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Holland: USA as a model for the integration of Muslim?

A few years ago Holland was still a social model admired throughout Europe. Today, the difficulties of the integration of Muslims are challenging the country’s socio-political tradition. Traditional Dutch tolerance has to counter a strong and assertive Muslim culture, and a huge number of immigrants. As happens in other European countries, Holland is now in search of new models to adjust and integrate into its own. Might the American one help?

Sandra Binazzi (12 September 2007)

Muslim Americans

During the spring of 2007 the Pew Research Centre published a survey whose title was: Muslim Americans- Middle Class and mostly main stream. Through the interviews made on a sample of 60,000 Muslim Americans, the survey has given a very detailed picture of the presence and condition of Muslims in America. Muslims living in the US mostly describe themselves happy of the economic and social position they have reached and completely integrated in the American society: more than a half consider themselves 'American' and then 'Muslim' and show a stronger patriotism than that of Muslims living in Western Europe. 71% has embraced and embodied the philosophy of the American dream: if you work hard, you can get it. The data on the economic and social position reached by Muslims in America are coherent with their statements: their incomes and education level are the same as their neighbours. To complete this happy picture of integration, 73% of the interviewed people declare to have never lived episodes of discrimination.

According to some commentators, such as the Muslim journalist Ishrad Manji, the success of the American model is mainly due to three factors.

the first one is economy. The dynamism of the US economy and the necessity of every single person to work hard and exploit at the maximum his productive potentiality to have success would have caused better results than those of the European Welfare State. This one gives aids, but at the same time makes the immigrants assume a parasite attitude, relegating them to the lowest scale of society.
the second factor would be the presence of a higher diversity and pluralism in American society, that the journalist considers 'made of immigrants'. This factor would cause a lesser split-up among different ethnical and cultural enclaves and a higher mixture under the 'common umbrella' of the American citizenship.
The third one would be the greater tolerance towards religiousness and a weaker laic attitude which are characteristics of European societies, born with the ideals of the French Revolution.
A model to follow?

Of late, an analysis of the services of the American intelligence spoke about the growth of radicalism in the Muslim communities in the Western world and showed a particular concern about terrorist cells developing in Europe. The survey realized by the Pew Centre could then lead to think that the US, in comparison to Europe, are more successful as to the capability to satisfy the needs of the Muslim immigrants and to create the best conditions for their total integration, succeeding in cutting off the problem of the identity crisis and alienation which seems to hit the young immigrants of second generation. Anyway, the survey shows that even among young Muslims in America a reversal of what has been declared by their fathers is taking place: 60% of Muslims aged between 18 and 29 declare themselves to be 'Muslim first', while among those who are more than 30 years old the percentage is 40%. The survey results, moreover, inform that among young people it is a common habit to go to the mosque every week and that 26% of people aged between 18 and 29 think suicide attacks are justifiable. 38% of them think the authors of 11 September were not Arabian. Some commentators, such as Geneive Abdo, have therefore deemed that the differences between US and Europe are not that big after all and that welfare and education are not a sufficient bulwark against the sense of alienation which seems to be spreading among the new Muslim generations living in the Western world.
The debate on the relationship between Islam and Democracy in The Netherlands

The attack suffered by Esham Jami at the beginning of last August fired during last weeks the debate in progress in the Netherlands as to the relationship between Islam and Democracy. Esham Jami is, together with the member of the Conservative Party Loubna Ferrada, the founder of a group whose aim is to sustain people abandoning Islam. For this reason he was attacked last month in the streets of Amsterdam by a group of Muslim who felt offended by his initiative. Just after the aggression Geert Wilders, deputy of the 'Freedom Party', protested publicly against the presence of Muslims in Holland and compared the Koran to Mein Kampf. “ I have been telling this for years: mild Islam does not exist” declared Wilders. Deputy of the Conservative Right, Wilders has stated a position far back professed in the public debate in Holland, shared by politicians and intellectuals of every orientation. In Holland there is by now a transversal front declaring itself very doubtfully about the possibility of Islamic religion and culture being consistent to the principles of liberty and equality expressed by the Constitutional State of Holland. Paul Scheffer, a social-democratic intellectual, has fairly expressed this concept into 'The multicultural drama' where he states that a policy of tolerance towards Muslim immigration, hoping to combine completely different values and cultures, has created a disastrous incommunicability which is at the antipodes of an authentic integration: “We are living one next to the other, but we do not meet: everyone of us has his own bar, his own school, his own idols, his own butcher and soon we will have our own street and quarter.” The top of this debate was reached in November 2004, after the murder of Theo Van Gogh. Van Gogh, in a provocative and blasphemous way, made himself the spokesperson of a radical criticism against Islam, bringing about feelings of hate and revenge in the man who killed him: Mohammed Bouyeri, a 27-year-old Dutch-Moroccan man. The film he directed, written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of 'Not subdued' and entitled 'Submission' went on air on the Dutch TV not much time before the murder; it was a clear example of his strong criticism to Islam, in particular as to the problem of women's submission.
The beginning of a closing

