The Dutch have rejected liberalism in response to Islamic
immigration. Some say they are now too hardline. So what can
the rest of Europe learn from their crisis?
Not long ago, Holland prided itself as being the most tolerant
and welcoming country in Europe for immigrants and asylum
seekers. It had the credentials to prove it. So many have
settled there, ethnic "minorities" are often in
a majority. In the great Dutch cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam
and the Hague, the newcomers already outnumber the native
Dutch among under-20-year-olds. They will soon be an absolute
Although the slump that followed the 1973 oil shock removed
the urgent need to recruit labour, the Dutch accepted that
the "guest workers" in the country could remain.
The policy was to create a multicultural society in which
cultural and ethnic differences were accepted and appreciated.
Some immigrants came from former Dutch colonies. The two largest
groups, however, Turkish and Moroccan, had no historic links
with the Netherlands. The Dutch nonetheless accepted the reunification
of families, and the practice of marrying partners from the
country of origin, even though these can have an eight- or
tenfold multiplier effect on overall numbers. Asylum seekers
then arrived, in numbers that escalated from 3,500 in 1985
to over 43,000 in 2000.
The figures were pro rata among the highest in the EU. Illegals
came, too, mainly after 1990, with estimates running from
100,000 to 200,000. The Dutch supplied funding for mosques,
religious schools, language courses and housing. They passed
special legislation so Moroccans could have dual nationality,
as Moroccan nationality is inalienable under Moroccan law.
Political correctness, of the sort that produced Harry Enfield's
famously relaxed Amsterdam policemen, reigned. Issues felt
at street level immigration, crime, culture, national
identity were seldom discussed by the political elite
No longer. A sea change has taken place. It was evident after
the death last month of a young Dutch Moroccan, identified
only as Ali El B. Several hundred Moroccans congregated on
the street where a driver had run him over, reversing into
him after he had stolen her bag. They had made a shrine on
the pavement, with flowers and candles, and there was talk
of racism and murder. The crowd set off on a march to pay
their respects at a mosque not far away. The boys were in
a long gaggle at the front. The girls, neater, were in disciplined
ranks at the rear. Some had Moroccan flags draped over their
shoulders. They chanted in Arabic for a while, and passers-by
looked and scurried on.
The mosque was on the ground floor in a row of old gabled
houses, some converted into offices, that looked out over
a broad waterway. A racing skiff, a pair, was splashing through
the wavelets thrown up by a blustery gale. Television cameramen
darted round the crowd as it milled outside the mosque. An
elderly Dutchman looked down from his flat at the sea of hoods
and scarves and red-and-green flags, with an utterly forlorn
Nobody doubts that Ali El B would once have become a martyred
innocent. Now, attempts to portray him like that were sat
on fast and hard. The fiercest comment came from Geert Wilders.
The hard line this right-wing MP takes on immigrants and terrorists
has made him the fastest-rising star in the political firmament.
It has also brought threats of beheading from radical Islamists,
so he is now shackled to six bodyguards and has secure lodgings
on army bases. "All Moroccan troublemakers should be
expelled," Wilders says. "The government wants to
expel terrorists. The same process should be used for street
terrorists like Ali El B. Detain them, de-naturalise them
and deport them." Wilders is a firebrand. Rita Verdonk
is the minister for immigration and integration, and a mainstream
Conservative. She, too, is implacable. "If the boy hadn't
stolen the bag," she says, "he'd be riding around
on his scooter today."
But the real pointer to how far Holland has shifted comes
from Job Cohen, the mayor of Amsterdam. Cohen is Labour, from
the party that personified political correctness and the more-the-merrier,
they-can-do-no-wrong approach to immigrants. "We have
to admit," the mayor says, "that this was not a
sweet and blameless youth, to put it mildly."
The consensus has shifted across the board. In a country
that can still seem a parody of itself a magistrate
ruled recently that an armed robber was entitled to a tax
rebate on the cost of his gun as a tool of his trade
even the leader of the Green party has called for it to be
illegal for Muslims to import spouses through arranged marriages.
