Netherlands: Labor Party should not meddle in religion

Netherlands: Labor Party should not meddle in religion


Three local council members of Moroccan origin for the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) are warning that secular Muslims are leaving the party since they feel it is getting too involved in religious issues.

Mohammed Mohandis

When, as a Moroccan-Dutch, you put a glass of cold beer to your lips, it happens now that an ethnic Dutch confronts you: Hey, you're Muslim, no?  You can't drink alcohol?  Or you stand in the supermarket to pay for your chicken and the cashier says seriously: that's not halal.  In the Netherlands of 2009 you're Islamisized by the non-Muslims, says Mohammed Mohandis.  And that, he says, also happens in his own party - the PvdA.

Mohandis (24) is a municipality councilor in Gouda.  He was additionally recently voted in as chairman of the Young Socialists, the PvdA's youth movement.  He was national news when after riots in Gouda he called to "keep your paws off our bus drivers".

Mohandis is asking for more secularism within the party.  "A society in which separation of Church and State is strictly enforced.  Religion is a private issue.  I myself sometimes take my inspirations from religion, but I won't trouble with it any neighbor or party-member.  Keep religion for yourself.  I speak to atheist Moroccans and secular Muslims who say: why is the PvdA meddling so with religion?  They join the D66 party because they think it's a more liberal party."

"If somebody wants to follow a religion, great.  For all denominations, from orthodox to moderate, there is room.  But as the PvdA you must put it very clearly: These are our principles.  Gay-emancipation, for example, the equality of man and woman.  And then it's up to the people if it fits them or not.

Take the example of Yman Mahrach, municipality councilor in Amsterdam, who last year said: Islam and the Koran are fixed.  You are Muslim or not.  Thus the homosexual act is forbidden, that is a law in Islam, just as you are not allowed to lie.

Mohandis says that Mahrach gave a religious rather than a social-democratic answer.  It's disturbing.  If many points of view of the PvdA are diametrically opposite to your conviction, you must ask yourself if you belong to a right party. 

Mohandis says that now the candidate lists are being put together and it is the time to ensure that people propagate and respect democratic values: standing up for man, woman, White,  Black, gay, straight, and people with or without a handicap.  He says that the PvdA wants to ensure that the lists are compiled in a politically correct manner - with both men and women, and with enough immigrants.  There are candidate committees who go into the neighborhoods in order to look for an immigrant, because they want to win over the Muslim voters and the Moroccan voters and the tea-houses and community center visitors, purely for electoral reasons.  That will cause misfortune.

Mohandis' leftist ideas don't agree with orthodox Islamic notions, and he does not agree with the idea of party head Wouter Bos and integration spokesperson in parliament for the PvdA Jeroen Dijsselbloem to support a liberal-Islamic movement.  He says it's a logical error.  The party represents social-democratic values and should not turn back on it.  You might agree more with liberal Islam, but it will also sometimes be diametrically opposite to social-democratic values.  An eventual alliance with liberal Muslims might be the result, but is not the starting point.

He was also disturbed by the discussions that well-known PvdA district mayor of Amsterdam-Slotervaart, Ahmed Marcouch, conducted with the radical Hague imam Jneid Fawaz.  The two attacked each other in articles and on TV appearances.  Marcouch wrote things such as: the Koran does not present regulations for clothing, and has no special hair-dos or a way of greeting.  Much more important is what the Koran does proscribe: fight for justice, be good citizens, go work, get an education and care for your neighbors.

Mohandis: You must not use religious, but political arguments.  Marcouch is a politician.  If you get involved in theological discussion with an imam, you're in dangerous territory.  Must you on the basis of religious arguments shake hands or not?  That is so troublesome.  You could, as a secular party, better say that you should shake hands, because men and women in the Netherlands are equal and because with that you link up with society.  You stand firm when you say where you as a district stand, or as a party, then that you say: it's in verse so and so.  Then Fawaz comes with verse so-and-so.

He names another example: "If somebody wants to leave the faith, it causes a lot of resistance.  Then as PvdA you must always stand behind the individuals.  And not behind the group.  But not because you want to promote a liberal Islam, because you're for emancipation of the individual."

"Approach people as people.  As a Gouda or Amsterdam resident.  And not in the group: we're going to speak with the mosque.  There are still too many PvdA'ers who think in groups.  Even our Integration Minister, Eberhard van der Laan.  I think highly of him, think he's one of our best people."  But when Van der Laan says that Muslims are such nice, honest people, he thinks it's pampering over the top.  You shouldn't do that.  You imply that they're not honest people.  He must simply see that they're Dutch who are born here and to whom you must also say: you are not Moroccan, I don't speak to you as a Muslim, you are Dutch.  Period.  That's it.  I am also not a Muslims spokesperson or Moroccan chairman.  I am spokesperson for the Young Socialists."

