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Symbol for failed integration: A burning Muslim school in HollandImage: AP

Opinion: The Integration Crux

Klaus Dahmann (win)
November 12, 2004

The recent string of violence between ethnic groups in the Netherlands once again shows the need to address rather than ignore problems of integrating foreigners into European societies, according to DW's Klaus Dahmann.


For decades, the Netherlands was seen as an example of successful integration: Tolerance seemed to be a basic societal value, problems concerning integration were officially unheard of -- despite a relatively high percentage of immigrants.

That picture has changed with the recent murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had just completed a documentary on the treatment of women in Islam. His alleged killer is Moroccan.

Is this the spark that will suffice to start a large-scale fire of hatred across the Netherlands? The events that came after the gruesome killing of van Gogh are indeed alarming. There were attacks on Muslim schools and mosques, followed by acts of revenge against Christian places of worship. Now, a radical Islamist group has threatened to cover the country with terror.

The criminal act of a single person has served as a wake-up call to extremists, who are seemingly in control of the situation.

Helpless politicians

Politicians appear helpless and disoriented. It seems as if they are suddenly awakening from their beautiful dream of a Dutch paradise of integration. Some now try to break taboos, which have been established alongside the model multicultural society.

Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen, for example, openly said what many thought and felt: Hatred and fear exist between the various ethnic groups. Cohen may have been honest, but words like his only confirm extremists in their conviction that acts of terror are the right way to address the problem.

No one disputes that problems and conflicts -- covered up by nice slogans -- have been ignored for decades. For decades. People confused tolerance with silence. It simply isn't sufficient to teach immigrants the language, to give them a Dutch passport and some start-up money, if there's no one to look after their societal integration subsequently.

Ghettos have sprung up in cities and police are increasingly having a hard time controlling them. In addition, there's a high rate of school drop-outs and many, especially among the Moroccan and Turkish immigrant communities, are unemployed. Looking the other way won't solve these problems.

Addressing, not ignoring fears

Besides, there's been a change in climate since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks: When Muslims feel like they are under constant, general suspicion in western societies as potential terrorists, people have to address these fears.

That's why raising the bar for new immigrants -- as some prominent Dutch politicians are demanding -- is not the right way to go. That would only back up those people that set Muslim institutions on fire.

Other countries are also not protected against what has and could still happen in the Netherlands. Drawing the wrong conclusions would be a bad thing. The high percentage of foreigners among the population is not the problem in the Netherlands. Instead, it's the fact that people have ignored the problems of integration. In Germany, there hasn't been any progress in coming up with new concepts for integration, either.

Now that the Dutch model is crumbling, there may be a window of opportunity to come up with new ideas. But implementing them will be even more important than that.

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