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AMSTERDAM — Two weeks after the brutal slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, many Dutch are saying their normally staid society has been transformed just as the United States was altered by the September 11 attacks.
Polls taken in the hours immediately after Mr. van Gogh was fatally shot and nearly beheaded showed that 80 percent of Netherlands residents think their country has been changed forever.
The change is not immediately evident in the quiet East Amsterdam neighborhood where the killing took place. The police tape and markings have been removed, as have the piles of memorial flowers that covered the sidewalk in front of the BCC appliance store, where Mr. van Gogh drew his last breaths.
“A few days after he was killed, everyone was looking at everyone suspiciously,” said Kim Fischer, a 23-year-old art student, as she perched on her bicycle outside a marijuana shop in the “ethnic” neighborhood, not unlike Washington’s Adams Morgan.
“The atmosphere is a bit down now, but it might be because it is the beginning of winter,” she said.
Cennet Gogen, a Muslim woman shopping at an outdoor market in the area, agreed.
“The killing was terrible. It was terrible. Yes, [Mr. van Gogh] was insulting, but that was his opinion,” she said, adjusting her head scarf.
Mr. van Gogh was killed in apparent retaliation for the release of a film that harshly criticized the treatment of women by Muslims. An Islamic extremist has been arrested in the slaying.
The Nov. 2 killing of the filmmaker, newspaper columnist and social commentator is still daily fodder for Dutch television and magazines, and leading politicians including Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm have called the slaying a declaration of war.
Opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of citizens favor a crackdown on Muslim extremists, who are estimated to number as many as 50,000 in the country.
“It was a great shock. A wake-up call,” said Theo Kwakman, a construction foreman restoring an ancient building along the old Warmoesstraat. “I’m afraid that there will be more Muslims here soon than Christians.
“I don’t worry about the atheists. They won’t do anything. [Muslims] are not all bad. But … I’m afraid someday one of the tunnels [into Amsterdam] will be blown up.”
The main suspect in the killing is Muhammad Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch citizen of Moroccan origin who is now in police custody.
Witnesses said Mr. Bouyeri shot Mr. van Gogh eight or nine times as he begged for his life, then slit his throat and pinned a five-page declaration to Mr. van Gogh’s chest with the knife.
The declaration called for Muslims to rise up against the “infidel enemies” and threatened death to several politicians, including the Jewish mayor of Amsterdam, all of whom have taken on security guards or gone into hiding.
At least six associates of Mr. Bouyeri are being held as accomplices, and police are investigating the group’s ties to several terrorist incidents. These include May 2003 bombing attacks in Casablanca, Morocco, that killed 45 persons; a series of bombs in Madrid in March that killed about 200; and planned attacks on Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and the European soccer championship over the summer.
Police also are seeking a Syrian who is thought to be the mastermind of the so-called “Hofstad Network.”
Mr. van Gogh was never fond of Muslims and regularly had referred to them by a name that accused them of bestiality with goats. He worked with Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born ex-Muslim who sometimes refers to the prophet Muhammad as a pervert and child abuser.
Together, the two made a film released in August titled “Submission,” which depicted Muslim women being abused by their husbands. The film infuriated devout Muslims by showing a naked women with verses of the Koran superimposed on her body.
The killing unleashed a torrent of pent-up Dutch anger at the Muslim community, and in the two weeks since, there have been at least 20 attempted fire bombings or arson attacks on mosques and Muslim schools. A smaller number of churches have been attacked in retaliation.
In the middle are people like Helga Bischop, a 33-year-old vocational-school teacher of mixed white and Surinamese background.
Mr. van Gogh was “rude and insulting,” she said. “But we are a democracy with freedom of speech. It is important in our nation to be able to speak out loud your opinion. You shouldn’t be shot even if you are rude.
“When you see it on the television news, it looks like we are at war,” Miss Bischop said. “But I don’t see that around me. I think it is isolated incidents. And I think politicians are using this now for their own purposes.”
On the day Mr. van Gogh was killed, parliamentarians in The Hague rushed to introduce tough new immigration and asylum laws that would give police surveillance powers that are far more invasive than anything in the United States.
“We are in a very disturbing period of Dutch history,” said Eduard Nazarski, director of the Dutch Refugee Council.
“Reaction has been strong on both sides, and politicians are trying to show they have the answers with extreme solutions. It feels stronger and more intense than after the death of Pim Fortuyn,” he said, the Netherland’s first anti-immigration politician who was assassinated in 2002 by an environmentalist.
Mr. Fortuyn was voted the Netherlands’ most important historical figure this week in a poll run by a television show, beating William of Orange who became king of England, scholar Desiderius Erasmus and painters Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt.
