REFLECTIONS FROM THE NETHERLANDS
By Aamir Aziz
Monday, August 22, 2011.
The festive beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in the year 1432 AH had a violent prelude in Europe when Anders Behring Breivik, a 32 years old Norwegian person killed 77 people in his home country on 22nd of July 2011. Apparently, the incident was a lunatic’s trigger-happy individual act which was perpetrated to unleash his medieval version of knighthood against the triple onslaught of cultural Marxism, multiculturalism and Muslim immigration upon European civilization. A fifteen hundred page document, released on the web prior to the doing of this bloody deed by the accused, in no way links the script’s authorship to the brain of a lunatic as on numerous instances he shows expressed love for the strains of far-rightism in Europe against Islam and selective treatment towards Muslims by the fundamentalist cults of India and stringent immigration policies of Korea and Japan for the immigrants. The act was unquestionably a very strong statement against the lenient policies of his government towards immigration and he exacted the vengeance upon the people who acquiesced to a tolerant and plural vision of European society.
This incident in Norway links its effect to the socio-political milieu of the Netherlands, in a very pronounced way. The Dutch had been a colonial power in the past and after the Second World War, their past returned to present when immigrants from former colonies like Indonesia and Surinam came here. The European rebuilding phase opened doors of the country for the Moroccan and Turk immigrants (mostly peasant class of laborers) in late 1960s and 1970s. Therefore Islamic values, folded in the national cultural norms of the respective countries had their informal entry in Netherlands in that era.
These were the times of post industrial prosperity of Europe and recession of totalitarian secular movements of the past like Fascism, Nazism and Communism and the country went to speedily embrace secularism and free market liberal democracy with literally no space for church in the matters of state. There were 8 mosques in The Netherlands in early 1970s in contrast to over 450 today. This reveals an attitude of tolerance towards minority religious rights in the country. However, the things didn’t precipitate very smoothly in the cultural melting pot of a society which expected to host its immigrants for the short rebuilding phase to finally bid them good bye. The first generation Moroccans and the Turks saw it preferable to stay in Netherlands in view of better social welfare, living and labor provisions than those provided by their parent states. The family re-unions began to take place and the country altered its laws relating immigrants and minority rights and also accepted asylum seekers from world wide.
The next challenge was to strive for integration of new cultures in a nascent multicultural society. The first generation Moroccan and Turk immigrants, whose soul concern was better economic plight of their posterity and who were mostly uneducated, showed bare little interest in integrating with the host culture. Their second generation was born and raised in Netherlands but a great majority of them suffered to reconcile their parents’ predominantly Moroccan or Turkish Muslim identity with their identity vis a vis the country they were born in a complex phase of acculturation.
Therefore the smart few ventured to get liberal education and became fairly successful in integrating with the host culture by following an individual cultural mosaic model by borrowing good things from the dominant culture and retaining the good things they inherited from their parents’ culture. The rest had to contest a politics of recognition and they felt more comfortable in a transnational Muslim identity which greeted them in the public space and in the mosque. From there, the impressionistic effects of Salafism, as the Dutch antiterrorism activists observe, went to radicalize the second generation youth of primarily Muslim identity.
The notorious Hofstad group is an example of radical youth groups in the country. In a so called pre 9/11 world, the Dutch society was serious enough to invest a lot to integrate its immigrant population to the mainstream. However after the events of 9/11 and murder of film maker Theo van Gogh at the hands of a Muslim radical youth Muhammad Bouyari; the discourse in the society against radicalism and anti-immigration got a profound acceptance to bring to the surface far-rightist political demagogue like Geert Wilders whose pungent Islam phobic rhetoric in the political realm is slowly absorbing in the social realm which has so far been calm and free from avert instances of xenophobia.
This is in the shadow of the far rightist cults of hatred manifest in the vile politics of exclusion by the Eurocentric politicians and the individual acts of bloodshed in the Nordic Europe, that the Muslims in The Netherlands are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan which traditionally has been a very festive occasion having a plurality of representation, admiration and zeal by the local Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It’s reflected by the annual Ramadan Festival which is held every year since Theo van Gogh’s murder to express feelings of solidarity by the native Dutch people for Muslims.
This is this social space of tolerance and coexistence, which always gets threatened by the violent acts of individuals from either section of society or words by the politicians that injure and which leave a social multitude in a state of linguistic vulnerability. Therefore as the saying goes, “let us fight the culture of power with the power of culture,” we need to invest a lot on understanding each other’s social, cultural, religious and ethno-linguistic dynamics, to slim the differences and make forces of unilateralism and hate irrelevant and this opportunity is provided by no other occasion than the holy month of Ramadan with its blessings.
Aamir Aziz is an academic, journalist, translator and writer, who is originally from Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is currently a final year PhD fellow at the Department of English Language and Culture at Leiden University (LUICD) in The Netherlands.