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Sunday 21 September  
Marianne Vaatstra
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Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

Truth finally triumphs over prejudice in Dutch murder case

Published on : 22 November 2012 - 3:54pm | By ((C) ANP)
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Who is Babah Tarawally?

After fleeing Sierra Leone for the Netherlands 17 years ago and spending the first seven of those years filing an asylum application, Babah Tarawally began working for independent media outlets in Africa. Alongside this work, he contributes stories and columns to several newspapers. His novel De god met de blauwe ogen (‘The blue-eyed god’) was published in 2010 by KIT. Babah lives with his partner and two daughters in the Netherlands.

A Dutch court ruled today that the man arrested this week for a 1999 murder can be detained for another 14 days to allow police to complete their investigation. The brutal rape and killing of a 16-year-old girl in a quiet rural area shocked the Netherlands, and people rushed to blame the residents of a nearby asylum-seekers centre for the crime. Babah Tarawally was one of those ‘outsiders’ and this is his reaction to the eventual arrest of a local man 13 years later. 

Finally we got him, the murderer of Marianne Vaatstra. He is not a black man, not a North African Arab, nor a Chinese; neither is he a Latino or an Eskimo or a refugee from Russia or from the former Yugoslavia. He is a white Dutch man, and his name is ‘Jasper S’.

‘I need a lawyer’
After thirteen years of speculation about the identity of the possible murderer, a native Dutch farmer has now been apprehended. His DNA matched with the one left at the crime scene. With these new facts, I feel as if I have been acquitted of a crime of which I was wrongfully accused. Perhaps I should start thinking of taking the Dutch government to court to pay damages in the form of reparation to me and all the other refugees who were collectively accused in those regrettable times. I think I need a lawyer. 

In 1996, I was among one of the first groups of asylum-seekers to be relocated to Friesland in the north of the Netherlands. With its open landscape, the province is home to fewer people than most parts of the country. People in Friesland are referred to as Frisians and are mostly farmers. At the time, we had barely any contact with them; they were busy caring for their cattle and ploughing their fields.

Rainbow takeover
It is a fact that the presence of thousands of asylum-seekers in Friesland changed the demographics of a province that has been fighting for centuries to retain its identity. The Frisians have their own language, national anthem, and flag, and they are nationalistic to a fault. I could understand that the Frisians were not well prepared to wake up in the morning and see their streets, shopping centres and supermarkets splashed with the rainbow colours of the world. The locals feared the government was changing the face of their towns into one resembling Amsterdam, the Dutch capital of crime, drugs and prostitution. And in the eyes of a Frisian, every black man comes from Amsterdam. 

So when in 1999 a 16-year-old local girl called Marianne Vaatstra was murdered while cycling home from a disco where she had had contact with some North Africans, the conclusion was swift.  Even before reading the book of her life, the reader knew the apparent killer and cause of her death.

Murderous scum
For those of us living in Friesland at the time, the brutal death of Marianne Vaatstra changed our lives for the worst. From day one after the killing, all eyes were focused on the nearby asylum centre that was home to hundreds of refugees seeking protection. The key suspects were North Africans, presumably living in that centre. Though I was housed in a town nearby, we all felt as if our lives were shattered again. Our already difficult relationship with our Frisian hosts took another devastating turn. Even before the murder, most of the locals treated us as troublesome refugees. 

We were scum, and after the brutal killing of Marianne Vaatstra we were promoted to murdering scum. The young Frisian girl had been viciously sexually assaulted before her throat was cut. So people assumed the killer had to be a North African Muslim, accustomed to the ritual slaughter of lambs by slicing the neck with a knife. There was also speculation that the killer had turned in the direction of Mecca, as Halal butchers around the world do. 

Eyes to see
The police initially arrested two men from the asylum centre but DNA tests proved them innocent. Investigators eventually said they believed the killer was a local and a westerner, but rumours about murderous foreigners persisted. The Dutch media perpetuated these speculations and stereotypes, and so our world as refugees became more traumatic than ever before. 

Now, thanks to the DNA testing of more than 7,000 local men, we have the alleged killer. What should we learn from this? As the Nigerian writer Helon Habila rightfully said; There is looking at a thing, and then there is seeing a thing. The two are totally different. We look with our eyes, but it takes more than eyes to really see. 

Discussion

folklink 30 November 2012 - 9:14am / usa

What is interesting about this article is that it does not conclude by saying that the rapist was in fact not a foreigner. It suggests that the identity of the rapist remains unknown. But I guess the point is that it is always wrong to suspect foreigners of committing crimes, and that Europeans should always cower in fear of being labeled as racists.

Anonymous 23 November 2012 - 2:00pm / SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

IT IS ALWAYS SAD FOR FOREIGNERS AND BLACKS OR THOSE CALLED THEMSELVES MUSLIMS TO FACE SUCH MOLESTATION IN THE HANDS OF THE POWERFUL OR THE MAJORITY WHITES. THANK GOD , THE DNA WAS ABLE TO BRING THE KILLER TO LIGHT. I HAVE PERSONAL RESPECT FOR THE PEOPLE OF HOLLAND AND THE AUTHORITY.

Anonymous 22 November 2012 - 10:35pm / Netherlands

You don't need a lawyer, and you don't need to sue the government that allowed you to stay in the Netherlands.

The fact of the matter is that these people had never experienced such a thing in their area, and the arrival of people seeking asylum, combined with the fear of the unknown, made it logical to them that it was the foreigners that would have done this. That you were one of those suspected, is too bad, but be glad it was in the Netherlands, and your identity was protected. In Sierra Leone you may have summarily lynched.

Good for you that now you are allowed to live in NL and meanwhile work in the country you fled for whatever reason.

Just be thankful and move on.

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