The Telegraph (England), Jan. 24, 2003
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Rotterdam
Pouring out of Rotterdam’s Al-Nasr mosque after prayers yesterday, Arabs and Berbers were ecstatic over the crushing defeat meted out to Pim Fortuyn’s anti-Islamic party.
One let out a huge sigh of relief. “Very good,” he said in mixture of broken Dutch and French before hurrying off to the Oude West, a sprawling Muslim city to the west of Rotterdam, the world’s biggest port, where headscarves are de rigeur for women – brightly coloured for Turks, sombre for North Africans.
The mosque is a red brick edifice that blends into the Dutch cityscape in contrast to a garish greeny-pink mosque with towering minarets nearby built by Turks. An Islamic slaughterhouse is across the road.
None cared to linger with a snooping foreigner but the mood was far less hostile than last May when the Fortuyn movement had just stormed to second place in the Dutch parliament, sending shivers through Holland‘s one million Muslims. Then strangers were ushered straight out of the door.
Al-Nasr mosque is under close surveillance by police. It was their firebrand imam, Khalil el-Moumni, who set off the political whirlwind 18 months ago by calling Europeans “lower than pigs” for tolerating homosexuality.
His sermons encouraged Dutch Muslims to beat their wives for disobedience, in breach of Dutch law, prompting a criminal inquiry.
His comments also prompted the homosexual Pim Fortuyn to declare cultural war in defence of Holland’s easy going way of life, though Fortuyn had no inkling that his quixotic challenge would set off an earthquake and lead to his own assassination last May.
Jan Peter Balkenende, Christian Democrat prime minister, clinched a narrow victory over a revived Labour party, winning 44 seats in the 150-member parliament. Labour took 42 while the liberal VVD was third, winning 28 seats. Commentators say a grand coalition between the two is a possibility.
Marianne Vorthoren, a Muslim convert who now works for the Rotterdam Platform of Islamic Organisations, said the city’s Muslims were rejoicing that the Fortuyn List had been slashed from 26 to eight seats.
“We’re very happy at the result but the anti-immigrant mood is still there and it’s now out in the open. Two years ago you couldn’t say ‘the Netherlands is full’ because you’d be prosecuted for racism but now you can say anything you want about Muslims. We thought we were accepted but apparently we’re not,” she said.
Xinos Nicolakos, spokesman for Rotterdam’s umbrella group of ethnic minorities, said Holland was on a knife-edge. “It’s dangerous out there because discrimination can get out of control so easily once it starts.
“What’s happening is beginning to feel like the 1930s when the Jews were scapegoated for the Depression, except this time it’s the Muslims.”
At the Rotterdam Stadhuis, where visitors are greeted by a statue of Winston Churchill in the garb of a Roman consul, Ronald Sorensen, the Fortuyn movement’s local leader, said his party was the real winner, even if it had proved itself unfit for office during its 87 days in government.
“We had a problem with the 25 lunatics on the list below Pim Fortuyn. They quarrelled so much they spent their time wanting to punch each other on the nose instead of thinking about their jobs,” he said.
“But it doesn’t matter because everybody else has taken over our policies. They may get the power but we win political debate: multi-culturalism in the Netherlands is finished.”