Plans for a Muslim-only hospital in Holland have sparked a heated debate over its separate all-male and all-female wings, halal food and roster of duty imams.
A populist Right-wing party described the plan for the clinic in south Rotterdam as “a step backwards to the Middle Ages”.
There will be segregation between the sexes, with male patients treated by an exclusively male nursing and medical staff and similar arrangements for females.
Holland’s once proud multi-cultural model, which promoted tolerance of a rapidly growing immigrant population, has been sharply questioned in recent years, especially after the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic radical.
The latest row concerns plans for a private hospital aimed at members of Holland’s one million Muslims.
It is the brainchild of a health industry entrepreneur, Paul Sturkenboom, who plans to employ 45 doctors and 275 nurses. Staff will not have to be Muslims.
The plan has been fiercely attacked by the Rotterdam-based Leefbaar Rotterdam, or “Liveable Rotterdam” party, which controlled the local council until March.
Last month, the Right-wing party unsuccessfully tried to have the hospital plan banned.
It has also been dubbed “apartheid” by a prominent nationalist MP, Geert Wilders. But construction work on the clinic is about to start and it aims to open by 2008.
Mr Sturkenboom defended his project yesterday.
He said: “If Mr Wilders is saying in a xenophobic way that this will prohibit integration of Muslim Dutch citizens, we just point to the fact that 20 or 30 years ago, Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant Dutch people had their own schools, their own hospitals, their own trade unions and employers’ organisations.
“That autonomy helped those people integrate at their own speed into Dutch society. This compact hospital will give Muslims time to integrate at their own speed.”
He said that 40 of Holland’s 100 hospitals were run by Catholic or Protestant foundations. There are no Muslim hospitals, though Muslim immigrants make up a fifth of the population.