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  • August 2009 : Islam in the public debate

Geert Wilders’ Popular People’s Party (PVV) and the Conservative Liberal Party (VVD) have initiated a debate about women wearing the burqa or niqab. It is perceived as a sign of lack of integration (or even refusal to integrate), demeaning to women, and a threat to safety in the public domain. All these themes are also important in the larger debate on Islam. In 2003, the Ministry of Education prepared an optional functional dress guideline, but in 2005, parliament supported a resolution to ban the public use of the burqa. The cities of Amsterdam and Utrecht have proposed cutting social benefits to unemployed women wearing a burqa, on the grounds that it makes them unemployable in a non-Muslim country.
In 2008, members of the Netherland’s Christian Democrat, Labor, and Conservative parties wanted to cut government funding for organisations affiliated with "the Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen" and to thoroughly investigate the activities of the Gülen movement deemed to be radical. According to the movement itself, its aim is to bring out the universal mission of Islam which is to serve people regardless of faith, colour, or national origin.
In February 2009 Wilders was invited to show his movie Fitna in the Palace of Westminster but was refused access to the UK on the basis that he was considered a threat to public safety. Wilders went nevertheless but was detained and sent back. The event was highly criticised both by supporters and opponents of Wilders and the Dutch government. The decision to ban him was overturned and he visited the UK in the autumn.
Wilders’ film Fitna and his anti-Islamic comments led several Muslim organisations, the Dutch anti-discrimination group The Netherlands Shows Its Colors and others to take legal action in 2007. Their attempts to prosecute Wilders under Dutch anti-hate speech laws, in June 2008, failed. The public prosecuter stated that Wilders’ comments contributed to the debate on Islam in Dutch society and also had been made outside parliament. "That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable. Freedom of expression fulfils an essential role in public debate in a democratic society. That means that offensive comments can be made in a political debate." The decision not to prosecute was overturned in January 2009. The judges argued that "in a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to... draw a clear line" and that "the court also considers appropriate criminal prosecution for insulting Muslim worshippers because of comparisons between Islam and Nazism made by Wilders".
Following the debates in the UK, a debate was launched in June 2009 about the presence of ‘shari’a courts’ in the Netherlands. After a Dutch television programme reported that shari’a justice is also being practised in the Netherlands, for example with regard to informal marriages, several politicians and opinion leaders took up the issue and pleaded for zero tolerance towards the application of ‘shari’a courts’. Leiden University and Radboud University Nijmegen will conduct a research into the matter of the prevalence, and if so, practices of Islamic arbitration. Also in 2009, an explorative research concerning informal Islamic marriages was conducted. Reliable figures on the prevalence of such marriages could not be given although an increase is observed. According to the report this is related to an increased religiosity and fundamentalism but also to the general trend of informalisation of relationships. Respondents in the empirical study make very clear that Muslim marriages within mosques in the presence of an imam is decreasing.
Second generation, highly educated Moroccan-Dutch Muslims are worried about the perception of Islam among native Dutch people. More than Turkish-Dutch Muslims, the Moroccan-Dutch Muslims state that native Dutch people have a far too negative idea of Islam and lack respect for Islamic culture. This means that, in particular among Moroccan Dutch Muslims, the most integrated part of the group also has the most negative perception of Dutch society ; a phenomenon that can be described as the integration paradox. There are however also signs that the negative attitude towards Islam and Muslims (and migrants in general) among native Dutch may slowly be decreasing. On the other hand, research also shows that in 2007 more native Dutch people were convinced that Muslims easily resort to violence than previously.
Another debate has revolved around the newly appointed Muslim chaplains for the Dutch army. The Moroccan Dutch imam had, in the past, expressed severe criticism towards the Dutch prime minister and the Dutch mission in Afghanistan. His loyalty was questioned but he received support from the army and the Dutch minister of Defense and was appointed nevertheless.
In August 2009, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) fired the Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan for hosting a show on an Iranian television station, Press TV. Both the City of Rotterdam (for which he worked as an advisor) and Erasmus University dismissed Ramadan from his positions as "integration adviser" and professor, saying his program "Islam & Life" on Iran’s Press TV is "irreconcilable" with his duties in Rotterdam. According to the EUR, that could be seen as endorsing the regime. Ramadan had already been criticized in the Dutch press and by Dutch politicians before for allegedly voicing more conservative views for Muslim audiences than he does in the West. In particular, his view on homosexuality caused a stir after it was picked up by a Dutch special interest group focusing on homosexuals.

D 8 octobre 2018    AMartijn de Koning

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