On a bright winter afternoon Louaay Massari walks along the main road in Oosterpark, the soles of his highly polished black shoes clicking hard on the sidewalk. He stands a few yards from the spot where the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was shot seven times and his throat slit by a suspected Islamist in November.
"Until I was 16 I always considered myself Dutch," says Mr. Massari, 25, who organized a protest after the murder to show solidarity against extremism. "But maybe the world has changed. People started asking me what I think of women's rights, things I've never thought about. I hadn't read the Koran until someone said, 'There are nasty things written in your Koran.' "
Mr. Van Gogh, a descendent of the 19th-century impressionist painter Vincent, was killed because his film Submission, highlighting the oppression of Muslim women, was considered an insult to Islam. A man was arrested after a brief gunfight with police. His name was Mohammed Bouyeri. He wore Arabic dress. He was a Moroccan citizen.
But 26-year-old Mr. Bouyeri, called "Mohammed B." in the Dutch press, was also born in Amsterdam. He spoke fluent Dutch. He could not even read the Koran. In some ways, Mr. Massari, born in the Netherlands to Moroccan parents, says he is not so different from Mr. Van Gogh's alleged killer.
"Mohammed B. represented a group who is educated here and who speaks the language," he says. "These young people are born and raised in Holland but people say you are still a foreigner. You go to a club and are refused entry. You go to a job and you are refused. This group misses the last step towards integration. You need to make that leap into Dutch society and Mohammed B. didn't."
Mr. Massari considers himself well integrated -- he wears trendy black clothes and works with Muslim community groups on behalf of the Oosterpark council. But "it is becoming more difficult to make the leap," he says.
The trial of Mr. Bouyeri on charges of terrorism and murder is expected to begin later this year. The murder marked a turning point in the uneasy relations between Holland and its Muslims. A nation praised for its tolerance is now asking if Islamic values are compatible with Dutch ideals. This week, for example, a government advisory committee recommended that mosques be required to hold services in Dutch.
After 30 years of official multiculturalism, young Muslims are being asked to choose between a Dutch and Islamic identity, as the rest of Europe anxiously watches.
The Dutch government certainly is moving swiftly. Prospective immigrants must now take citizenship classes. The imams of mosques must attend seminars on Dutch law, including the rights of women and freedom of speech.
The Oosterpark neighbourhood is a microcosm of those tensions. Ethnic minorities, including Turks, Surinamese and Moroccans, make up 60 per cent of the residents. It is a poor area by Dutch standards but hardly a ghetto. Ducks swim in the canals winding through neat, low-rise residential buildings subsidized by the government.
The wide streets are crammed with cyclists, and shops advertise cheap telephone cards for Asia. Many of the Muslim girls here wear their hair pulled back in a bun and bound in a tight black scarf, but dress fashionably in belted coats and dark eye makeup.
But Marco, the white owner of Harry's Giant Bike shop, claims car and bike thefts are committed by Moroccan teenagers who are out of control. "There is a specific group who steal bikes and we know who they are," he says. "We see young Moroccans, maybe 20, maybe less, and they roam the streets. They don't want to go to school."
He adds, "I don't want to discriminate but we should say enough: The line is here and no further."
Once upon a time, it was easy to identity Dutch culture. There was Rembrandt, windmills and tulips. There were the relaxed laws on drugs, prostitution, homosexuality and abortion. The Dutch call it gedogen -- extending tolerance in order to live in peace.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Muslim immigrants arrived in droves as "host labourers," taking jobs the Dutch did not want. They cleaned the streets and worked in cigar and chocolate factories or breweries. Those from the former Dutch colonies of Surinam and parts of Indonesia are considered relatively integrated because they speak the language. The Turks generally live in segregated neighbourhoods but keep a low profile. The problem is with the Moroccans.
Most of them came from the villages in the Rif Mountains, spoke Berber and were illiterate or badly educated. Men came first to work, then brought over their families because the Dutch were friendly and the standard of living was high. There are now about one million Muslims here, six per cent of the population. Public money was used to pay for Arabic-speaking schools, mosques and social clubs -- all to help build them a place in civil society. The government even pays for imams' salaries, although it has no influence over the content of what is preached.
But in January of last year, a 2,500-page parliamentary report said that official multiculturalism had led to ethnic ghettos. Schools became segregated, as the white Dutch began to send their children out of the city.
Muslims, especially Moroccans, are now three times more likely to be unemployed than white Dutch, and some estimates put the Moroccan portion of the prison population at 60 per cent. Second- and third-generation children appear to be having a harder time fitting in than their parents. The head of one Moroccan women's organization says she meets women who work in offices and wear western clothes while their teenaged daughters wear head-to-foot veils and refuse to work because they think it is sinful for women to do so.
