Europe's pioneer in ethnic profiling

Reacting to earlier attacks on Jews could have prevented the current stigmatizing of minorities.

October 27, 2008 20:13
Europe's pioneer in ethnic profiling

british muslims 224.88. (photo credit: AP [file])


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The Netherlands has become West Europe's uncontested pioneer in ethnic profiling of minorities. In mid-September Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst, of the Labor Party, suggested that ethnicity should be registered in the police files of criminals. Her remarks were a reaction to an attack on Amsterdam ambulance workers by youngsters whose parents had immigrated from Morocco. A few days later Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, leader of the Christian Democrats, the Netherlands' largest party, supported Ter Horst's proposal. He said that one should be honest and no longer use politically correct language about "youngsters causing problems," but specifically mention that it concerned Moroccans. A few days after that, Ter Horst and Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin, a Christian Democrat, said in parliament that Moroccan youngsters are overrepresented in repeat criminality, dropping out of schools and unemployment. In 2005 about 20 percent of Moroccan males between 18 and 25 were suspected of having committed crimes. The ministers added that the Moroccan community had a responsibility to help solve the problem. SINCE THE 2004 murder of the film maker Theo van Gogh by Muhammad Bouyeri - an Islamist Moroccan - media have often highlighted problems caused by Moroccans or other minorities. There are indeed good reasons to emphasize ethnicity for ideological crimes such as terrorism as well as for religiously motivated violence such as aggressions against homosexuals, promotion of polygamy and discrimination against women. The same is true for criminality deriving from culture, such as honor killings, or national strife, when for instance Turks and Kurds fight in some European cities. Yet the media often also highlight ethnicity in cases of common crimes such as robbery, drug dealing or hooliganism. Negative publicity about Muslims and Moroccans reached new heights in recent weeks. In Gouda, internationally renowned for its cheese, the bus company stopped service to a neighborhood for a few days after its drivers had been threatened and spat at by young Moroccans. A few days later a television crew was also threatened there. In Nijmegen, where Ter Horst had been mayor, her successor, former minister Thom de Graaf of the left-of-center D66 party, forbade 56 youngsters, mainly Moroccans, to enter certain areas during the evening and night. In Gorinchem firemen have to do their work under police protection as Moroccan youngsters hindered them. There were several articles about Moroccans stealing in food retail outlets. In Utrecht a lesbian couple had to go in hiding as they were threatened by Moroccans. In Rotterdam a Muslim lawyer refused to stand in the courtroom when the judges entered, claiming religious reasons. The incidents did not abate. After a Rotterdam policeman of Moroccan origin was fired because of suspicion of spying for Morocco, two Moroccan diplomats had to leave the Netherlands. German police arrested on a plane of the Dutch airline KLM, two potential Somalian terrorists, one of whom was studying at a college in the Netherlands. Four Muslim terrorists were condemned by a court in The Hague to jail sentences of four to nine years, after being found guilty of planning to attack the headquarters of the Dutch intelligence services. When on a following Shabbat a kippa-wearing Jew was molested by three Moroccan youngsters in Amsterdam and went to complain to the police they told him to come back a few days later as they were busy otherwise. The same happened in Gouda to a woman who complained that a Moroccan child had thrown a dart arrow in her face which hit her just under the eye. THESE AND other incidents increase the popularity of Geert Wilders, the leader of the right-wing Freedom Party and the only internationally known Dutch politician. He suggested that Dutch soldiers should be recalled from Afghanistan to maintain order in Gouda and similar towns. Wilders also remarked that the region's police chief should be fired as he was more suitable to be a parking guard. The latter had belittled the problems in Gouda and claimed that white Dutch youngsters cause his force more problems than Moroccans. Other parliamentarians, such as Hans Spekman of Labor, also proposed radical suggestions. He said that criminal Moroccans should be humiliated in front of their friends: for instance sentenced youngsters from this community should be put to work in their own neighborhood, while wearing prison clothing. Muslims and Moroccans have usually defended problematic individuals from their community, but with the new political wind blowing, the Union of Moroccan Muslim Organizations in the Netherlands said that "whole generations of Moroccan youngsters grow up as scum because the Dutch do not enforce their norms and values in the public domain." Even the Islamist As-Sunna mosque in The Hague approached the intelligence services and warned that they had lost sight of 15 to 20 radical youngsters who could become terrorists. Shortly afterwards he wrote on his internet site that Muslims who marry a second wife do not have to tell their first wife beforehand. He did not mention that polygamy is illegal in The Netehrlands. Moroccans are not the only minority targeted by the Dutch government. It also wants to set up a data bank of problematic youngsters from the Dutch Antilles and Aruba. One organization of Caribbean Dutchmen is considering taking the government to the European Court because of the discriminatory character of this measure. MOST ETHNIC profiling could have been prevented if the Dutch authorities had not closed their eyes at the beginning of this decade. Then Moroccan youngsters started to abuse the small number of Dutch Jews recognizable as such by their clothing or physiognomy. The government still had not learned that Jews are usually the first to be attacked but never the last. Its soft reaction to these incidents indicated to criminals and hooligans that Dutch society at large could be a more worthwhile target. Even today many Dutch politicians still want to appease criminals. It may sound surprising that this far-reaching ethnic profiling and stigmatizing does not lead to strong reactions in the Netherlands. The reason is that many Dutch consider these steps worthwhile to try to deal with problems, until now unsolvable. For that they are willing to throw the national value of all people being considered equal overboard. These current Dutch developments have Jewish and Israeli perspectives as well. Once ethnicities are singled out, Jews for whatever reason are likely to be a target of somebody along the line. The Dutch authorities had to drop their norms of political correctness because of a limited number of troublemakers - a few thousand at most - from the Moroccan ethnic group which represents less than 2 percent of the population. One may wonder whether the Netherlands could survive as a democracy if it ever has to confront much more complex challenges such as those Israel is facing. The writer has published 14 books and is currently doing research on the Netherlands, Israel and the Jews.

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