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- We thought we belonged here

- We missed a chance to talk after the killing of Theo Van Gogh, says R. Kazanci. Today he wonders if he has lost his homeland.


R. Kazanci is spokesman for the Mevlana Mosque in Rotterdam. After the murder of Theo Van Gogh, he has spent much of his time showing non-Muslims around the beautiful building. For it was not just condemnation and attempted arson that met the mosque in the months that followed. Suddenly, interest in Islam in Dutch society was palpable.

- They ask us openly: is Islam really the enemy of the western world? I tell them that what Muslims do does not always have anything to do with Islam. When Protestants kill Catholics, or vice versa, in Northern Ireland, no one thinks this is due to an underlying hate message in Christianity. Muslims act both within religious frameworks, within frameworks related to culture and tradition, and in a breach of these frameworks, says Kazanci.

- Still, one can argue that Islam has given birth to new groups of extremists and radical fanatics in Europe?

- Like most other religions and ideologies. It is simply not true that Muslims are terrorists. By that I mean that one cannot be religious and terrorist at the same time. Islam does not allow anyone to be murdered. Those who kill are non-believers in the sense that they have broken with their religion.

- But have they also broken with their mosque?

- Yes. It is a typical feature of these young radicals that they no longer have, if they have ever had, contact with a mosque. Of all the thousands of believers who pray in this mosque, I have never met a single extremist, nor heard a single extremist utterance. The same goes for the other mosques I have contact with. Nor would we have tolerated such statements.

Kazanci says that the Mevlana Mosque has wanted to have an open door to the outside world. Here come both Protestant and Catholic priests, Imams from other religious faiths, and rabbis. This cooperation has only been strengthened after the killing of Van Gogh. If there was one thing the people of the mosque realized in the days that followed, it was that the job ahead was going to be heavy.

- We immediately contacted other mosques to get a common front against this murder. And it was not difficult to get the Muslims to stand together in disgust at what had happened. But there was also fear among us. It was as if we had long anticipated that something would happen. The attention around Theo Van Gogh was simply too intense.

- Many Muslims must have perceived the film 'Submission' as a solid attack on them…

- Not primarily as an attack, perhaps. More like a mockery. But we said to ourselves and to each other that OK, this is his position. In retrospect, I would have wished that educated Muslims in our society had spoken out against Van Gogh. It might have generated a completely different debate than the trench war that followed.

Kazanci believes the way the public debate was conducted was a decisive factor in Van Gogh's assassination. It all escalated when moderates in both camps left the arena to radical elements – be it rabid imams or aggressive right-wing populists.

- We missed a chance to talk together, says Kazanci. – Theo Van Gogh should have been met with words, and not with weapons. And now we are losing another debate, namely the one related to the construction of mosques. When Rotterdam's new city government tried to stop a mosque that had been approved several years before, it sent a message to Muslims that their house of worship was no longer wanted. For Muslims, it has become a truth that ethnic Dutch do not want a physical representation of Islam. They want us to be invisible.

- Most things concerning the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Netherlands have become a yes-or-no question. There is no room for compromise anymore, says Kazanci.

- Some imams have also not helped to create a climate for compromise and reconciliation…

- It is true that we have had some problems related to imams. But here, too, the state must take its responsibility. Religious leaders who come here are simply not allowed to live here for more than four years. This means that they never learn the language or culture properly. All imams I have had contact with do their very best to function well in this community. And none of them are linked to extremism or radicalism.

Kazanci speaks on behalf of a Turkish mosque. He believes the tolerance of this mosque is linked to the Ottoman heritage and the fact that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side for hundreds of years. In the neighborhood where the mosque is located, ethnic Dutch and Muslims have always had the best relationship with each other.

- We know our neighbors here. They would never have attacked this mosque, as we experienced in the months after the murder. For a while we had to have guards here because gangs tried to set fire to the mosque. It was an extremely tense period, says Kazanci.

He says the situation has calmed down now. But he doesn't think the improvement is final. Instead, he envisions a future where emotions will ebb and flow in relation to what's happening. He is not at all sure that he will stay in the Netherlands.

- We all thought; we who were born and raised here, that we belonged in this society. That we were Dutch with a Turkish background. But the murder of Van Gogh taught us that our ethnic white neighbors have never really seen it that way. To them, we will always be Turks, and at worst potential terrorists.

Kazanci says he is a second generation immigrant in the Netherlands. He was born there. He studied there. He works there, and is married there. Still, he is considering moving back to his grandparents' homeland; a country he hardly knows. Some of his friends have already left. It is a result of the dramatic mental shift that has taken place in Turkish society in recent years.

- Sometimes I'm pretty sure I just do not want my children to grow up here. Other times, I think I might be able to help create something positive in this community. If I stay, it's because I feel that attempts at reconciliation are useful. I can not live in this country if the majority think I do not belong here.

Part of the problem, Kazanci believes, is that Muslims have no choice but to defend their religion when attacked. But it is often perceived as giving their support to extreme acts such as terrorism and murder. That is not the case, says Kazanci. In the days after the assassination, he experienced a collective strong condemnation of the killer, just as he experienced the condemnation after the terrorist attacks on the United States. – What Muslims ask themselves is the same as everyone else asks: Why did Mohammed B. commit this murder? What makes people do such things?

When the killing became known, Kazanci was sitting at his house, hoping sincerely that not a Muslim had committed it. When this hope broke, it became clear to him that the entire Muslim community would suffer as a result.

- Before the terrorist attacks on the United States, it was young people from the Netherlands Antilles who had the most trouble with society at large. They were always portrayed as very aggressive in the media. After the eleventh of September, this role was given to the Muslims. The murder of Theo Van Gogh only reinforced this stigma.

Kazanci says that he himself, and all the other Muslims he knows, felt at home in the Netherlands before Osama bin Laden struck. That's what they were. Home. And it was never a problem for them that the Netherlands is not a Muslim country.

- All Muslims know Islam. But it is a personal belief. The Netherlands is extremely liberal, and allows such things as prostitution and drugs. But they also allow mosques for Muslims. We have learned to live together in this country, and we must take care of that lesson, says Kazanci.

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