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Cablegate: The Dutch Muslim Community: A Primer

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 THE HAGUE 002599

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM PINR PTER SOCI SCUL KISL NL KPAO
SUBJECT: THE DUTCH MUSLIM COMMUNITY: A PRIMER

THIS CABLE IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE HANDLE
ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Muslim community in the Netherlands
is the second largest in Europe as a percentage of total
population (5.8 percent). It is also one of the least-well
integrated and most alienated, and according to polls looks
less favorably on the United States than Muslim communities
elsewhere in Europe. Muslims in the Netherlands are
significantly poorer, less educated and more prone to arrest
than native Dutch. Their status has become the country's
most salient political issue and will be a key factor in
upcoming local and national elections. This cable examines
the Muslim community, discusses tensions between it and
traditional Dutch society, and assesses some of the social
and political consequences arising there from. END SUMMARY.

I. THE COMMUNITY
----------------

2. (SBU) The Muslim community in the Netherlands numbers
approximately 945,000. According to official GONL
statistics, the majority are relatively recent immigrant
""guest workers"" and their descendants from Turkey (365,000)
and Morocco (315,000). Other Muslim communities include
Iranians (29,000), Iraqis (44,000) and Somalis (22,000).
Unlike Turkish and Moroccan guest workers, most from these
smaller communities came to Holland seeking political
asylum.

RAPID GROWTH
------------

3. (SBU) Between 1970 and 1995, the number of Muslims living
in the Netherlands rose from a few thousand to 630,000, or
4.1 percent of the population. Most were poor, often from
rural areas of Turkey and Morocco. Chosen to work in
factory jobs, they tended to be uneducated and often
illiterate. Unlike many Muslim immigrants in Britain and
France, those who came to the Netherlands had no colonial
connection or historic ties to their new homes, and did not
speak the language. Assuming most would return to their
country of origin, the Dutch made few attempts to
incorporate them into society.

4. (SBU) Between 1995 and 2004, the number of Muslims rose
to 945,000, or 5.8 percent of the population. Although
fewer are immigrating for economic reasons today, the Muslim
population continues to rise, largely because of high
birthrates and the practice of Turkish and Moroccan
immigrants marrying partners from their countries of origin.
According to a September 20, 2005 report on integration in
the Netherlands compiled by the Dutch government, almost 90
percent of Turks and Moroccans marry spouses from their own
communities; of those, 60 percent bring partners from their
home countries.

5. (SBU) The Dutch define ""immigrants"" -- in Dutch,
""allochtonen"" -- to include actual immigrants and secondgeneration
descendants. Immigrants currently comprise
roughly 16 percent of the population; 5.8 percent of the
population is Muslim.

URBAN CONCENTRATION
-------------------

6. (SBU) The largest concentrations of Muslims live in poor,
segregated neighborhoods in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague
and Utrecht. A recent study characterized these
neighborhoods as deteriorating, with rampant social
problems. According to the Amsterdam City Council only 51
percent of those living in Amsterdam are ""native"" Dutch,
compared to 55 percent five years ago.

7. (SBU) The trend is similar in other big cities. The
population of Rotterdam is 621,000, of which 189,000 or 30
percent are considered minorities. The Hague's population
is 469,000, of which 35 percent or 166,000 are minority.
Utrecht's total population is 275,000, 24 percent of which
are minority residents. The fact that Muslim minority
populations are concentrated in cities has exacerbated
tensions with native Dutch in these communities. What the
Dutch term ""white flight"" is a disturbing trend in major
cities.

II. SOCIAL/POLITICAL ORGANIZATION
---------------------------------

8. (SBU) The Islamic community is served by an extensive
network of mosques and cultural centers, the majority of
which accommodate Turkish and Moroccan communities. Of the
country's 400 mosques, more than 200 serve Turks, some 140
serve Moroccans, and roughly 50 serve Surinamese. Mosques
and cultural centers fall under a national system of
subsidies that underwrites cultural activities, so nearly
all receive government funds. There is significant foreign
influence: almost all imams are foreign-born and many
mosques receive funds from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

9. (SBU) Most mosques are not controversial, but there are
exceptions. Dutch security services have at least five
under intense surveillance, including Al Fourqaan in
Eindhoven, As-Soennah in The Hague and Al Tawheed in
Amsterdam. The government has recently taken contentious
steps to limit the influence of such mosques, including
proposing that foreign imams be barred from preaching.
Last summer Immigration and Integration Minister Rita
Verdonk declared three imams in Eindhoven personae non grata
for allegedly recruiting members for extremist groups. The
three have been ordered to leave the country. One has done
so; the other two are appealing in court.

10. (SBU) Despite pressure from right-wing politicians, the
government has refrained from closing ""radical"" mosques.
Many believe such a step would be perceived as a serious
violation of Dutch religious tolerance. Also, during a
recent meeting with emboffs, National Counter-Terrorism
Coordinator Tjibbe Joustra said there is a debate on the
wisdom of expelling radical imams because doing so might
increase alienation and radicalization.

