According to the Netherlands Statistical Bureau (2004), 5.8% – or 945,000 – of the Netherlands population is Muslim. They tend to be concentrated in poorer neighbourhoods in poor cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam Utrecht and the Hague.    

Historical context

Although historically there have been small communities of Muslims living in the Netherlands, prior to the Second World War, the biggest influx was in the late fifties. According to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (2002), many Muslims came to the Netherlands from Turkey and Morocco in the late fifties. Their migration was the result of gaps in the labour market, especially for heavy unskilled labour. Although this was initially regarded as a temporary arrangement many of these workers stayed, and brought their families with them. More recently, smaller numbers of refugees and asylum seekers from Yugoslavia, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have boosted numbers.   

Current issues

The post 9/11 debate about the role of Muslim minorities in Western European countries has been particularly acute in the Netherlands. Second only to France, the Netherlands has the biggest Muslim population in Western Europe. Questions about immigration, integration and multi-culturalism have taken place against an occasionally violent back-drop: firstly the murder of the right-wing politician Pym Fortyn, and then the slaying of the film-maker Theo Van Gogh, for his controversial views on Islam.

A 2006 government study on the radicalisation of young Muslims identified three main causes: the search for religious identity; the perceptions of exclusion and discrimination of Dutch society; the feeling of not ‘belonging' – ie, not being either from their parents' culture, or indeed Dutch. (Muslims in the EU, OSI/EUMAP 2007). Clearly, the three elements overlap. And despite a raft of anti-discrimination measures, Muslims continue to be – overall – more disadvantaged than other sectors of Dutch society. Unemployment levels can be three times as high as native Dutch. (OSI/EUMAP), and those in employment tend to be in lower-paid occupations. In a 2003 report, 74 per cent of Muslims in the Netherlands felt that there was discrimination.  (OSI/EUMAP).

On the other hand, anti-immigration/anti-Islam political politicians in the Netherlands, continues to attract substantial support. The right-wing anti-migration Party for Freedom hold 9 seats out of 150 in the Dutch parliament in 2006. Its leader Geert Wilders is known for his provocative anti-Islamic stance: his stated policy, reported the Financial Times in early 2008, was to get the nation's Muslims to ‘renounce parts of their religion or leave'.

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