Posted on December 8, 2004

Immigration Becomes Political

Carol Eisenberg, Newsday (New York), Dec. 6

ROTTERDAM — To Ronald Sorensen, the minarets rising above the historic Feyenoord soccer stadium in this port city symbolize everything that’s gone wrong with the Netherlands.

“It’s an insult to put it here,” snorts the 57-year-old leader of Leefbaar Rotterdam (Livable Rotterdam), now one of the largest parties in city government. “Feyenoord is like New York’s Yankee Stadium. It’s the temple to Dutch soccer. It’s the symbol of the Dutch working class.”

When completed, the mosque will be one of the largest in western Europe, with room for 1,500 worshipers and boasting minarets that will soar 164 feet into the air — higher than the adjacent stadium’s light banners. In Sorensen’s mind, that proves two things: that the Muslim community could not care less about Dutch sensibilities, and that the former city officials who approved the mosque deserved to be run out of office.

After his party swept into power on a wave of anti-immigration sentiment two years ago, “we said we’ll find another spot for you,” Sorensen said. “They said no. We asked them to lower the height of the minarets. They said no. It’s a symbol of their feelings toward us. They think we are inferior because we are not Muslims.”

Anti-immigrant sentiment is running high in the Netherlands, and nowhere is this more evident than in Rotterdam, the largest port in the world and a longtime socialist bastion transformed virtually overnight by ethnic tensions into a right-wing stronghold. This stunningly modern city on the Maas River was the launching pad for the late Pim Fortuyn, a professor-turned-politician who proclaimed that “Holland is full” before he was assassinated two years ago by an animal-rights activist who said it was his duty to protect weaker groups in society. It is testament to his legacy that Rotterdam is imposing some of the toughest immigration restrictions in all of Europe.

Limiting newcomers

“The Delta Plan,” named after efforts to counter devastating floods in the 1950s, has closed public housing to anyone who does not earn a salary of at least 120 percent of the minimum wage, imposed Dutch language requirements for residency permits and is tearing down low-income row houses in a controversial attempt at urban renewal. It also asked the national government to put a cap on asylum-seekers here.