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With Coming Election, the Netherlands Considers a New Relationship to Muslims

Ms. Vorthoren, who converted to Islam and is married to a Turkish doctor, said that in 2015, her organization had gathered 174 reports of hate crimes against Muslims — more than three times the number collected by the government.

She said the current debate had become overly focused on whether Muslims were “integrated enough” or “assimilated enough,” crowding out actual dialogue.

“When you tell people their problem is their identity, it’s who they are, there’s no room to talk about real issues like forced marriage, radicalization, domestic violence,” she said, referring to the criticisms some Dutch make of Muslims.

The modest Schilderswijk neighborhood of The Hague, which has been the scene of riots in the past, has become synonymous in the Dutch media with the troubled Muslim part of town.


Members of the Schilderswijk Moeders (Schilderswijk Mothers) at a meeting on International Women’s Day on Wednesday in The Hague. Members of the group reach out to socially isolated women in the area. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

Jan Kok, a career police inspector in The Hague, has become a sort of chief cultural officer for the police force and works with three station houses around the city to improve relations with Muslims.

He created a mandatory course for new police recruits to teach them about working with minorities and a course for those already on the force.

He said many of the young immigrant men “grow up without a father, without respect for the police, for the rules in the Netherlands.”

But he is empathetic to their deeper struggle. “They have a problem with their identity: Am I a Dutchman, am I a Moroccan, am I both?” he said. “Everyone needs to belong somewhere — to a church, to a mosque — and most of them don’t have that.”

He added, “And then you have Wilders and Rutte, the prime minister, saying, ‘You don’t like it here, then go away,’ but these boys were born here. Where are they going to go?”


Jan Kok, a police inspector in The Hague, with a shop owner in the Schilderswijk neighborhood on Wednesday. Mr. Kok has become a sort of chief cultural officer for the police force, helping to improve relations with Muslims. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

On the outskirts of Amsterdam, a group of young Muslim men gather most nights at a community center called the Hood, where they came as teenagers and now act as volunteer mentors to encourage younger children in the neighborhood to stay out of trouble.

Most of the young men who volunteer found jobs out of high school — but only after long searches. They say they feel trapped because even if they wanted to study to be lawyers or doctors or have an advanced degree, they could not afford it.

“A lot of people in this neighborhood have to work to help their families, they can’t stay in school,” said Zaid Belmahdi, 19, who got his first job interview only after sending out 131 applications.

Yassir Aknin, 21, has training in information technology, but he said nine out of 10 prospective employers will not even see him because of his Muslim name.

“You have to learn to live with it, you have to be strong,” he said, as his friends around the table nodded in agreement. “But other guys don’t have this and it happens twice and they get depressed and stop trying.”

Source: NYT > World

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