- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

BRUSSELS — Plans for a Muslim-only hospital in the Netherlands have sparked a heated debate over its separate all-male and all-female wings, halal food and roster of duty imams.

A populist nationalist party described the plan for the clinic in south Rotterdam as “a step backwards to the Middle Ages.”

The sexes will be segregated, with male patients treated by an exclusively male nursing and medical staff and similar arrangements for female patients.

The Netherlands’ once proud multicultural model, which promoted tolerance of a rapidly growing immigrant population, has been questioned in recent years, especially after the slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamist.

The latest dispute concerns plans for a private hospital aimed at the Netherlands’ 1 million Muslims.

It is the brainchild of a health industry entrepreneur, Paul Sturkenboom, who plans to employ 45 doctors and 275 nurses. Staff will not have to be Muslims.

The plan has been attacked by the Rotterdam-based Leefbaar Rotterdam, or “Liveable Rotterdam” party, which controlled the local council until March.

Last month, the party unsuccessfully tried to have the hospital banned.

A nationalist member of parliament, Geert Wilders, has dubbed the hospital plan “apartheid.”

Construction work is about to start, and the clinic aims to open by 2008.

Mr. Sturkenboom defended his project.

“If Mr. Wilders is saying in a xenophobic way that this will prohibit integration of Muslim Dutch citizens, we just point to the fact that 20 or 30 years ago, Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant Dutch people had their own schools, their own hospitals, their own trade unions and employers’ organizations” he said.

“That autonomy helped those people integrate at their own speed into Dutch society. This compact hospital will give Muslims time to integrate at their own speed.”

He said that 40 of the 100 hospitals in the Netherlands were run by Catholic or Protestant foundations.

No Muslim hospitals are operating, though Muslim immigrants make up 5 percent of the population.

Mr. van Gogh, a relative of the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh, was killed in November 2004 while bicycling to work in Amsterdam after a film on Muslim women he had produced angered Islamist militants.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch politician known for her outspoken criticism of Islam, partnered with Mr. van Gogh on the film. She went into hiding after Mr. van Gogh’s murder and returned to parliament several months later. She still lives under heavy guard and is working on a sequel to the film she made with Mr. van Gogh, on Islam’s treatment of homosexuality.

Another Dutch anti-immigration politician lived in a maximum-security prison to protect himself from attack owing to his criticism of radical Islam.

Geert Wilders went into hiding after the van Gogh killing and the subsequent arrest of a group of suspected radical Islamists who are accused of plotting to kill him and other prominent politicians.

“It feels like being trapped and the word freedom has become a totally different concept for me,” Mr. Wilders said in an interview in the Dutch parliament, where he returned to work in December 2004.

Mr. Wilders is seen as an heir to populist anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn, who was killed in Rotterdam by an animal rights activist.

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