With Coming Election, the Netherlands Considers a New Relationship to Muslims - nytimes
ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands — Like many Muslims, Ahmed Aboutaleb has been disturbed by the angry tenor of the Dutch election campaign. Far-right candidates have disparaged Islam, often depicting Muslims as outsiders unwilling to integrate into Dutch culture.
It is especially jarring for Mr. Aboutaleb, given that he is the mayor of the Netherlands’ second-largest city, Rotterdam; a fluent Dutch speaker; and one of the country’s most popular politicians. Nor is he alone: The speaker of the Dutch Parliament, Khadija Arib, is Muslim, although her party, the Labor Party, is expected to lose ground in the national elections on Wednesday. The Netherlands also has a burgeoning professional class of Muslims: social workers, journalists, comedians, entrepreneurs and bankers.
“There’s a feeling that if there are too many cultural influences from other parts of the world, then what does that mean for our Dutch traditions and culture?” said Mr. Aboutaleb, whose city is 15 percent to 20 percent Muslim and home to immigrants from 174 countries.
Wednesday’s elections will begin Europe’s year of political reckoning. The Dutch race, coming ahead of others in France, Germany and possibly Italy, will be the first test of Europe’s threshold for tolerance as populist parties rise by attacking the European Union and immigration, making nationalistic calls to preserve distinct local cultures.
It is an especially striking gauge of the strength of anti-establishment forces that such calls are falling on receptive ears even in the Netherlands, a country that for generations has seen successive waves of Muslim immigration. If anything, the Netherlands is a picture of relatively successful assimilation, especially when compared with nearby France or Belgium.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, one of the most stridently anti-Muslim politicians in Europe, recently described some Moroccans as “scum.” His Party for Freedom is expected to be one of three to receive the most votes, challenging the center-right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
If barriers exist, many Muslims — like Mr. Aboutaleb, 55, who arrived in this low-lying country from a mountain village in Morocco when he was a teenager, speaking hardly a word of Dutch — say that hard work is nonetheless rewarded. But Mr. Aboutaleb’s extraordinary success story, and sense that he was given many opportunities by the Netherlands, is more characteristic of an earlier generation. - Read More