ISLAMIC SCHOOLS
---------------

11. (SBU) Under the Dutch education system, Muslim schools
are eligible for government funding, as are Catholic and
Protestant schools. Holland has 47 Islamic schools,
including two secondary schools, and there are applications
to open at least six more. The mainstream press regularly
publishes sensationalist articles that such schools blacken
their windows during Christmas, expunge references to the
Holocaust from their texts, and so forth. A representative
of the Islamic Schools Administrative Organization recently
asserted that Muslims are demanding Islamic schools because
of growing prejudice against the community, which ""feels
that it is put offside in Dutch Society and associates less
and less with available institutions."" Similarly, the
Turkish Embassy reports an increase in the number of Turkish
teenagers returning to Turkey for school to escape what they
view as growing anti-Muslim prejudice.

12. (SBU) Although many observers have expressed concern
that Islamic schools perpetuate segregation and alienation,
major political parties here are reluctant to cut funding
since doing so would threaten funding for all religiouslyaffiliated
institutions-- a mainstay of Dutch society.
Instead, schools with a high-percentage of non-native Dutch
students receive supplemental subsidies to help students
learn Dutch and to create a ""safe"" environment. Islamic
schools must meet the same curriculum criteria as any statefunded
school. Dutch classes are mandatory.

POLITICAL REPRESENTATION
------------------------

13. (SBU) There is no effective political representation of
the Dutch Muslim community on the national level. While
nine of the Second Chamber's 150 members are Muslim, none
speaks for a broader Muslim constituency, and none has
sought to play such a role. In part, this reflects the
Dutch political system, which discourages constituency-based
politics in favor of disciplined national parties. Party
leaders usually select parliamentary candidates for their
perceived electability and standing within the party, and
frown on members developing separate ethnic or regional
followings.

14. (SBU) On the local level, the situation is even more
striking. In the three large cities where Muslims are most
heavily concentrated, they are severely underrepresented.
Amsterdam has one Muslim alderman; The Hague and Rotterdam
have none. (The Amsterdam alderman - Ahmed Aboutaleb - is
the most popular politician among Dutch Muslims, according
to a recent survey). Mayors and other senior officials in
all three cities are non-Muslim. Despite large numbers of
potential voters in these cities, voter turnout among
Muslims is low.

15. (SBU) Groups within the Netherlands have periodically
floated the idea of starting a Dutch Islamic party. In a
recent poll of 500 Muslims, almost half believed an Islamic
political party was desirable, but most also said it would
be difficult for such a party to bridge the gap between
Holland's disparate Muslim communities. The Contact Body
for Muslims and Government is not a political party but as
an advisory body to the government, claims to represent 80
percent of the Muslim community. It acts as a sort of
public mouthpiece for the various Muslim communities and
dialogues with the national government on social and
political issues. The Dutch government does not keep
records on the voting patterns of individual ethnic or
religious groups in the Netherlands, so it is difficult to
say which of the mainstream parties is most popular among
the Muslim community.

III. SOCIAL FRICTIONS
---------------------

16. (SBU) Since the fall of 2001 and especially since the
November 2004 killing of Theo van Gogh, resentment of
Muslims and Islamic culture is increasingly apparent. The
Dutch public is moving toward the political right in their
response to Muslim issues, and their leaders are following
suit. Populist politician Pim Fortuyn, who was murdered in
2002, received broad support for his characterization of
Islam as ""a backward culture."" Other politicians such as
Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders regularly issue
provocative statements about Islam that stir outrage among
Muslims and pander to the prejudices of non-Muslims. While
mainstream political leaders continue to preach integration
rather than separation, nearly all have made tougher
integration policies and cracking down on religious
extremism part of their platform going into the next
elections.

17. (SBU) The two main pollsters in the Netherlands recently
wrote that ""fear of Islam and irritation about insufficient
integration of immigrants play a dominant brain position in
the heads of native Dutch. Whether we surveyed national
security issues, religious statements or political
preference, it appears again and again that negative
sentiment towards immigrants and Muslims have the upper
hand, and significantly influence behavior and opinion.""

18. (SBU) In January 2005 two-thirds of native Dutch polled
said they feared a terrorist attack by Muslim
fundamentalists. Asked about Muslims in general, roughly
one-third expressed negative opinions. Four in ten object
to Muslims bringing spouses from their home countries,
arguing that such immigration hampers the integration of
Muslims in the Netherlands.

SEGREGATION AND DISCRIMINATION
------------------------------

19. (SBU) For its part, the Muslim community convincingly
argues that ingrained segregation and discrimination are
facts of life in the Netherlands. In a June 2005 report
entitled ""Staying from Each Other's Turf"" the Dutch
government's Social and Cultural Planning Bureau found that
two-thirds of native Dutch have no contact with migrants
outside work -- either because they do not live in their
neighborhoods or because they deliberately avoid contact
with them.