Integrated teams, drawn from the police, social welfare and
housing offices, are used to locate and arrest illegals. Social
welfare knows who is drawing benefit, housing offices have
addresses, and police check for criminal records. The number
of asylum seekers has been slashed from 43,000 to 10,000 a
year, nine-tenths of whom have their applications rejected.
Multiculturalism is damned. A recent poll found 80% in favour
of stronger measures to get immigrants to integrate
and 40% said they "hoped" Muslims "no longer
feel at home here"
How did this happen? The first open shift came in 2001, with
9/11. Frits Bolkestein, the leader of the VVD Conservative
Liberals, had struck a chord in the 1990s with his insistence
that immigrants conform to western culture, but immigration
issues were largely the preserve of "racists" and
"crypto-Nazis" on the political margins. Then came
reports that the atrocities in New York and Washington had
been greeted with cheers in parts of Rotterdam. Forum, the
Dutch institute for multicultural development, commissioned
an opinion poll of Dutch Muslims. It showed that 48% had "complete
understanding" and 27% "some understanding"
of the attacks. Overall, only 62% disapproved. Wim Kok, the
then prime minister, expressed his shock. The poll was said
to be "unbalanced".
Another was held. This found that, although only a small
number of Turkish and Surinamese Muslims supported the attacks,
26% of ethnic Moroccans approved of them.
This startling fact helped make the brief political career
of Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay, flamboyant former Marxist professor
turned magazine columnist. He founded his Leefbaar Rotterdam
party "Liveable Rotterdam" on an anti-multicultural,
law-and-order, stop-immigration platform.
Fortuyn was hard to pin down as a racist, let alone fascist.
He was socially liberal, opposed the death penalty, and supported
human rights and nondiscrimination. Members of ethnic minorities
joined the party. A young, black businessman was No 2 on his
national election list. He was often described as a "Dutch
Le Pen", as Wilders is now, but both comparisons are
facile, and Fortuyn himself said he would not vote for the
He broke the paralysis that political correctness had brought
to immigration. "I'm saying we've got big problems in
our cities," he said. "It's not very smart to make
the problem bigger by letting in millions more immigrants
from rural Muslim cultures that don't assimilate."
He wanted immigration stopped. "Holland is full,"
he said, and the Dutch were losing control of their own country.
He didn't want to return those already legally in the country,
but insisted that they learn to adapt to western culture,
and not vice versa. He was also critical of Islam as a "backward
culture" that discriminated against women. The enthusiasm
of some Dutch Muslims for the New York massacre made his claims
hard to dismiss as the ranting of a bigot.
His party, from a near-standing start, came to power in the
Rotterdam local elections in March 2002. He was on track for
a breakthrough in the May 2002 general elections when he was
It was the first political assassination in Holland since
the 17th century. The impact was deep and palpable. Free speech
has a particular resonance in the country, perhaps as a result
of wartime occupation. Fortuyn had already been branded a
fascist for questioning the status quo on immigration. Now
his views had got him killed, by a white, Dutch animal-rights
activist. Several of his ideas compulsory assimilation
programmes for newcomers and those with poor Dutch on social-security
benefit, and tighter rules on immigrants bringing in spouses
from abroad were to be adopted in any event.
A third shock came with the murder in November of Theo van
Gogh, the film director, columnist and provocateur. He had
made a short film, Submission, on the rape and humiliation
of women in Islam. It was studiously offensive he had
spun a career out of reckless insults and featured
verses of the Koran written on the thinly veiled body of an
abused Muslim woman.
He made the film with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a petite Somali refugee
who is a Liberal MP in the Dutch parliament. Herself a Muslim,
she is an outspoken critic of Islam, speaking of genital mutilation,
arranged marriages and the turning of women into "baby
Van Gogh was offered, but refused, protection. He was shot
as he cycled through Amsterdam. His murderer then half-butchered
him, slitting his throat with a knife, which he then used
to pin a letter to the dead man's chest. This claimed that
the Dutch were under Jewish control, and called for a jihad
against Hirsi Ali, the United States, the Netherlands, Europe
and all infidels.
