THE HAGUE—Selami Aydin’s words will comfort many Dutch people if opinion polls are to be believed.
“I’m thinking of going back to Turkey. Seriously,” the 39-year-old Muslim said just a few hundred meters (yards) from the apartment police stormed last Wednesday after a 14-hour siege with suspected Islamic militants. “We’re all frightened.”
The Netherlands’ image as the land of tolerance has been shattered in the two weeks since outspoken filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered and a Muslim suspect arrested in the crime.
Since Van Gogh’s death on Nov. 2 there have been at least 20 arson attacks on mosques and churches in tit for tat violence.
A Muslim school was damaged by a bomb on Monday, another set ablaze on Tuesday. There have been a number of minor arson attacks on churches and a classroom at a Catholic school in Eindhoven was destroyed by fire on Wednesday.
In the latest suspected arson attack on Saturday, a small mosque in the south was destroyed by fire.
Opinion polls show the majority of Dutch people are uncomfortable with or feel threatened by the presence of foreigners, while support is surging for Geert Wilders, seen as heir to murdered anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn.
Aydin’s comments are not typical of all Muslims in the working class Laakkwartier district of the Hague, but most are dismayed by the reaction to Van Gogh’s death.
Some say racism has been on the rise since Fortuyn’s party surged to second in a 2002 election shortly after he was killed by an animal rights activist and has ratcheted up a notch in the past two weeks.
“I think it’s got worse,” said 18-year-old Dutch-Moroccan Adbelmounir el Idrissi. “I was in a shop the other day and a man butted in the queue. I told him to go to the end. He said: ‘Are you going to shoot me if I don’t?”’
Others are annoyed that the arrest of Mohammed B., the man accused of killing Van Gogh, and other suspected Islamic radicals has stirred a debate they say is critical of all Muslims, who make up about 6 percent of the Dutch population and are mostly concentrated in cities.
No one interviewed said they condoned the killing of Van Gogh, but many believe his short film “Submission,” about violence against women in Islamic society, simply fuelled anti-Muslim sentiment, although few people in the Netherlands actually appear to have seen it.
“If we have an opinion, we might share it with our friends, but putting all this on television does nothing to help. Besides, it’s about something that supposedly happens outside the Netherlands,” said Dutch-Moroccan Kassim Douiri, 18.
SEARCH FOR HEALING
There is criticism of the government, including Jozias van Aartsen, parliamentary leader of the power-sharing VVD liberals, who said in a parliamentary debate on Thursday seizing militants was task No. 1 and dialogue with mainstream Muslims was second.
In the El Mohsinin mosque’s large prayer room, a sermon urges those gathered not to take the law into their own hands.
“The Koran means living together,” says 60-year-old Achmed Akasar who arrived from Morocco 36 years ago.
Some Muslims believe the community itself can help to build bridges. One of Germany’s largest Muslim groups plans to hold an unprecedented protest against militancy later this month with up to 30,000 demonstrators.
“The Dutch government should organize something like this, but maybe we can do it ourselves. I would join in,” said Douiri.
A mosque in the southern town of Den Bosch is encouraging non-Muslims to attend its Eid al-Fitr festival, ending the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, on Sunday. For most Muslims the festival started on Saturday.
“We’ll be offering food and drink and hope people will come to talk and to celebrate,” said Deniz Ozkanli, chairman of the Orhan Gazi mosque.
“It’s been open in previous years, but this year we really want to reach everyone, so we’ll be out with flyers and placards. A lot of people are afraid, but a lot of people also want to talk.”