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Holland: Trouble in a Multiculturalist Utopia By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

No one has ever suggested that Dutch filmmaker, columnist and self-described “buffoon” Theo van Gogh, who was murdered this month, was a particularly nice person. His libertine views were ecumenically anti-religious: He had bad words for Jesus, made fun of the Jews sent to Auschwitz, and called Muslims “goat-kissers.” Yet it was not a follower of Pat Robertson or a Hassidic Jew who shot him repeatedly and cut his throat in the center of Amsterdam on November 2, but a fanatical follower of what President Bush and others continue to call, without nuances, a “religion of peace”: Islam.

Holland is a country where drugs, euthanasia, and gay marriage are legal, and prostitutes and the military are unionized—simply put, a real country as close as possible to a liberal, tolerant, multiculturalist utopia on earth. And that, as the Dutch have belatedly discovered and become angry about, is precisely the problem. This belated anger—two years after the equally shocking assassination of gay, environmentalist, and equally libertine populist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn by an “animal rights” militant claiming to “protect” Muslims—explains the post-van Gogh attacks on Muslim schools and mosques (there have been retaliatory attacks against churches, as well) in a country famous for its strong distaste for argument. Add to that the fact that prior to Fortuyn there had been no political murder in the Netherlands since the 1584 assassination of Wilhelm of Orange, the nation’s founder, and one begins to understand why one murder in Amsterdam may have an even more profound impact on Dutch culture and behavior than 3,000 deaths in America on 9/11.

The Netherlands is by far the most densely populated country in Europe, if not the world. Hence Fortuyn observed that the country was “full.” But even so, it had, until quite recently, a very liberal immigration policy, which applied to former colonial subjects (mostly Surinamese and some Indonesians), but also to others who lacked historic or cultural claims to residence. Among these were Moroccans (some 300,000 out of Holland’s total Muslim population of about 900,000) and Turks. Unlike other European countries, there are few, if any, ethnic/religious ghettos in Holland—no French-style banlieus—and the welfare state works massively to the benefit of immigrants.


In fact, van Gogh’s murderer himself, 26-year-old Mohammed Bouyeri, was on welfare after voluntarily interrupting his studies in informatics. He was born in Holland, and while he spoke excellent Dutch, apparently he knew little Arabic: His “manifesto,” pinned with a knife on van Gogh’s chest, quoted the Dutch translation of the Quran. He enjoyed dual Moroccan and Dutch citizenship. Widely described as intelligent, he apparently became unhinged after 9/11 and more so after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He had a history of petty crime and a dysfunctional family, and was recruited by a radical imam, Mahmud El-Shershaby, a follower of the Tabligh movement, in the De Baarsjes neighborhood, a known center of Islamic radicalism. Following a path already becoming common in Europe—one followed by, among others, Zacharias Moussaoui, the French-born suspected 20th 9/11 terrorist—Bouyeri was also influenced by a high school buddy, Samir Azzouz, a failed would-be martyr arrested in Ukraine in 2002 while en route to Chechnya.


What was most upsetting to the Dutch public and Dutch politicians was the fact that this would-be martyr—Bouyeri expected to be killed by the police and had a rambling suicide note on his person when he was wounded and apprehended—was not a lone lunatic but part of an international terrorist network with links to Spain, Germany, Iraq, and Morocco. Indeed, according to Spanish counterterrorist judge Baltasar Garzón, one of the leaders of Bouyeri’s cell, 36-year-old Moroccan Abdeladim Akoudad, played "a leading role" in the Dutch terrorist organization known as the Hofstad Group. After the plot to attack the Dutch Parliament was uncovered, he provided logistical support for the Dutch cell. Meanwhile, one of Akoudad's contacts, Mouhsen Khaybar, has been active in supporting mujahedeen insurgents in Iraq, and appears to be linked to the infamous leader of the “al Qaeda Organization in Mesopotamia,” al Zarkawi. As for Samir Azzouz, he has been linked to Abdelaziz Benyaich, now jailed in Spain for his role in the Casablanca bombings of May 2003 and the March 11, 2004 Madrid bombings.


So Bouyeri was a little cog in a network covering three continents and some five countries. And that was just the Islamist angle; the shock of van Gogh’s assassination also pushed the Dutch authorities to decide to “discover” a training camp (yes, a “secret” training camp in an overcrowded country) operated by the Marxist/separatist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK, now renamed KONGRA-GEL). As the New York Times recently reported, “Turkey has long complained that the Netherlands and other European countries have been reluctant to crack down on PKK members operating on the Continent. Earlier this week, a Dutch court blocked the extradition of Nuriye Kesbir, a leader of the group, whom Turkey accuses of organizing and taking part in attacks from 1993 to 1995.”


The fallout from the Van Gogh murder continues. The leftist opposition and media are now accusing the center-right government of negligence (forgetting that, until two years ago, and for decades, they themselves were in power). Across most of the political spectrum, demands are being made for a further crackdown on (especially Muslim) immigration, an increase in the intelligence budget, the expulsion of radical imams, and the requirement that all citizens, imams included, learn Dutch. Common sense now seems to have become popular throughout the country.


Some practical steps taken earlier are already beginning to show results. Immigration reforms in the 1990s made it more difficult for settled Moroccan and Turkish men to bring "traditional" brides into the Netherlands by raising the minimum age of entry and requiring newcomers to learn Dutch. As a result, the national asylum centers organization, COA, plans to close 37 shelters due to the sharp drop in asylum applicants. In 2000, some 34,000 people applied for asylum in the Netherlands; in 2001, 25,000; and in 2002, 13,000.


As the Dutch seem now to realize, tolerance for the intolerant is suicide. The post-van Gogh Dutch awakening may be the beginning of a more general awakening in Europe and Canada, because what has suffered is not some “fascistic, right-wing conspiracy” to create a “xenophobic, racist, Islamophobic” state, but a way of life tailored by and for the “progressives.” There are some encouraging signs already, especially in neighboring Germany, where the left-wing government exhibits a new awareness of the problems raised by its 3.5 million Muslims and—a new development—admits that such problems are not the result of German “racism” but may have something to do with the immigrants themselves.

Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

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