The murder forced another highly sensitive issue religion
into the mix. The Dutch were brought face to face with
the disturbing fact that a full-blown jihadist group had grown
up in their midst, and that it was locally born and recruited.
It was, they say, their own 9/11. Van Gogh's alleged assassin,
Mohammed B, a 26-year-old Dutch Moroccan, spoke and wrote
excellent Dutch. The farewell letter found on him when he
was arrested was written in rhyming couplets, in the style
that Dutch families send to one another each Sinterklaas (Santa
Claus) Day, December 5. He had studied at a well-regarded
lyceum before dropping out of a technical institute.
He then started spending time at the Al-Tawhid mosque in
Amsterdam. At some stage he joined a militant Islamic group,
the Hofstad group, named after the Hague, where it was based.
It was led by Redouan al-Issa, alias Abu Khaled, a Syrian-born
geologist turned spiritual leader. Mohammed B's friends included
Samir Azzouz, an 18-year-old radical later arrested for plotting
to bomb Schiphol airport and the Dutch parliament.
Slums and poverty played no part in Mohammed B's background.
He grew up in pleasant, low-rise housing in west Amsterdam,
graffiti-free, with open spaces and playgrounds. When arrested,
he was living in good council housing. The street has small,
modern houses, with well-tended gardens, the hedges trimmed,
and a heron often standing on a rooftop. Lace curtains mark
the Dutch houses; satellite dishes are the ubiquitous indicator
Whether Mohammed B is guilty of this crime or not, the mechanics
of how young men such as him are drawn into these groups are
well known. "The breeding grounds are websites, prisons
and the mosques," says a security expert. The preacher
Abu Khaled, suspected of radicalising Mohammed B, was active
in mosques in Germany and various parts of Holland. Websites
make it possible for extremists to recruit from afar. The
young who become interested talk to each other on chat rooms.
The British would-be shoe bomber, Richard Reid, is one of
those converted in prison.
The "why?" is more complex. Ahmed Aboutaleb, a
Dutch Moroccan on the Amsterdam council, is one of several
leading politicians with Wilders ("it's like being
caught in a bad B-movie"), Cohen the mayor, and Verdonk,
the immigration minister who have had to live with
bodyguards after assassination threats since the van Gogh
He says that imams with a political agenda and money from
the Middle East are active. "Some come from sects that
are banned in Egypt," he says, "but the border here
is open to money and influence from abroad." The liberal
approach includes the police, he notes, who deal with troublemakers
with a softness that astonishes their Moroccan counterparts.
He says, too, that the debate on Islam causes tensions. "Muslims
are not used to focusing on sensitive issues within their
own religion," he says. "They are very rural populations
here. They see the debate as an attack on their personal identity."
A reaction is seen. "Muslims now have a big urge, a
big need to show their Muslim identity to show it obviously,
even," says Karim Traida, a stylish Algerian film director
with a nomination for a Golden Globe. "So there is the
risk of a clash. The clash is already in the mind. Muslims
fear that, if they open up, they'll wind up like the Christians
very decadent. So when Islam looks at Christian history,
it's worried by what goes with liberalism. They think of the
decadence of European society."
Islam in Europe, he adds, "has no roots yet. It's unstable,
a new phenomenon, and the mosques want to stay secret. Parents
are afraid that their children will go into decadent Dutch
society, so they bring them back to Islam".
There is a generational problem. "The confrontation
with these boys is because they grew up here," says Ahmed
Marcouch, gesturing at El B's friends at the mosque, where
he is a senior official. "In the Seventies, the newcomers
didn't speak Dutch, so they were more subdued. This generation
have more strains on them. There's a clash between the culture
they have at home and the one at school and on the street."
Age, of course, is a factor. "The young are open to
everything," says Uzeyir Kabaktepe, the vice president
of the Turkish Milli Gorus mosque in Amsterdam. "If you
give them pure Koran, they become extremist. All doors close
for them. 'Everything else is black,' they think, 'but I'm
white and I'm going to paradise.' Those who see black and
white think they are angels, they think they are flying. If
a Dutchman speaks to them on the street, they think 'he's
a Zionist' or 'he's a Satan'. We give the Koran, not pure,
but with explanations. We make them debate with each other.