If the top of social tension was reached in November 2004, the first signs of a closing towards Muslim immigrants in Holland date back to the '90s, when a reversal of the traditional reception – for which Holland is said to be a tolerant country, based on the peaceful cohabitation of different religions- is noticeable. The very principles of liberty and equality which mark the history of Holland with the peaceful cohabitation of Protestant Christians and Jews, were used in the '70s and '80s in the approach to the reception of immigrants of Islamic religion, which was increasing in that period thanks to the propitious economic conjunction: as happened for the other groups, the integration of Muslims was based on the grant of permissions and aids which allowed them to build their own areas, mosques, schools, Muslim associations. It is in the '90s, in a period of economic crisis that the model is for the first time called into question by some politicians, such as Frist Bolkenstein, representative of the Liberal Right, and generally a sense of lack of self-confidence and dissatisfaction towards the traditional model of reception spreads all over. The law 'Win' on the integration, which requires a compulsory training and refresher course on Dutch culture, language and society for every newcomer, dates back to 1998.

Most recent administrations have then delved into the tendency to a populist closing, actively interpreted by Rita Verdonk, Prime Minister of Balkenende's Government. Verdonk affirmed the need for assuming a strict attitude towards episodes of criminality and break of the peace involving immigrants, by increasing expulsions and authorising the police to be really strict. At the present time, Ella Vogelaar is the Immigration Minister. She organized her political program on the attempt to make the work market wider for the young Muslims, strongly convinced that it is fundamental to stop the high rate of unemployment, accompanied with frequent episodes of delinquency. Together with measures for improving the economic situation of these young people, there is the tendency to ask the immigrants for warrantees, which was introduced by the 'Win' law in 1998. In 2006 a compulsory language test was introduced for people coming from outside the European Union wishing to live in Holland for a long time. Again in 2006, together with the 'Civic Integration Act', it was determined to make the acceptance of the request for residence depend on the test results aimed at verifying if the candidate holds the 'essential' skills to live in Holland and shares the values of the Dutch society. Both the importance given to the creation of employment opportunities for young people and the attention given to the strategies to verify the acceptation of the principles and the rules for living in the Netherlands seem to suggest the adoption of the US model , based on the effect of safety coming from the welfare and the identification to the values of the receiving nation.

The Dutch model, characterised by a strong wish to maintain the differences of cohabitation, has showed some signs of downfall in front of the new challenge of Islam and Holland has decided to play a defensive role. In order to protect itself, moreover, Holland seems to have embodied the two principles of the American integration model: the creation of new opportunities in the work market for unemployed and alienated young people living at the outskirts of the city and the attempt to create a feeling of belonging to the community based on the full adoption of the customs of Dutch people by the newcomers.

Data coming from the US indicate a change in the tendency among young people. According to Geneive Abso, they would make think of welfare and patriotism not to be necessarily shelters from radicalism, which seems to be increasing even in America. It is probably one of the aspects of the identity crisis in a globalised world where the certainties which are traditionally linked to the modern State-Nation, strictly defining 'ourselves' and 'the others' (Arjun Appanduri effectively talks about it in Fear of Small Numbers) seem to break down in front of an uncontrollable movement of goods and people and require a renewal of the traditional concept of 'citizenship'. The results of the change in the tendency in Holland are still difficult to evaluate, but represent perhaps a moment in which the Dutch nation tries to define itself and create limits to the citizens by calling on its traditional values. The multicultural heritage could anyway give a contribution to the formulation of the concept of European citizenship.


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