THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Moroccan immigrant was installed Monday as mayor of Rotterdam, the Netherlands’ second largest city, in a move hailed as a significant step for the integration of minorities in the European Union nation.
Ahmed Aboutaleb, who has dual Dutch-Moroccan citizenship, is the first Moroccan-born immigrant to be appointed a Dutch mayor. Some have compared his achievement to that of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.
“Obama on the Maas … is maybe going a bit far,” said Jan Franssen, the Dutch queen’s representative for South Holland province, referring to the river that runs through Rotterdam. “But the significance is great. This proves that there is no glass ceiling for immigrants in the Netherlands.”
Accepting his new position, Aboutaleb immediately signaled he would work to tackle tensions between the city’s historically white Christian population and its growing Islamic immigrant community.
“Many people feel insecure in a world in which everything is changing,” Aboutaleb told aldermen at City Hall.
“There are no more jobs for life. Money can evaporate, churches disappear, mosques appear,” he said. “We must not make light of these feelings of fear and insecurity. I certainly won’t.”
Aboutaleb, a 47-year-old former journalist, resigned as deputy minister for social affairs in Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s government to take over in Rotterdam, which with 585,000 people has the largest proportion of immigrants of any major Dutch city.
It also was the power base of firebrand politician Pim Fortuyn, who rose to prominence on the back of his fierce criticism of Islam and was murdered in 2002 on the eve of national elections.
Before joining the national government in 2007, Aboutaleb was an alderman in Amsterdam, where he made his mark in the tumultuous aftermath of another murder — the brutal 2004 slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamist extremist.
With tensions soaring and anger toward the city’s large Moroccan and Turkish immigrant populations rising, Aboutaleb went to one of the city’s most prominent mosques with a blunt message for worshippers: integrate or leave.
There were 945,000 Muslims living in the Netherlands on 1 January this year, double the amount in 1990, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) said on Monday. The number is expected to reach 1 million in 2006.
The increase in the number of Muslims is due to both Immigration and natural population growth and the CBS said 38 percent of the non-western Muslims is second generation immigrants. This percentage has increased in the past six years.
Most Muslims live in the Amsterdam region, with 13 percent of the population Islamic. This is followed by The Hague (11.4) and Rotterdam (10.2), while in Friesland and Drenthe, the Islamic community makes up less than 2 percent of the population.
However, in October 2007, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported:
According to the latest figures issued by Statistics Netherlands, approximately 5 percent of the Dutch population, i.e. 850 thousand persons, were followers of Islam in 2006.
Statistics Netherlands has recently begun to use survey data to estimate the number of Muslims in the Netherlands. This switch leads to more reliable estimates than the calculation method employed so far. In the survey, people themselves report what religious denomination they belong to and Islam is one of the options. The new estimates result in a smaller Muslim population. According to the old calculation method, the Muslim population in the Netherlands had crossed the 1 million mark in 2006.