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JERUSALEM ISSUE BRIEF

Vol. 4, No. 14     2 January 2005


Radical Islam in The Netherlands:
A Case Study of a Failed European Policy

Manfred Gerstenfeld


  • On December 23, 2004, the Dutch Ministry of the Interior published a 60-page report entitled From Dawa to Jihad. Prepared by the Dutch general intelligence service (AIVD), it describes radical Islam and examines how to meet its threat to Dutch society.

  • Among the close to one million Dutch Muslims, about 95 percent are moderates. This implies that there are up to 50,000 potential radicals.

  • Since September 11, 2001, phenomena such as the growth of radical Islamic groups, polarization between Muslims and the surrounding society, limitations in the process of integration, and Islamist terrorism have increased in The Netherlands.

  • The capability of Dutch society to resist the threat of radical Islam is considered low, though recently a greater desire has become apparent among the Dutch population to become more resistant. Also within the Dutch Muslim community resistance against radical forces is low. The moderate organizations and individuals are not able to counterbalance the radical forces.

  • An earlier AIVD report dealt with Saudi influences in The Netherlands, mentioning a number of mosque organizations that originated from Saudi missions and financing. The Amsterdam Tawheed mosque, which in the past has put extreme anti-Semitic statements on its website, is linked financially, organizationally, and personally with the Saudi Al Haramain Foundation. Several other mosques are supported financially by Saudi charities.

  • The Dutch report places the blame for the origins of the problem squarely on the deeply-rooted ideology of fierce opposition to the Western way of life among certain Muslim groups. It does not claim that the problem of radical Muslims would disappear if there were peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel and Jews are not mentioned in the report.


Dutch Intelligence Report Examines Radical Muslim Threat

On December 23, 2004, the Dutch Ministry of the Interior published a 60-page report entitled From Dawa to Jihad.1 It was prepared by the AIVD, the Dutch general intelligence service, and examines how to meet the threat of radical Islam to Dutch society. Although the report is conceptual in nature, it is evident that to achieve even a part of its goals, substantial legal and behavioral changes in Dutch society will be necessary.

This also became clear during the parliamentary debate that followed, in the statement by Maxime Verhagen, faction chairman of The Netherlands' largest party, the middle of the road Christian Democrat party (CDA) of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, which has 44 of the 150 seats in the Chambers. He proposed that judges should be able to take away constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, from radical Muslims.2 No other party supported him.

The Minister of the Interior, Johan Remkes, observed that the prevention, isolation, and limitation of increasing radicalization is important. He added that this should be done by "all layers of Dutch society."3 There is, however, no way that this can be realized in the current societal climate of The Netherlands.


Understanding Dutch Culture

The general attitude of Dutch society over the past decades can be characterized by two Dutch words. The first is "gedoogcultuur," which literally means "a culture of permissiveness" but has become synonymous with "closing one's eyes" to multiple transgressions of the law. These include disparate matters such as soft drug use, immigration policies, safety of industrial and commercial operations, as well as many other subjects. It reflects a basic anti-authoritarian attitude that is quite common in Dutch society.

The second key word is "poldermodel," which means that efforts are made to reach a very broad national consensus on important issues. Though mainly used in the economic arena, this approach reflects Dutch society at large. The Dutch like to find solutions to problems through discussions without defining positions too sharply. This model can be explained as a legacy of Dutch history. In the past, people living behind dikes, at below sea level, had to cooperate with each other when there was danger of flooding. Both the gedoogcultuur and the poldermodel have already come under major criticism in recent years.

The AIVD report attempts to be as factual as possible. On such a problematic subject, however, this means that it cannot be politically correct as it defines part of an identifiable ethno-religious community as a danger to society. One may wonder whether the ministry would have found it politically convenient to publish the report had not Muslim radical Mohammed Boyeri cruelly murdered provocative Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in an Amsterdam street on November 2, 2004. In the following weeks there were tens of arson attempts against Muslim institutions and Christian churches. Prior to the murder, it was almost unthinkable for a government agency report to single out the Muslim community. The AIVD justified its publication by noting that it was responding to complaints by local authorities that they did not have enough information about radical Islam.


