THE HAGUE: A Dutch-Moroccan, one of the first Muslim cabinet ministers in Europe, said yesterday he hopes he is blazing a trail for others, but said Muslims must do more to dispel fears stoked by militant Islamists.
Ahmed Aboutaleb and Turkish-born Nebahat Albayrak became the first Muslims in the Dutch cabinet last month as they took up posts as junior ministers for social affairs and justice.
Their appointment sparked a fierce debate on dual nationality as anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders questioned their loyalty to the Netherlands as Aboutaleb still has Moroccan nationality and Albayrak holds a Turkish passport.
Aboutaleb, the son of an imam who moved to the Netherlands when he was 15, said Wilders’ prime concern was not dual nationality but race and religion.
“The real agenda of Mr Wilders … is that he didn’t want Muslims in the cabinet,” Aboutaleb told a meeting with foreign journalists. “What is really in the back of his mind is that Muslims are untrustworthy by definition.”
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Aboutaleb, 45, said he wanted to be buried in the Netherlands, but even if Morocco would let him renounce his nationality, it would not be enough for Wilders, who would then demand that he should “burn the Holy Qur’an in public”.
Aboutaleb, a member of the centre-left Labour party who made his name as deputy mayor in the capital Amsterdam, said he saw himself as a front-line soldier who was used to fighting.
“Throughout history and in all societies front-runners were always attacked and sometimes even eliminated. That is the price you pay in an emancipation movement to open doors for the following generations,” he said.
He said Jews who fled to the Netherlands in the 16th century suffered more than Muslim workers who came in the 1970s, but had eventually been accepted by Dutch society to become prominent thinkers, scientists and politicians.
Aboutaleb said Muslims in the Netherlands – who now make up about 6% of the population – needed to do more to address Dutch fears of radicalism, particularly after an Islamist militant murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004.
“Obviously the Muslim community hasn’t taken away concerns,” he said. “It must grow up quickly and stand on its own feet to lead debate at the right level and to take away fears.”
He also appealed to the Dutch political elite to conduct a responsible discussion about immigration, integration and the further enlargement of the European Union, noting that the country was built on open borders, trade and diversity.
“Dutch society in general must decide whether Muslims belong in Europe or not,” he said, adding he had had fears for his own personal safety in recent weeks.