Dutch to Muslims: Do you really want to settle here?

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — The new test for foreigners who want to apply for Dutch residency is, well, very Dutch.

It features a DVD that illustrates various aspects of Dutch life, including, most notably, a topless woman frolicking in the surf and two men kissing warmly. The message couldn’t be more explicit: This is who we are; if you don’t accept it, don’t come.

Although the DVD doesn’t single out any particular group, the intended target of the message is clear. Growing numbers of conservative Muslim immigrants are seen by many Dutch as posing a threat to the Netherlands’ liberal consensus and easygoing lifestyle.

The Dutch are not alone. Britain and Germany are toying with the idea of citizenship tests that would examine cultural values of Muslim immigrants. In the wake of Sept. 11, the attacks in London and Madrid, and the Danish cartoon controversy, Europeans are struggling to come to grips with a widening culture gap between themselves and an increasingly alienated Muslim immigrant community.

For the Netherlands, with a Muslim population of 945,000, the tipping point was the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, shot and stabbed while riding his bicycle along an Amsterdam street in November 2004. The attacker, a Dutch-born Muslim of Moroccan descent, was enraged by a van Gogh film about mistreatment of women in Islamic societies.

The Dutch entrance exam, which became mandatory last month, has been praised by politicians who believe it is a good way of screening out people who are not suited to live in the Netherlands.

“It’s like the warning label on the cigarette packs,” said Marco Pastors, a Rotterdam city councilman whose Leefbaar Rotterdam Party has been labeled anti-Muslim for its support of strict immigration controls.

“It’s not very subtle, but it prepares people for what they will find in this country,” he said. “If you want to live here, you have to accept that girls are allowed to wear miniskirts and can stay out until 3 in the morning. You don’t have to behave this way yourself, but you have to tolerate it.”

Not everyone sees it this way. Mesut Disli, a community activist who came to Rotterdam from Turkey, said that while he accepted the need for an entrance exam, he considered the scenes of nudity and homosexuality to be gratuitously offensive.

“They [Dutch officials] know that according to Islam, nudity and homosexuality are taboo. They know the feelings of Muslims on this subject. So, indirectly, they are saying that we are not welcome,” he said.

Han Entzinger, a sociologist at Erasmus University Rotterdam and an expert on immigration issues, said the entrance test and other recent measures to curb immigration are “symptoms of panic and anxiety” on the part of the government. He said they also reflect ordinary Dutch citizens’ fear of change.

Combatting Intolerance

The primary purpose of the film, ‘Coming to the Netherlands’ is to provide people who have expressed a desire to move to the Netherlands with an overview of the country, Dutch society and culture.

Providing this information is one way of combatting the intolerance of (for the most part Muslim) immigrants who, after having moved to Holland, decide they do not like Dutch society and its values.

An edited version of the film is made available to countries in which images of nudity or homosexuals and lesbians are illegal

“It’s part of the same trend as the `no’ vote in last year’s referendum [on the European constitution]. It’s a psychological reaction to rapid change–you try to hold on to what you perceive the past was like,” he said.

Litany of disincentives

In addition to the brief scenes of nudity and homosexuality, the 104-minute DVD warns prospective immigrants that the weather in the Netherlands is cold, housing is expensive and the country is flood-prone. It also informs them that honor killing, wife-beating and female circumcision are crimes.

The exam preparation packet and DVD cost about $80. The materials are available in 14 languages, including Rif Berber, Kurdish, Indonesian and Thai. The fee to take the exam is $425, which also could discourage some candidates.

The test, based on information found on the DVD, will be administered at Dutch embassies. In addition to answering questions about the history and lifestyle of the Netherlands, applicants will have to demonstrate a basic competence in the Dutch language.

After complaints from Muslim groups, the government produced an “expurgated” version of the DVD–minus the bare breasts and male kissers–for some Islamic countries where possession of pornography is a crime.

But people in other Islamic countries still are given the original DVD, and even in the expurgated version, there are women in bikinis and men who appear to be lovers.

U.S. citizens and residents of EU countries do not have to take the exam, fueling Muslim suspicions that the test is mainly meant to exclude them.

Rotterdam City Council member Leonard Geluk is not enthused about the exam or the attention it has drawn from the international media.

“It’s not a correct image of our society,” he said. “We are a tolerant society, and we will stay tolerant. But we also want people from other cultures to understand that when you come here, you are not obliged to sunbathe topless.”

The Rotterdam code

In February, Geluk helped draft guidelines for multicultural living that have become known as the Rotterdam code. It calls for respectful treatment of women, homosexuals and people of different religions, but the main provision requires that the Dutch language be spoken in all public places.

“Dutch people feel excluded when they go into a shop and no one is speaking Dutch,” Geluk explained. “They are not racists, but sometimes they feel frightened and a bit alone in their own city when they can’t talk to their neighbors.”

Nearly 40 percent of Rotterdam’s population is foreign-born, and projections suggest it will have a non-native-Dutch majority by 2017. In the city’s schools, the children of immigrants already make up more than 50 percent of enrollment.

Pastors, the councilman, says the code is a step in the right direction but that tougher measures will be needed to compel immigrants to integrate.

“We used to think: Give people time and they will integrate. It’s a nice theory, but it didn’t work,” he said.

He laid blame on some Muslim leaders who “cultivate the differences between their religious group and others.”

Dutch Muslims say attempts to legislate cultural norms only widen the gap between them and the native Dutch.

“The Netherlands has always been known for tolerance, for freedom of religion and respect for human rights,” said Ahmet Akgunduz, rector of the Islamic University of Rotterdam. “Unfortunately, politicians are starting to discuss ways of changing that.”

Karim Khaoiri, a 23-year-old media student, tried to lead a discussion of the subject on a blog he hosts and found himself under attack by both sides.

The son of Moroccan immigrants, Khaoiri was born in the Netherlands. “Ninety percent of my friends are Dutch; I only speak Dutch; I’m a proud Dutchman,” he said.

But as the culture gap widens, he finds himself in a no-man’s land.

“Even when we are born here, we are allochtoon,” said Khaoiri, using the Dutch word for immigrants. “You see it when they look at you: You are not one of us.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Chicago Tribune, USA
Apr. 9, 2006
Tom Hundley, Tribune Foreign Correspondent

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday April 10, 2006.
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