The Political Participation of Dutch Muslims: A Dilemma for a Multicultural Society
The role of Muslims in Dutch society is often negatively perceived, and there has been no effective rallying response on the part of Muslims. The dominant political view seems to be that Muslims have not embraced the normative ideas regarding rights, responsibilities, and values of Dutch society. Why then, are Muslims not playing a more significant role in the political arena and combating this negative stance? What are the obstacles that prevent them from mobilizing to garner representation for their interests and to influence the public debate on Islam?
The early stance toward Muslim immigrants in Dutch society was far different than today’s. In the 1960s, the Dutch government invited tens of thousands of young males from Islamic countries to work temporarily in the Netherlands’ burgeoning industries (de Winter, 2005). The tacit assumption on the government’s part was that these migrants would eventually return to their countries of origin once their labor was no longer needed. Meanwhile, these migrants were encouraged to maintain their linguistic and cultural identities (Baker, 2004). It was therefore not surprising that Dutch neighborhoods began experiencing an influx of Muslims, and that more and more mosques began appearing on Dutch streets.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, the Muslim population in The Netherlands skyrocketed. In 1975 nearly half the population of the newly independent Suriname, which consisted of some 200,000 people, immigrated to the Netherlands after being given the option of Dutch citizenship. Although the demand for unskilled labor was declining during this period, guest workers did not return due to the labor market conditions in their home countries. The increase in the Muslim population was also due to the relatively liberal Dutch immigration policy at the time, which allowed the families of guest workers to reunite with them in the Netherlands. As a result, the Muslim subculture in Dutch neighborhoods grew substantially, fuelling tensions between Muslims and native Dutch citizens who felt that the social disposition of their communities was being threatened (Priemus, 2007). Hostility towards Muslims became even more palpable following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the murder of Theo van Gogh (Evans-Pritchard 2004). Nowadays, mosques have an image as orthodox places where people act according to strict religious rules, and are often viewed as breeding grounds for fundamentalist Islam. This image is often projected on the Muslim population as a whole.
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