The Netherlands has long been Europe’s most permissive society — everything from window-shopping in Amsterdam for scantily clad hookers (50 to 80 Euros for 15 to 30 minutes) to hashish aroma in marijuana smoke-filled cafes. The government and the sex workers union protect some 30,000 women. The pimps are landlords and the aging prostitutes are quickly replaced with a steady influx from the former Soviet republics and East European countries.
A Dutch brothel chain is suing the government for failing to green-light the “Yum Yum Caviar Club” at Schiphol Airport “to cater to stressed travelers in transit.” The government responded that plans for an airport bordello were on hold pending new building and space in the departure areas.
It was such Dutch tolerance, pragmatism and guilt about the country’s colonial past that allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Muslim Indonesia (a Dutch colony from the 17th century until World War II) to flood into tiny Holland. Today, Muslims are a majority among children under 14 in the Netherlands’ four largest cities.
There are 1 million Muslims (6 percent of the population) now living in Europe’s most crowded small country. Some 30,000 new Muslims arrive every year. They tend to live among themselves, with their own schools, mosques and restaurants. Most are horrified by what they view as sacrilegious in their own religion. Their imams speak no Dutch and know nothing of the Netherlands’ history and culture.
Western Europe as a whole gets about half a million new Muslims a year. Most make their way from sub-Sahara Africa and North Africa, illegal immigrants smuggled by boat to Spain and Italy where they are free to travel with impunity to the rest of Europe. Thus, Europe’s Muslim population has doubled to 20 million in the last 10 years.
The anti-Muslim backlash spawned far right-wing parties. Belgium’s highest court this week ruled the anti-immigration Flemish Bloc party — the most popular political force in Dutch-speaking Flanders — will lose the government subsidies allocated to all parties, and is now forced to disband. It quickly renamed itself the Flemish Interest Party, and toned down its inflammatory rhetoric.
Europe’s largest mosque is in Rotterdam, which is also Europe’s busiest port. Half the people there are of foreign origin. Unemployment among the Muslims is high. And the Dutch live-and-let-live permissiveness made this nation, a quarter of it below sea level and protected by 1,500 dikes, ideal breeding grounds for Muslim fundamentalism and the kind of extremism that spawned one of Osama bin Laden’s European fan clubs. But for years the government was in denial about Islamist extremism in what is otherwise a well-managed society.
Dutch Muslims, repelled by the freewheeling lifestyle, sought solace with radical imams in the mosques. There men outnumber women. And women are relegated to a part of the mosque where they can be neither seen nor heard.
What Dutch filmmaker and columnist Theo Van Gogh saw as the shabby treatment of females throughout the Muslim community led him to produce documentaries that portrayed Muslim men as tormentors of women, especially their wives. One recent scathingly critical Van Gogh film’s carried the message that Islam promotes violence against women. Last week, Van Gogh, a grandnephew of the painter, was shot as he cycled to work. He managed to get up and stagger across the street to his building where he collapsed. The assailant followed him and slit his throat before pinning to his chest with a knife a five-page manifesto that called on Muslims to rise against the “infidel enemies” in the West.
Dutch security authorities launched a nationwide manhunt for the murderer of the popular Van Gogh. A hand grenade injured four policemen as they went after two suspects in a working-class district of The Hague. Air space over the capital was closed for a day as Dutch Special Forces lay siege to a building and the two surrendered after a 14-hour standoff.
Ten others were arrested, including the prime suspect, a Muhammad Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch Moroccan, who was charged with murder and suspected links to an al Qaeda group. A two-time visitor to Saudi Arabia, he had doffed Western clothes in favor of Arab dress.
Both Mr. Bouyeri and his close friend Samir Azzouz, 18, another Dutch Moroccan, moved between five apartments in an Amsterdam suburb favored by Islamist radicals. They were on Dutch intelligence’s terrorist watch list as they communicated with like-minded extremist cells throughout Western Europe.
Last year, Mr. Azzouz was stopped in Ukraine and turned back as he made his way to Chechnya to fight the Russians. Released by the Dutch and then rearrested because bomb-making equipment and detailed maps of public buildings were found with his fingerprints, he is in jail awaiting trial.
Tit-for-tat terrorism quickly followed Van Gogh’s assassination in widely scattered parts of the otherwise peaceful Netherlands. An arson attack against a Muslim school was followed in the same village of Uden by a Muslim attack against a primary school that was set ablaze and completely gutted. Then a small bomb damaged a Muslim school in Eindhoven. A score of mosques and churches were targeted by arson attacks in one week. Two young men were also arrested for putting a video on the Internet that promised 72 virgins in paradise for the “beheading” of Geert Wilders, a popular right-wing politician who decries the dangers of radical Islam.
Two years ago, Pim Fortuyn, a populist politician who called for a halt to immigration, by simply saying the Netherlands was “full,” was similarly gunned down.
Over the past year, the presence of 1,300 Dutch troops in Iraq triggered repeated threats from Muslim groups. Last summer, a last will and testament was found when an 18-year-old man of Moroccan-born parents was arrested for plotting terrorist attacks in the Netherlands. The list of targets included the Dutch parliament, Schiphol and the nuclear reactor at Borssele. Floor plans of several public buildings were also found. The former student wrote in his will he wants his newborn son to live “in the spirit of jihad.”
Described by a police psychiatrist as “fearless and fatalistic,” the student “gradually fell under the spell of ideas about the oppression of Islam.” During a court hearing, his family remained seated as all present rose when the judge entered. The mother was covered in a head-to-toe chador in Muslim fundamentalist fashion.
Islamist extremists even penetrated the Dutch intelligence service with a double agent. One officer was arrested last September. The government hastily drafted a Patriot Act-like law which enables it to strip citizens of their citizenship and deport them if they engage in extremist acts.
Could the Netherlands be a curtain-raiser for a wider clash of civilizations in the old Continent? Hundreds of thousands of young Muslims in Europe are potential jihadis, according to European intelligence chiefs speaking not for publication. They have been warning their political masters about the tinderboxes that many Muslim communities have become. Jihadi volunteers are known to have left for Iraq from a number of Muslim slums on the outskirts of major European cities.
Recruitment posters come on regular European and Arabic news programs — from the Abu Ghraib prison pictures to the battle of Fallujah.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.