"They live in two cultures, traditional and modern," says Abdellah Mehraz, 31, head of Contact Fathers, a group of 24 Moroccan fathers who patrol Oosterpark six nights a week to keep an eye on loitering teenagers. "At home they are told, you must do this, you must do that. But outside, there is no social control. . . . Moroccan parents think schools should discipline the children. But in western culture, teachers only educate -- it's about individualism, and Moroccan parents don't understand that. So the children go into petty crime."
Then there are those, such as Mat Herben, head of the right-wing List Pim Fortuyn party, who think there's another reason why some youth are radicalized.
"It is a problem of people from their background -- agricultural countries that are Islamic," he says from his office in The Hague. "The problem is they come straight from the countryside to western Europe. They have been raised to think women are inferior, men are superior, and honour and status are important. They are radicals who don't accept secular democracy."
Shortly before our interview, Mr. Herben says, his secretary told him she had heard on the news that he was on a death list drawn up by an Islamist. If so, Mr. Herben joins Geert Wilders, a once-obscure politician whose popularity soared when he advocated banning all immigration for five years. He now lives in a safe house, protected by 24-hour security.
Also under police protection is Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for Mr. Van Gogh's last film, in which a naked Muslim woman's transparent veil shows Koranic verses written across her body. There was a letter pinned with a knife to Mr. Van Gogh's body, saying Ms. Ali would be next. (This week a Dutch court threw out a suit by a Muslim group aimed at preventing her from screening Submission again in public.)
Mr. Herten's party was founded by and named after Pim Fortuyn, a flamboyant gay politician who was assassinated by an animal rights activist in 2002. Mr. Fortuyn said that "Holland was full" and called for a halt to immigration.
Now, the immigration minister has introduced culture and language tests for those applying to live in the Netherlands, who are also shown a video on Dutch life that includes flags, windmills, a brief biography of William of Orange, a gay wedding and topless women sunbathing. It used to be that, since the Second World War, any hint of nationalism here was met with deep suspicion. But the citizenship tests have met with approval from politicians across the spectrum.
"The identity of the Dutch is still 18th-century Golden Age with ships," laughs Tarik Yousef, a 28-year-old Dutch-Moroccan sipping hot chocolate in an Oosterpark café. "That's not a part of my identity."
Mr. Yousef grew up in the Netherlands and now publishes an ethnic magazine called Hallal, and is about to launch a broadcasting channel on the Internet. He says it would be difficult to tell teenagers who carry dual citizenship to "go home" -- they would also be foreigners in Morocco.
But the inability to identity positively with Dutch culture makes it easy for young disaffected men to turn to Islam, says Mr. Massari: "It's not about religion, it's about identity. Islam offers a strong identity. So you see people change from petty thieves to devout Muslims. I've seen it happen in a day, just like that," he says. "Parents don't object" because at least it means their kids are not breaking the law, he says.
At the Reitzstraat square, Mr. Massari nods towards the satellite dishes. They have proliferated like mushrooms in ethnic neighbourhoods earning them the nickname "satellite cities." The content is beamed from the Arab world. The most popular shows are Egyptian soap operas, but there is also anti-Semitic and anti-Western programming.
"The Moroccans, they have a feeling of being in touch with their homeland. State news, state television, al-Jazeera and religious programs are very popular. They also learn from imams in the Arab world how to live as good Muslims."
The Dutch security service is monitoring 150 extremists with suspected al-Qa'eda links. Mr. Bouyeri was not one of them. The hard-line clerics are recruited from Egypt or Syria and don't speak Dutch. Most of Holland's 500 mosques are moderate and law-abiding, often run by Turkish clerics. But a handful, perhaps five, are cause for worry. They include the al-Tawheed mosque in Amsterdam, where three of the 9/11 hijackers met during a 1999 conference.
Now, along with the legal seminars imams are required to take, the government wants to introduce training in moderate theology, which would breach the divide between church and state. Muslim leaders ask if the Vatican would approve of the Dutch government training Catholic priests.
Mr. Massari stops at a basketball court sponsored by Nike. The swoosh trademark is printed on the backboard of the hoop. A group of teenaged boys are playing basketball, and Mr. Massari calls over one young boy, with pimples and a voice still cracking, and asks him what he considers his identity.
"Muslim first," the Moroccan-Dutch boy says, as his friends nod.
Why? "Because I'm on the Muslims' side. We pray, fast at Ramadan and read the Koran. Some Dutch seem to hate us."
Hamida Ghafour is a Canadian journalist currently in England working on a book.
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