The Report's Key Elements

The AIVD report explains that the key ideological aim of radical Islamic groups is to target the Western way of life, and to confront alleged Western political, economic, and cultural domination. Such groups may be either nationalistic or religiously-oriented. The report notes:

  • Among the close to one million Dutch Muslims, about 95 percent are moderates. This implies that there are up to 50,000 potential radicals.

  • Recruitment in The Netherlands for the armed radical Muslim struggle - mainly among descendants of immigrants - is not incidental but rather a trend.4 This issue was discussed in an earlier AIVD report published in 2002,5 that mentioned that there had been at least ten recruiters at work in The Netherlands and assumed that there were several tens of Muslim youngsters in various stages of the recruitment process.

  • In recent years, and in particular since September 11, 2001, phenomena such as the growth of radical Islamic groups, polarization between Muslims and the surrounding society, limitations in the process of integration, and Islamist terrorism have increased in The Netherlands.6

  • Of the eight categories of radical Islam defined, four aim at dawa [proselytizing], which from the report's perspective goes beyond proselytizing to the undermining of the democratic order through abusing democratic means. Four others are of a jihadic [holy war] nature, i.e., they use or promote violence. Most of these are present in The Netherlands.

  • In The Netherlands one finds types of dawa in the political Arab European League Movement (AEL),7 in a limited number of Salafist mosques,8 in Islamist missions, some of which are financed by Saudi Arabia,9 as well as among individual Muslim preachers.10 Other types of dawa are promoted on the websites of foreign radical Muslim scholars11 and in chatrooms.12 Teacherless autonomous radicalization takes place, inter alia, in jails, in some Muslim schools, and in mosques.

  • In The Netherlands one also finds various forms of support for jihad. For example, the international radical organization Hizb ut Tahrir, which promotes jihad in a hidden way, has a presence.13 There are also local Muslim terrorist networks.14

  • The capability of Dutch society to resist the threat of radical Islam is considered low, though recently a greater desire has become apparent among the Dutch population to become more resistant.15

  • The resistance within the Dutch Muslim community against radical forces is low. The moderate organizations and individuals are not able to counterbalance the radical forces.16


Measures Proposed

The report also indicates in broad terms how the threat of radical Islam should be combated. It suggests a continuous legal check on the activities of radical Muslims regarding discrimination, hate-promotion, and incitement. However, this kind of surveillance is largely alien to the Dutch legal and police culture of the last decades. The report also repeats earlier proposed measures such as checks on the movement of money. Furthermore, while noting that improvement in the economic situation of the Dutch Muslim population is laudable, it notes that there is no proof that this limits radicalization.17

Other measures proposed are mainly medium and long-term strategies, including the distribution of better information on radical Islamic groups, collaboration with moderate forces in the Muslim community, encouraging more moderate forms of Islam, and the promotion of identity-creation among Muslims.

Other recommendations mentioned, without any concrete proposals regarding their execution, include the development of positive role models for young Muslims to replace the criminal role models that are positively viewed by some Muslim youth, as well as democracy education.

Mention is also made of the need to consider working with the authorities in those countries that send out radical Islamic missionaries, but this issue has not yet been discussed in The Netherlands.18


Why is the Report Important?

While many elements in the report have appeared in the media over the years, its importance lies in being an official document of the Dutch government. In the past, the Dutch government has largely avoided confronting the overall threat of Islamic radicalization to which its predecessors' policies on immigration, integration, and neglect of law enforcement have contributed.

Equally important are some issues that the report fails to mention, which are the inevitable outcome of its conclusions. Radical Muslims can, by definition, only be found in the Muslim community and are dispersed throughout it. To be effective in the struggle against radical Islam, Dutch Muslims will have to be watched and scrutinized by the police and the intelligence services much more intensively than most other sectors of Dutch society. This singling out implies giving less priority to Dutch equality and privacy laws. In addition, since radical Muslims mainly interact with other Muslims, a crucial element of success will be the collaboration of moderate Muslims with the police in informing on suspected individuals.

The main foreign promoters of dawa and jihad who influence their Dutch disciples are not analyzed in the report in any detail, nor are the most influential foreign Muslim preachers of anti-Western hatred and violence named. There is little specific mention of the role of foreign governments and charities.