Fouad el Haji

'I once told Wouter Bos,' PvdA councillor Fouad el Haji recalls, "that I think it's a pity that secularism is not a political subject.  Nobody stands up and says: We must link the group of secular Muslims to us. I told him: I notice that people leave because they don't feel represented.  You don't only lose votes with that, but also potential members.  Highly educated, rich in ideas, engaged, involved youth,"

'Bos said: I've discussed that with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who does integration in Parliament.  And he said: put it on paper first.  I sent him an extended mail. He answered that his secretary would make a meeting.  That was March.  I have heard nothing since.'

El Haji feels an affinity with his colleagues Mohammed Mohandis from Gouda and Mostapha el Madkouri from Almere.  But also with Haarlem councilor Moussa Aynan, who is known for his opposition to the obligatory name lists of the Moroccan government at Dutch municipalities.  The 40 year old El Haji attracted attention to himself by pointing out that recruitment practices of the Moroccan secret service in the Netherlands.

"We speak about Muslims in the Netherlands as if they are all strictly religious, orthodox.  What we speak about most often when we meet each other at party meetings is this: We apparently don't exist.  And with us thousands of others.  People whom it pains to again see a fundamentalist on TV.  Dreadful!  Because it seems as if he thus represents all Muslims in the Netherlands.  And that is far from true.  There are for example also many Muslims who don't go to the mosque, such as me."

El Haji says most Moroccan Muslims in the Netherlands are secular, but they don't advertise it.  There's no podium for them in the political landscape, and you thereby fail them.

He says that youth are leaving the party, going to D66, when they naturally belong in the PvdA.  To a lesser degree they go to GroenLinks (Greens) or SP (Socialists).  People who don't see society, government, politicians, their neighbors through religious spectacles but simply through a citizen's spectacles.   Through modern, secular spectacles, without stressing their religion."  Like himself.

He says they are the PvdA's natural allies.  "We have a multi-ethnic women's network in the PvdA.  And a gay-network.  There should be a lobby for this too."

"A party should make alliances with sympathizers.  It would be nice if our integration minister Van der Laan could support this appeal.  Time is pressing.  There are elections.  It would be nice if we get moderate types on the list.  Then you could see: we ignore nobody.

Mostapha el Madkouri

Mostapha el Madkouri (38) says that as a politican or official, you shouldn't get that into your head.  The councilor from Almere is speaking of the municipal service-counter that Utrecht opened in a mosque earlier this year.  That was decided by a PvdA official. That is undesirable.  You should not put in civil servants there, do that in the municipality buildings.  No ethnic-Dutch likes it, and rightly so.  It's a public service where he doesn't feel welcome.  While it should be accessible by everybody.

He says that people in the Netherlands are relieved that the 'pillars' are in the past and that everybody can associate with everybody.  Public services are for everyone.  He can well imagine that people say about such a service-counter: what are we dealing with?  never create services on the basis of religious beliefs.

But just as El Madkouri understands ethnic Dutch who think that a service-counter in a mosque is ridiculous, he has as much understanding for Muslims who leave the PvdA since the party speaks too harshly against Islamic orthodoxy.  "The great victory in the municipal elections of 2006 was party thanks to Muslims.  Whom I see defecting to other liberal parties such as D66."

El Madkouri says that the PvdA seems to be judging what is the best form of Islam, but they shouldn't be doing that at all.  At most they should say: All religions are welcome.  The PvdA seems less open for orthodox denominations.  You must act tough towards people who are so radical that they want to cross over to violence.  That's what we have a constitutional state for.  But besides that you should not meddle in it.

He also sees that some ultra-orthodox denominations neatly keep to the law and yet can be undesirable for a progressive party.  But you tackle a bad movement by telling your own narrative better.  And the narrative of the PvdA is not about religion, it's about schooling, work and care.  It's a big mistake to think that the PvdA should express itself about all other topics.

El Madkouri is happy with the recent publicity offensive of minister Eberhard van der Laan (integration).  He says Van der Laan is one of the PvdA's best people.  He paints an image against the unnuanced images of Wilders.  He keep to the PvdA's narrative without excluding people, and the party leadership should learn from that.

And Wouter Bos?  "He can surprise us.  I still believe in him.  Under his leadership we had a gigantic victory in the municipal elections in 2006.  His narrative was fantastic then.  The party should bring pressure to bear on him to do it again.  He must do it again."

Source: De Pers (Dutch)

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