Muslims now make up about 5 percent of the Netherlands’ 16 million people. About 300,000 are Moroccans, and another 300,000 are Turks, many of whom came as “guest workers” and never went home. They now call the Netherlands their home, and many of their children have full Dutch citizenship.
Police and security officials will not say how many Muslims are involved in extremism, but a Dutch intelligence report from the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) said there may be as many as 50,000 Muslims sympathetic to extremist ideas.
That is far too many for the comfort of many Dutch residents. Past polls repeatedly have shown that about 50 percent of the “native” Dutch think their country has too many foreigners of any kind — but particularly Moroccan and Turkish Muslims.
The government announced earlier this year that it would deport about 26,000 immigrants whose applications for asylum in the Netherlands had been rejected. It subsequently offered a sum of $7,200 per family to any such asylum-seekers who left voluntarily.
“The Dutch like to see themselves as tolerant and they tell themselves that they are over and over, but new immigrants here have always paid a price before being recognized,” said Jan Rath, a professor of immigration and ethnic studies at the University of Amsterdam.
“When the Jews arrived, they had a very hard time, and the Indonesians were considered scum. The Italians and Indonesians are now considered model immigrants.”
Many Moroccans and Turks are devout practitioners of Islam, in contrast to the Dutch, whose churches are almost empty.
And their numbers are mushrooming.
“If immigrants arrive and gravitate to a particular neighborhood and wear a different hat or head scarf, in the United States, that is OK, but in the Netherlands, it is considered a problem,” said Mr. Rath.
Geert Wilders, the most outspoken advocate of restricting immigration and the heir apparent to Mr. Fortuyn, has shed his pariah status virtually overnight and now has about 20 backers in the 150-member Dutch parliament.
“Ninety percent of our prison population is immigrants, they are the most dependent on our social schemes, they are non-Western and not speaking our language,” Mr. Wilders said in his office, where he is carefully watched by security guards since radical Islamic Web sites posted his picture and called for his beheading.
“Let me be honest, I’m talking about non-Western immigrants,” he said. “Islam is fascist.”
Nabil Maroush, chairman of the Arab European League-Netherlands, said his organization has condemned the van Gogh murder and calls for Muslims to act as responsible citizens.
But, he said, irrational fear of terrorism has made “life a lot more difficult for the sons and daughters of immigrants,” who are being discriminated against daily.
“There is a lot of fear being spread by politicians right now,” he said. “The weakest kid in a school will always be bullied, and we are the weakest part of Dutch society.”
Still, there are many who want to try to judge others by their actions rather than their religion, such as Natalie, a young woman who walked down the Warmoesstraat this week and stopped to contemplate the Theo van Gogh memorial.
“Everyone is in shock — the Muslims and the real Dutch people,” said the woman, who declined to give her last name. “I think if you come to the Netherlands, you should follow the Netherlands rules.
“There is a big group of Turks and Moroccans who are well-integrated, with good jobs, their children go to school and the speak Dutch, and they should not be judged with the crazies, on either side. There are a lot of good people,” she said.
“It’s just a small group [who are bad]. We have to live together.”
Expatica, Nov. 18
Expatica, Nov. 18
AMSTERDAM — Independent politician Geert Wilders would win 24 seats if a general election was held in the Netherlands now, according to a new poll. Wilders broke away from the Liberals earlier this year when party elders tried to restrain his criticism of Islam and his opposition to Turkey’s entry into the EU.
Wilders has experienced a strong rise in support following the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam on 2 November.
A letter pinned to Van Gogh’s body with a knife warned Wilders and his former colleagues in the Liberal Party (VVD), Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Jozias Van Aartsen, that they would also be killed if they continued to criticise Islam.
An opinion poll released by NTS Nipo said Wilders would win 24 seats in the 150-seat Dutch Parliament if an election was held now. A poll last week said he could win up to 19 seats.
Wilder’s appears to be drawing much of his support from the VVD, with the NTS Nipo poll suggesting the Liberals would lose seven of its 28 seats. VVD voters questioned said they trusted Wilders more than the Liberal politicians to deal with Islamic extremism and terrorism.
The VVD is in a coalition government with Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s Christian Democrat Party (CDA), and smaller Liberal Democrat Party D66.
The latest poll indicates Wilders is also syphoning support from the CDA, as Balkenende’s party would drop from 45 to 25 seats if the country was balloted now.
The biggest winner would be the opposition Labour Party (PvdA), with the opinion poll predicting the party would win 45 seats.
The smaller Socialist Party, which traditionally does better in opinion polls than at the ballot box, would jump from seven to 15 seats, NTS Nipo said.
(Posted on November 19, 2004)