We show them that some of the dark ones, the infidels, are
religious people too."
The Moroccans, he says, are different. "They brought
their ideas to Europe with them, and they don't budge,"
he claims. "Democracy for Arabs is Satanic, it's from
the West, against God's word. Idiot imams came who said the
Dutch and everything to do with them schools, society
are devils. They said: get a second wife, from abroad,
so the devils pay the social money for them. The Middle East
plays a big role for the Arabs, it goes into the second and
third generation. A child of 10 gets pictures on the internet
of Americans in Iraq, mosques burnt down, prisoners. They
say, why am I here? As a young Muslim? The internet can do
Safiyeh M, a Dutch Moroccan divorcee with two children, says
there is "one little group that won't adapt. It's always
'damn Dutch, damn Jews, damn infidels'. They can't do anything
in Morocco. They'd get squashed. So they try it here".
She carefully checks the websites that her 14-year-old son
looks at. "I panicked when I found he'd been on a site
that Mohammed B used," she says. "Fortunately it
was a big entry portal and he was just using it to talk to
friends in Morocco." Like many in the second generation,
she thinks that new arrivals are keeping tensions high. "All
these 150 nationalities in Amsterdam," she says. "It's
ridiculous. There are too many immigrants."
The media comes in for blame. "They only pick out the
things they want, like the man with four wives," says
Imam Jatala, at a Pakistani mosque in Rotterdam. "You
can have four girlfriends here, but not wives. Prejudice is
the biggest problem. A Christian says something about homosexuals,
and that's okay. It's only wrong when Muslims say it."
The debate can be highly sensitive. Ethnic minorities account
for 40% of social-security recipients, with a rate six times
higher than for the native Dutch. They have a high unemployment
rate, and they make up a large majority of the prison population.
This is seen as undermining the accepted wisdom that immigrants
are vital to the economy.
It includes marriage patterns. Three-quarters of young Muslims,
including those who are Dutch born, marry a partner from their
country of origin. "It's often a cash transaction,"
Wilders claims. "Two-thirds of them divorce after three
years the minimum period for the spouse to get the
right of residence."
This, and family reunification, means that numbers are constantly
increasing, some complain, because the marriage pool extends
abroad. Neither Turks nor Moroccans arrive with any understanding
of Dutch. This means that the second generation problem
since one parent continues to be a newcomer is made
semi-permanent, compounding the problems of integration.
There is criticism that the Dutch remain liberal where it
suits them society permits euthanasia, same-sex marriage,
the use of recreational drugs, prostitution, adoption by homosexual
couples and that it is post-PC only on immigration.
Draconian solutions preventive arrest, deportation
where possible are bandied about for radical Islamists.
"We have been tolerant to the nontolerant, and we got
intolerance back," Wilders says. If the law, EU or Dutch,
inhibits security, the law must be changed. "I'm a law-maker
as an MP," he says. "I accept nothing that stands
against us winning. If necessary, we should change the constitution
and European treaties."
Hirsi Ali is unrepentant on the cultural gap.
"I take back nothing," she said on a brief return
from hiding to parliament. "The essentials of Islam are
not compatible with liberal democracy. In the Koran and the
Hadith, it says that woman is below man, that nonbelievers
have to die, and that people who renounce Islam have to die
immediately." She was scathing with suggestions that
her stridency was to blame for the threats. "Moderate
politicians like Cohen and Aboutaleb are on the Islamists'
death lists," she said. "It doesn't matter what
tone you take."
All agree, however, in the new climate in Holland, that open
debate is essential. "Hiding is not a good strategy,"
Aboutaleb says. Traida puts it more bluntly: "I say
say it, now, before the explosion."
Attitudes have hardened elsewhere in Europe. In Germany,
Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian prime minister, has said that
there was no place for "preachers of hate" and oppressors
of women. Immigrants must accept German values. "To those
who don't accept this," he added, "all we can say
is, 'You picked the wrong country.'" Traditional small
"l" liberals have changed. Helmut Schmidt, the highly
regarded former chancellor, has even said that the decision
to invite guest workers to Germany in the 1960s was a mistake.
