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Monday 24 November  
Nadia Bouras
Michel Hoebink's picture
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Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

Moroccan culture as a scapegoat

Published on : 9 December 2012 - 10:00am | By Michel Hoebink (Photo: Anja Meulenbelt)

The problems of the Dutch Moroccan community are not caused by their culture, but are the legacy of their migration to the Netherlands according to Dutch Moroccan historian Nadia Bouras. “Dutch politicians say they’re innocent and instead blame Moroccan culture.”

In the 1980s, a quiet tragedy befell the Moroccan community in the Netherlands. Moroccan men, who had emigrated two decades earlier, brought their families to the Netherlands. But the large-scale family reunification coincided with a major economic recession. Large numbers of Moroccan fathers lost their jobs.
 
Family reunification and economic recession proved to be a toxic cocktail, says Bouras, who recently obtained her Ph.D. with a dissertation on the links between the Dutch Moroccan community and its country of origin.
 
Former heroes 
“The former heroes –  the young enterprising adventurers who had built up a life for themselves abroad – fell from their pedestals. Suddenly they were stuck at home with large families whom they had rarely seen in years. Because they had lost their jobs, their traditional authority was undermined. It proved difficult for them – and their wives who had just arrived in the Netherlands – to raise their children.”
 
Moroccans had always kept close ties with their country of origin, but in the initial years, were mainly concerned with building a new life for themselves in the Netherlands. That changed in the 1980s. “The unemployed fathers made up for their loss of status by turning towards their country of origin, Islam and their own culture,” explains Bouras.
 
Changing tides 
In her thesis, Bouras also analyses Dutch politicians’ views about the ties linking Dutch Moroccans to their country of origin. Initially, politicians believed that a strong attachment to an immigrant’s country of origin and culture helped promote integration.
 
But by the early ‘90s, Dutch politicians’ views had radically changed. There had been a decade of massive unemployment in the Moroccan community, and this had led to serious social problems: poor housing, low levels of education, etc. According to Bouras, a prominent Dutch right-wing politician at the time, Frits Bolkestein, began insisting that “culture and religion were the causes of all the problems. Islam, Moroccan culture and the Dutch Moroccans’ ties with their country of origin were responsible for the community’s social problems.”
 
Passing the buck 
Bouras disagrees. “The drama that took place in the ‘80s is the reason behind the backward situation of Moroccans in the Netherlands, not the culture. It has nothing to do with Islam or Moroccan culture.”
The cultural explanation was a way for the Dutch authorities to pass the buck. “If you explain that having a strong attachment to your own culture causes social backwardness, then you’re blaming the people themselves”, says Bouras. “They don’t fit in and that’s why they’re unemployed. The Dutch government has washed its hands of the problem.”
 
According to Bouras, culture is neither an obstacle nor an incentive to development. “Dutch politicians are obsessed by culture and ethnicity. It would be better if they focussed on the social and economic position of Dutch Moroccans rather than all those cultural worries.” 

Discussion

Houte Klomp 23 December 2012 - 10:45am / Canada

I'm sorry but these immigrants and offspring form Moroccan and/or Muslim background are under heavy and suffocating social pressure either not to give up anything of their culture or allowing anything new to be added for fear of corrupting their background. It's no wonder their youth that is caught up between two extremely different worldviews is as f*cked up as it is. There is no way in the world these kids will be able to reconcile their cultural heritage with the values of a modern free society. The two don't mix and unless there is a major overhaul in either, never will mix.

James99 19 December 2012 - 7:19pm / Germany

If I understand this correctly, the Morrocans came over as "guest" workers, meaning that after a year or two they would go home. Well, that didn't happend. Here lies the problem. The Netherlands never wanted a permanent Morrocan population living in the Netherlands. Is this correct?

user avatar
knirb 21 December 2012 - 4:57am

The mess the Dutch now have is one of default, not the result of any clear policy or plan, partly because discussing it was taboo until it could no longer be ignored.
What everyone really wanted doesn't matter much now. Moroccans did come in as guest workers and the assumption was made that they would eventually go back, so there was no integration policy, just a fuzzy "multicultural" attitude.

user avatar
knirb 11 December 2012 - 5:54am

Bouras might have had an arguable point if she had proposed that economic recession in Holland had been a contributing factor in the current problems of the Moroccan community. However, she completely absolves Islam and Moroccan culture.
Shifting the entire blame for "the backward situation of Moroccans in the Netherlands" to a recession is complete hogwash. Many recent immigrant groups across the world have faced recession and worked their way through it and integrated, some even against extreme odds, with no social safety net, unlike in cushy, well funded Holland.

Egbert Harmsen 12 December 2012 - 4:27pm / The Netherlands

There is no such thing as a fixed culture or religion being responsable for failed integration. The form culture and religion takes depends on the people involved and the circumstances they find themselves in. For many Moroccans, religion is a way out of despair and a source of inspiration and hope to leave behind unemployment and crime and find a dignified place in society. Why, for instance, does the Muslim community in the United States not face particular social problems such as crime, school dropouts and unemployment, while the Catholic Latino community over there does face this? Because of a different socioeconomic background and position in society, not because of their religion!

user avatar
knirb 13 December 2012 - 6:56am

There are about 82,000 Moroccans in all of the U.S. (pop 311 million) as opposed to 350,000 in the Netherlands (pop. 17 million).
The article isn't about the entire Muslim population but that stands at less than 2% in the U.S., as opposed to nearly 6% in the Netherlands. It is far more spread out and more diverse than in the Netherlands.
The U.S. has stricter entry standards, immediately deports non citizens convicted of crimes and generally does not pamper ne'er-do-wells as the Netherlands does.
Despite the odds against them, the Hispanic crime rates are at par with other white populations in the U.S., so that comparison just doesn't wash either. In fact, it underscores mine.

A Oort 10 December 2012 - 8:59pm / Mauretanië

Finally by a Moroccan woman wrote a good and correct story.

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