20. (SBU) Seventy percent of Turks, 60 percent of Moroccans,
and 50 percent of Somalis have limited their social contacts
to their own communities. The government planning bureau
called it ""worrisome"" that Turks and Moroccans are
increasingly withdrawing into their own communities and have
less and less contact with ""white"" Dutch. The lack of
contact between communities in turn reduces incentives for
immigrants to learn Dutch and limits their ability to find
jobs. Feelings of resentment are not exclusive among the
lower and uneducated ethnic population, polls show that
those with higher incomes and better educations who do come
into regular contact with ""white"" Dutch also tend to have
the most negative opinion of Dutch society, as they are more
likely to experience direct discrimination on a regular
basis both in the workplace and socially (e.g., at bars and
clubs.)

21. (SBU) The education level of non-Western immigrants lags
significantly behind native Dutch, even though it has risen
noticeably in the past 15 years. In 2003, 15 percent of the
non-western immigrants had completed higher education
(including both college and university), compared to 25
percent of native Dutch. Participation of non-western
immigrant women is higher education rose more rapidly than
men. Of the non-Western immigrants more than 25 percent
completed only elementary school.

22. (SBU) A recent study found that among equally qualified
native Dutch and Moroccan students from mid-level vocational
training colleges, Moroccan students are 30 percent less
likely to be invited for apprentice interviews than native
Dutch students.

IV. SOCIAL/POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES
---------------------------------

23. (SBU) Social statistics paint a grim picture: sixteen
percent of the minority population is unemployed compared to
6 percent of the majority population; 25 percent receive
welfare benefits versus 13 percent of the majority
population and 29 percent live in poverty compared to 8
percent of native Dutch.

24. (SBU) Dutch society is only now coming to terms with the
fact that many of the nearly one million Muslims in the
Netherlands have poorly integrated. Even before the van
Gogh murder, many Dutch privately expressed frustration that
large segments of the Muslim and especially the Moroccan
community have been less successful at integrating into
Dutch society than previous immigrant groups. This
perception is supported by statistics; a recent INR poll,
for example, found that nearly 80 percent of Dutch Muslims
identified with their religion or ethnicity far more then
the Netherlands -- the highest percentage in Europe. Ethnic
minorities are also severely over represented in the crime
figures. Younger members of first-generation non-Western
ethnic minorities accounted for 35 percent of the prison
population in 2004. Not only does the lack of integration
lead to more criminal activity, it also helps perpetuate
stark social divides on issues such as the role of women,
homosexual rights, and corporal punishment.

25. (SBU) Polls reveal that half of the native Dutch
population and half of the Turks and Moroccans believe that
a Western lifestyle is incompatible with a Muslim lifestyle.
Native Dutch are primarily concerned about the position of
Muslim women, who they believe enjoy too few freedoms.
Turks and Moroccans are mainly bothered by the perceived
lack of respect for their cultures by native Dutch.

26. (SBU) There is growing support within the non-Muslim
community that integration should be mandatory rather than
voluntary. In this spirit, the Dutch are taking a number of
steps to force Muslims to integrate, including obligatory
language and integration courses for new immigrants.
Despite the fact that 90 percent of new immigrants complete
these courses, only 40 percent achieve sufficient language
level to find employment.

27. (SBU) The government has also tightened immigration
requirements to limit the prevailing practice of Muslims
bringing over partners from their home country. Labor and
management organizations have also been brought into the
discussion to improve the position of minorities on the
labor market and enhance employment opportunities.

POLITICAL OUTLOOK:
-----------------

28. (SBU) All major parties recognize that ""integration""
will be a major issue in the March 2006 local elections and
the May 2007 national vote. The government's approach to
integration -- which balances outreach to the Muslim
community with tougher immigration and anti-terrorism
legislation -- enjoys wide-spread support in parliament, but
has failed to resonate with the public at large. While it
is still early, there are indications that popular pressures
may drive most parties to the right on Muslim-related issues
during the election campaigns.

29. (SBU) Some politicians, such as Geert Wilders, advocate
significantly stronger measures, including a temporary ban
on immigration, deprivation of Dutch citizenship and
expulsion of immigrants who commit serious crimes or fail to
pass an integration exam. Less drastic, but also
controversial, is the proposal by Labor party opposition
leader Wouter Bos to link access to social benefits and
government services for immigrants to progress made
integrating into Dutch society; eligibility for such
benefits would be phased-in gradually rather than provided
on arrival as is currently the case.

30. (SBU) Toughening social and political attitudes towards
Muslims have not gone unnoticed by the Muslim community.
Approximately 3000 Dutch Turks returned to Turkey last year,
many claiming that they felt they no longer had a future in
Holland (although improving economic prospects in Turkey no
doubt also played a role.) This fall a more boisterous
opposition came in the form of 6,000 protestors from Muslim
organizations proclaiming, ""Enough is enough"" through the
streets of Amsterdam. In the long term Moroccans and Turks
may successfully integrate into Dutch society like the
Surinamese and Indonesians before them, but in the near term
feelings of alienation and mistrust continue to deepen and
fester.
Blakeman

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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