for much longer.
The people responsible have seldom been found. They’ve not been identified in 99 of the 117 cases. “That makes you think it’s time the police and justice authorities did more about it,” she says.
Then there’s the Islamophobia on the internet. Ronald Eissens from the MDI registration centre for discrimination on the internet : “In 2011, there were 290 reports of Islamopohobic comments, nearly one-fifth of the total reports of discrimination.”
He says that discrimination is becoming increasingly more mainstream on the Dutch-language internet. “It’s moving from the dark alleys into the full light of day, on the popular web forums, which are read by everyone.”
What can be done about the situation? Ineke van der Valk: “You’ve got to get to grips with the social problems which play a role in why people turn to discrimination. People who are victims of crimes perpetrated by Muslims are quicker to discriminate.”
You also have to push the openness of society and prize the values of diversity. She thinks Norway set a good example in the way it dealt with Anders Breivik’s attacks.
“I think we could do well to learn from that because politicians here are far too inclined to look the other way and hope that the Islamophobia craze will just go away. We’ve got to stand up for what we believe in much more, for what we think is important, for democracy and the rule of law.”