Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the Netherlands Statistical Bureau (2012), there are approximately 825,000 Muslims in the Netherlands. The majority are of Moroccan or Turkish origin or descent; Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Somalia are also significant countries of origin. Muslim communities tend to be concentrated in poorer neighbourhoods in cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and the Hague.
While historically there were small communities of Muslims living in the Netherlands prior to the World War II, the biggest influx was in the late fifties. Many Muslims came to the Netherlands from Turkey and Morocco at that time. 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 former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan have boosted numbers. In later years, there has been a considerable increase in Syrian refugees, many of whom are Muslims, due to the conflict there.
The post-9/11 debate about the place of Muslim minorities in Western European countries has been particularly acute in the Netherlands. The Netherlands has one of the largest Muslim populations in Western Europe. The community is relatively well-integrated with Muslims holding many prominent public positions, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Dutch parliament and the mayor of Rotterdam.
Nevertheless, despite various anti-discrimination measures, Dutch Muslims continue to face discrimination. In a 2014 report from the Netherlands Institute for Social Research, two thirds of Muslims suggested that they had been victims of discrimination in the past year. Further details were provided by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in its 2017 report on Islamophobia, drawing on data from 15 EU member-states. Sixty-five per cent of Muslim respondents originally from North Africa in the Netherlands reported that they had faced discrimination over the past five years, and 49 per cent said that they had felt discriminated against in the last 12 months. Figures for respondents of Turkish origin were 59 and 39 per cent respectively. Based on the difference due to origin, the FRA concluded that other characteristics such as skin colour must also play a role. These figures are higher than the average across the 15 EU countries, namely 39 and 25 per cent respectively.
There does seem to be relatively good awareness of anti-discrimination legislation among Muslims in the Netherlands. According to the same FRA 2017 report, 78 per cent of Muslim respondents of North African origin and 70 per cent of Muslims of Turkish origin knew that such legislation was in place. However, knowledge of where to turn to for support appears far less widespread. Less than a third of Muslim immigrants and their descendants in the Netherlands knew of any organization that offers support or advice.
Anti-immigration/anti-Islamic politicians in the Netherlands continue to attract substantial support. The right-wing anti-immigration Party for Freedom holds 20 seats out of 150 in the Dutch parliament following the 2017 general election. Its leader Geert Wilders is known for his provocative anti-Islamic stance, having called for the Qur’an – along with mosques – to be banned. In 2016, he was found guilty of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans; no fine or sentence was imposed.
The burqa and niqab have become a focal point of anti-Islamic hostility. In 2016, the Dutch parliament overwhelmingly passed legislation establishing a partial ban of full-face veils in public places. Whilst this legislation still allows for the wearing of face coverings on the street, it has banned their use in public places such as hospitals, schools, government buildings and on public transport. This law has done little to quell mainstream political debate on the burqa. In the lead up to 2017 national elections, the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) campaigned for a strengthening of this law into a full ban of face coverings in the Netherlands.
Periodically, anti-Islamic attitudes have manifested in overt violence and other acts of hate. In its Fundamental Rights Report 2017, the FRA noted that 439 instances of anti-Muslim hate crimes were recorded in the Netherlands in 2016. In November 2017, a member of the far-right group Pegida attempted to stop the construction of a mosque in Enschede by dumping pig’s blood on the site. And in early 2018, the mayor of Amsterdam, Jozias van Aartsen, expressed concern that acts of hate are increasing, following an incident where a decapitated doll had been placed outside a mosque in that city. The city’s discrimination hotline had received 25 per cent more reports in 2017 than the year before.
Updated April 2018.