A question of identity

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Ehsan Jami is a 22-year-old local councilor and member of the socialist Labor Party (PvdA) in the Dutch town of Leidschendam. His party, which belongs to the ruling government coalition in the Netherlands, is eager to get rid of him because… he is a Muslim apostate.

Thirteen years ago, Mr. Jami’s family moved from Iran to the Netherlands. When he was a young boy, Mohammed was his “hero,” Mr. Jami said. But after reading the Koran he discovered that the prophet was “a criminal,” he recently told the Dutch paper Trouw: “If Mohammed were alive today, he would be in the same league as Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein… It was a deception to discover who Mohammed truly is. My great admiration for him has turned into deep contempt.”

Early last month, Mr. Jami announced his intention to establish a Committee for Ex-Muslims, which he will launch officially in September at an international press conference. His initiative has enraged Islamist fanatics, but also his own party, the PvdA. An internal memo sent to PvdA congressmen and cabinet ministers, shows that the party fears that Mr. Jami’s campaign will cause considerable electoral damage among Muslim voters.

There are 1 million Muslims in the Netherlands. Most of them are Moroccans and Turks. They make up the bulk of the 1.7 million immigrants in the country, which has a population of 16.3 million people. Many immigrants have been given Dutch nationality and the right to vote. This has turned them into a power block that tipped the balance in the local elections in March 2006 in favor of the PvdA, a party very keen to cater for the immigrants’ demands. In major Dutch cities where the PvdA is the largest party, such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, almost half the elected PvdA politicians are Muslims.

In November’s general elections, however, the 1915 genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks suddenly became an election issue. The PvdA leadership failed to deny that this genocide is a historic fact. As a consequence the PvdA lost the Turkish vote. Virtually all Turks refuse to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

The PvdA is eager not to antagonize Muslim voters further. Consequently, as soon as Ehsan Jami announced his plans to establish a committee of former Muslims the party sent Eddy Terstall, a leftist Dutch movie maker, to the young councilor to persuade him to consider “the fact that his message could go down badly with the PvdA’s large immigrant following.” Indeed, the party leadership is convinced that for other parties “it is much easier for such a committee to be set up without compromise” because they have fewer Muslim voters.

Mr. Jami, however, refuses to renounce his plan, despite receiving hate mail and threats from Islamists, but also from PvdA executives. He also refuses to leave the PvdA, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali did in 2002. The latter began her political career with the PvdA, but joined the conservative VVD because the PvdA did not allow her to speak freely about the emancipation of Islamic women. Last year, Ms. Hirsi Ali fell out with the VVD as well and left the Netherlands for Washington. Mr. Jami said he “wants to change the PvdA from the inside.” Mr. Terstall reproaches him for “exclusively surrounding himself with whites.”

The Dutch PvdA is not the only political party in Europe that is careful not to “upset” Muslim radicals. In neighboring Belgium, too, last month’s general elections showed how influential the immigrant vote has become. Ergun Top, a Turkish-born Belgian politician who is a local Christian-Democrat councilor in Antwerp (although he is a Muslim), declared that if there ever were a war between Belgium and Turkey, he would join the Turkish army and fight Belgium. His loyalty obviously lies with his country of origin, as it does for the majority of the immigrants who have become Belgian citizens in the past decades.

Belgium has 10.5 million inhabitants, of whom 900,000 legal aliens and 650,000 so-called new Belgians — foreigners who have acquired Belgian nationality since 1980. About 500,000 Belgian inhabitants are Muslims, mostly Moroccans and Turks. The foreigners have imported their own domestic quarrels and hangups into Belgian politics. As in the Netherlands, the 1915 Armenian genocide suddenly became a hot topic in Belgium’s election debates. In order not to antagonize Turkish voters both Johan Vande Lanotte, the leader of the Socialist Party, and Yves Leterme, the leader of the Christian-Democrats, refused to call the massacre of the 1.5 million Armenians a genocide. Vande Lanotte said the Armenian issue is “extremely sensitive,” while Mr. Leterme told the Turkish newspaper Zaman that “international experts disagree on the historical facts.” Mr. Leterme, who won the elections, is expected to become Belgium’s new prime minister later this month.

As the Islamization of Western Europe continues it will probably not be very long before politicians describe the Nazi genocide of the Jews as an “extremely sensitive” issue on which “international experts disagree.” Some European schools are already leaving the Holocaust out of their history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils. These developments are inevitable in countries where the political establishment is catering to a growing electorate of radicals.

Ehsan Jami claims he is willing to “change things from the inside.” The immigrant vote, however, has already changed European democracies from the inside, turning their politicians into appeasing weasels. The only immigrants they are eager to get rid of are Muslim apostates.

Paul Belien is editor of the Brussels Journal and an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute.

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