Saudi Influences

An earlier AIVD report, however, dealt with Saudi influences in The Netherlands.19 It mentioned that in The Netherlands there were a number of mosque organizations which are Salafist in nature, that originated from Saudi missions and financing. The Amsterdam Tawheed mosque, which in the past has put extreme anti-Semitic statements on its website, is linked financially, organizationally, and personally with the Saudi Al Haramain Foundation. Three other mosques are linked with the private Saudi mission, Al Waqf Al Islami, that is related to key figures in the Saudi establishment.

Though not explicitly Salafist, there are several other mosques in The Netherlands which are supported financially by Saudi charities, private philanthropists, or government bodies. Sometimes the payments are not made to the mosques directly but to the imams. The report considers both the origin and destination of this financing to be obscure.

Most of the radical imams come from Egypt, Syria, Sudan, or Somalia. Many have studied in Saudi Arabia. For a long time in a number of ultra-orthodox mosques, extremist sermons have included saying that secular people, socialists, or democrats were allies of Satan. Stoning was preached as a punishment for extra-marital relations, etc.

While it has not been proven that jihad has been openly promoted in Dutch mosques, there have been sermons with jihadic tendencies, such as requests to Allah to kill "the enemies of Islam" such as Bush and Sharon and the enemies of Islam in Kashmir and Chechnya.

The ambassador of Saudi Arabia in early 2004 promised full transparency on financing. However, since then, very little has happened on that matter. While there has been some recent moderation in the sermons, the AIVD now believes the incitement takes place elsewhere in smaller, closed meetings. The report concluded that there were no indications that the risks and size of Islamic radicalism and jihadism in The Netherlands had changed in any way recently.


Israeli Aspects

From an Israeli perspective, the report is most important for what it does not say. It places the blame for the origins of the dawa and jihad problem squarely on the deeply-rooted ideology of fierce opposition to the Western way of life among certain Muslim groups. It does not attempt to hide behind the frequent Western escapist claim that the problem of radical Muslims would disappear if there were peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel and Jews are not mentioned in the report.

Accepting the report's findings and conclusions means that the Dutch political system admits, de facto, that its societal model of excessive tolerance for intolerance and crime has failed. In this, it could become a European paradigm. However, whether a more realistic domestic policy in The Netherlands and a better insight into the extreme forms of Muslim culture will also mean a better understanding of the Middle Eastern reality remains to be seen.

*     *     *

Notes

1. "Van dawa tot jihad. De diverse dreigingen van de radicale islam tegen de democratische rechtsorde," Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties, 2004 [Dutch]. (Hereafter "the Dawa Report.")
2. "CDA: Ontneem extremist rechten," Trouw, 24 December 2004 [Dutch].
3. "Nota AIVD: 'westerse leefstijl doelwit radicalen,'" NRC Handelsblad, 23 December 2004 [Dutch].
4. The Dawa Report, p. 6.
5. "Rekrutering in Nederland voor de jihad van incident naar trend," AIVD 2002 [Dutch].
6. The Dawa Report, p. 23.
7. The Dawa Report, p. 40. This movement is strongest in Belgium, but also has a Dutch branch.
8. The Dawa Report, p. 42.
9. The Dawa Report, p. 43.
10. The Dawa Report, p. 43.
11. The Dawa Report, p. 43.
12. The Dawa Report, p. 43.
13. The Dawa Report, p. 46.
14. The Dawa Report, p. 47.
15. The Dawa Report, p. 50.
16. The Dawa Report, p. 50.
17. The Dawa Report, p. 58.
18. The Dawa Report, p. 57.
19. "Saoedische invloeden in Nederland, Verbanden tussen salafitische missie, radicaliseringsprocessen en islamistisch-terrorisme," AIVD, 2004 [Dutch].

*     *     *

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is an international business strategist who has been a consultant to governments, international agencies, and boards of some of the world's largest corporations. Among his nine books are Europe's Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today's Anti-Semitism (JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003), The New Clothing of European Anti-Semitism (Editions Cafe Noir, 2004) [in French], co-edited with Shmuel Trigano, and American Jewry's Challenge: Conversations Confronting the 21st Century (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004).


Dore Gold, Publisher; Yaakov Amidror, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El, Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13 Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112, Email: jcpa@netvision.net.il. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community Studies, 5800 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215 USA, Tel. (410) 664-5222; Fax. (410) 664-1228. Website: www.jcpa.org. © Copyright. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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