Europe’s angry young Muslims – 2/3

Europe is home to a new generation of alienated young Muslims whose anger may turn to radicalism, the BBC’s Islamic affairs analyst Roger Hardy finds in a three-part series.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

Part two asks whether the Netherlands’ renowned tolerance has failed when it comes to its Muslim population.

Nabil is 26 and has spent half his life in Morocco and the other half in the Netherlands. He speaks good English and, by all accounts, excellent Dutch. He listens to jazz, has a taste for natty suits, and is proud of his silver taxi.

Nabil and his wife Kareema are a case-study in integration and its challenges.

In an immigrant area of Amsterdam, Nabil shows me the school that was attended by Mohammed Bouyeri. He’s the young Dutch-Moroccan currently serving a life sentence for the killing in 2004 of a film-maker and outspoken critic of Islam, Theo van Gogh.

Controversy over Islam and immigration had been simmering even before the killing. But the event plunged the country into an often bitter debate about how to integrate Muslims – especially young Moroccan Muslims – into Dutch society.

As public opinion hardened, suddenly the Netherlands no longer looked the nice, liberal little place it had always seemed.

New identities

Nabil condemns the killing of Van Gogh – but asks why he and other Muslims should be held somehow responsible for Bouyeri’s actions.

His wife Kareema remembers the critical comments of customers in the shop where she works. The word “Moroccan” was uttered as an accusation – even though she’s Dutch born-and-bred.

Young Muslims growing up in the Netherlands are finding different ways of creating new identities.

Some use music to give voice to their frustrations. There’s a lively Moroccan rap music scene – part of a vibrant and essentially secular youth culture. Yet when you ask young rappers if they are Muslim, they unhesitatingly reply they are.

In sharp contrast, some youngsters turn to an austerely conservative Islam.

Nabil drives me to a mosque in The Hague whose Syrian imam is attracting the young in large numbers.

The mosque is multi-ethnic: its message is that Islam transcends ethnicity, creating an international brotherhood – and sisterhood.

Nabil, who had not struck me as particularly religious, is impressed by the warm atmosphere and the imam’s simple message.

The young need direction, he tells me, perhaps thinking of Bouyeri or of young Moroccans who get caught up in crime and drugs.

Muslims, gays, cartoons

I meet two contrasting political figures.

Marco Pastors is a well-known figure on the right. He sees himself as the political heir of Pim Fortuyn – the maverick and openly gay politician killed in 2002 by an animal rights activist.

Like Fortuyn, Pastors insists Muslims who want to live in the Netherlands must fully accept its traditions and values – and that includes accepting homosexuality.

A Turkish Muslim group has in fact opened a dialogue with Dutch gays – but for most conservative Muslims that’s a step too far.

Pastors strongly supports the European newspaper editors who published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed – an event which sparked a wave of Muslim protest in Europe and elsewhere.

I also meet one of the country’s seven Muslim MPs. Britain, in contrast, has four. France has none.

Turkish-born Nebahat Albayrak is on the liberal left. She worries about a new generation of Muslims growing up without hope.

The problem, she says, is that the Dutch have never seen themselves as a society of immigration.

So is the Netherlands’ famous tolerance only superficial?

Young Dutch Muslims like Nabil and Kareema work hard, speak Dutch and are in many ways integrated – yet they don’t feel accepted in the country that’s now their home.

Part two of Roger Hardy’s series “Europe’s Angry Young Muslims” is broadcast on the BBC World Service on 15 March.

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Mar. 14, 2006

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday March 14, 2006.
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