German TV has broadcast a secret recording of an imam in a
German mosque telling his worshippers that Germans would "burn
in hell" because they are unbelievers.
In France, which has 5m Muslims, the highest number in Europe,
the government has changed laws that inhibit its policy of
zero tolerance to radical Islam. When the courts overturned
a decision to expel an Algerian cleric who had preached the
stoning of women, the law was amended and he was on the next
Denmark introduced new citizenship rules last year. These
delay refugees' eligibility for permanent residence permits
from three years to seven years. Spouses who come from abroad
are deported if they divorce within seven years. The pair
must also be judged to have ties with Denmark exceeding those
to any other country.
These changes can have a direct effect on other countries,
Britain included. When the Danes cut back hard on immigrants
and asylum seekers the number of asylum seekers fell
from 14,347 in 1993 to 3,500 in 2003 "pass the
parcel" complaints came from Sweden and Norway. Somalis,
for example, who say they feel bullied by the Dutch "forced
assimilation" policy, have been leaving Rotterdam and
Tilburg in numbers and resettling in Leicester and Birmingham.
In Britain, immigration policy is a mess. That, at least,
is how the public sees it. In a poll this month, 77% disagreed
that the government had the situation under control, 75% said
there were too many immigrants, and 74% did not think the
government was "open and honest". It is not surprising
that there is confusion.
One headline this month said that Tony Blair was "to
set tough new tests for migrants"; a week later, Charles
Clarke, the home secretary, said that "we want more migration,
more people coming to study, to work, to look for refuge".
Public cynicism on figures seems well founded. The Home Office
puts the number of Somali "principal applicants"
at 18,050 in the three years to 2003, making them the largest
national group applying for asylum. The figure applies to
the individual making the application, usually the head of
It gives little indication of the real numbers of Somalis
Not giving totals and age groups breeds speculation. If the
average Somali woman has 6.9 children, and the British 1.66,
which they do, does that not mean that the wives of the 18,000
applicants will produce 124,000 children? And if gross domestic
product per capita in Somalia is $500 (£265), and in
Britain $27,700 (£14,700), which they are, isn't the
whole of Somalia going to arrive at Dover? Neither scenario
is remotely likely, but lack of openness makes for dark interpretations.
And what of the EU? "Migration has to be managed at
a European level," Aboutaleb says. "But there is
no common sense on asylum or illegals," he adds. Because
EU passports are recognised throughout the union, the action
of one country in accepting or refusing migrants
Aboutaleb cites Spain as an example. In 2000, it had an amnesty
of 250,000 sin papeles (illegals). This month, at a time of
increasing controls elsewhere, it announced another amnesty.
"Spain has perhaps a million illegals, in agriculture
and construction," Aboutaleb says. "The moment they
get an EU passport, they can move all over Europe."
Fears that other countries would be affected have been confirmed.
Within a few days, 10,000 illegals from other countries who
hoped to benefit from the amnesty, many with false papers
showing Spanish addresses, were turned back by Spanish border
EU unity stoops to farce at Oresund, where post-PC Denmark
faces still-PC Sweden across a "love bridge". Couples
who do not meet Denmark's strict residence requirements live
in Sweden, and cross the bridge each day to work and catch
up with friends. And where the British government claims its
hands are tied by laws and treaties, Bertel Haarder, the Danish
minister for refugees, immigrants and integration, says his
government is on track to drastically limit the number of
immigrants "without having infringed upon international
Yet the EU pursues its own agenda. Vladimir Spidla, the labour
and social affairs commissioner in Brussels, claimed this
month that rising age levels mean that Europe "needs
to accept large numbers of economic migrants. Naturally, if
you only look at the next two weeks, things look different.
But in the EU we have to work on the long term and we definitely
That may make him at one with Charles Clarke. But it puts
him at loggerheads with large numbers of Germans, Dutch, Danes,
French, and, according to this month's opinion poll, British.
Opacity is an EU hallmark. Its Monitoring Centre on Racism
and Xenophobia commissioned a report to analyse who was behind
a wave of anti-Semitic attacks in 2002. When it found that
most of the perpetrators were young Muslims of Arab descent,
and "were only seldom from the extreme-right milieu",
its methodology was questioned and it was shelved. Not much
stomach for debate there.
The Dutch may be drawing the wrong conclusions, but they
are surely right to be asking the questions. Western Europe
is undergoing the largest population shift since the 7th and
8th centuries. This is happening just as the advent of a federal
Europe, and the decline of traditional faith, are already
straining its old identity.
Is the EU part of the problem, or should it impose a solution?
Some say that it is undermining the validity of the nation
state, without creating a coherent alternative. The EU is
fine for the elimination of customs barriers, but can it cope
with more? "Europe has no cultural or political identity,"
argues Shmuel Trigano, a professor at the University of Paris-Nanterre.
"Nor does it have common values.
Its capital in Brussels is only an administrative and bureaucratic
centre." The crisis in European identity, he has written,
is likely to have "unforeseen and profound consequences".
Confusion abounds on issues with historic implications. The
European Commission recently recommended that talks for Turkish
membership of the EU should go ahead. Yet Valery Giscard d'Estaing,
the chief architect of the proposed EU constitution, opposed
this on the precise grounds that it was "incompatible
with European culture, which is Christian".
Or was Christian. Europeans have largely opted out of Christendom
at the time of both a new federalism and a Muslim challenge.
The number of French who say they attend church regularly
has shrunk to 7.7%. Though 90% of Italians call themselves
Catholic, fewer than 30% go to Mass. In Spain, only 14% of
young Spaniards are churchgoers, a 50% decline in less than
four years. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of
Westminster, has said that Christianity in Britain is "almost
Cardinal Adrianis Simonis of Utrecht believes that the "spiritual
vacuity" of Dutch society has left the Netherlands open
to an Islamic cultural takeover. "Today we have discovered
that we are disarmed in the face of the Islamic danger,"
he said recently. He linked this to "the spectacle of
extreme moral decadence and spiritual decline" that Europe
offered to young people.
"Political leaders ask whether the Muslims will accept
our values," he said. "I ask, 'What values are those?
Gay marriage? Euthanasia?'" The cardinal said that the
time when Christians "would fight and die for their faith"
were long past, but he hoped "tragic acts" like
the van Gogh murder "will force us to recover our identity".
The Vatican has spoken of an "inquisition" taking
place against religiosity in Europe. In Spain, José
Zapatero's socialist party is engaged in a running battle
with the Church. He has made religious education optional,
and eased divorce laws, and loosened limits on abortion. A
law allowing same-sex marriages and adoptions by gay parents
is scheduled to be passed this spring.
The Pope has accused the Spanish government of promoting
"scorn and ignorance" towards religion, and added
that its "permissive morality" would damage the
"imprint of Catholic faith in Spanish culture and restrict
religious liberty". There is an irony to this. Zapatero
owed much of his unexpected poll victory to the Moroccan bombers
who killed 190 people on Madrid trains last March. Electors
rounded on the Conservative government for mishandling the
The bombers claimed their handiwork was revenge, not only
for Spanish troops in Iraq, but also for the loss of Al-Andalus
(Andalusia) five centuries ago. Zapatero duly withdrew the
troops, and granted privileges to Spain's new mosques.
Is Europe giving way to blackmail? The question was raised
in Germany last month by an article in Die Welt, the country's
most heavyweight paper, by Mathias Dúpfner, head of
the big Axel Springer publishing group. He titled it Europe
Thy Name Is Cowardice. He said that a crusade is under
way "by fanatic Muslims, focused on civilians, directed
against our free, open western societies" that is set
upon the "utter destruction" of western civilisation.
This enemy, he said, was spurred on by "tolerance"
and "accommodation", which were taken as signs of
weakness. Europe's supine response, he said, was on a par
with the appeasement of Hitler.