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In Rotterdam, the minarets stretch to the sky. A minority is becoming a majority.


There is almost something ominous about the silence of Insulindestraat. There are no people in the streets, no children in the local park with swings and slides. The windows are left; the doors to the street are closed. A local gallery that should have been open on Sundays is bolted and locked.

Insulindestraat 248 it says with white letters on a blue door. Below it is added a few phone numbers and a name: Chris Ripken. A year ago, this door would have been open on such a beautiful late summer day as this one. The local artist would have worked out with one of his provocative or contemplative works of art.

But Chris Ripken has moved indoors. Nearly a year ago, he made a stunt against the neighborhood, which should prove to be his last. He took the paintbrush with him outdoors and wrote on his permanent exhibition wall: Gÿ zult niet doden! Don't kill! It was the second of November, the same day as Theo Van Gogh's murder.

It became too much for the mosque that lies next to the studio. The speech was washed away long ago, and the artist was made aware in polite and less polite ways that he had offended the local Muslims.

Insulindestraat; in the middle of an area where seven out of ten inhabitants swear by Islam. An artist is censored by religion and has drawn indoors. The mosque has gagged the free speech. The streets are perfectly quiet. The noise, laughter, and stare have receded in anticipation of the next brutal awakening.

In Rotterdam everyone is waiting for the next attack.

Walking the streets of Rotterdam is like a future journey in Europe. There are more immigrants to see than whites. Not only in the areas where immigrants often live; in dilapidated ghettos a little outside the center, but everywhere: in fancy shopping streets where haute couture is sold at soaring prices; in the sidewalk restaurants, in trams and buses.

Counting people in Rotterdam is to sum up a ratio of two to one: two parts immigrants, some ethnic white Dutch.

There is no worn-out picture. Nothing silent and bitter about the crowd mingling with each other in an eternal flow of laughter, noise and chaos. On the contrary. On the streets of this most multicultural city in Europe – a status it shares with Amsterdam – the navels, piercings, hijabs and chadors go hand in hand, giggling, talking, laughing – under an autumn-hot summer sun that has blessed the inhabitants of this city with 25 hot degrees all week.

It is a picture of relief. Why wasn't the Netherlands, with its ethnic and religious mosaic, almost decaying into pure civil war a year ago when the aggressively anti-Islamic director Theo Van Gogh was killed on an open street in Amsterdam?

This killing, which brought the Netherlands to the breaking point. Over the breaking point, actually. That caused people to flee back to their own religious and ethnic identities, which caused the crucible to polarize along dividing lines that had been unclear until then.

Such pain in people, then. Such pain in them still. Because beneath the multicultural, smiling surface something has risen. Humans have become ours; scarier than before, more likely to keep their opinions to themselves, not go out into the landscape that can lead to sudden and sudden death. It's new and unknown, scary and disturbing. It spoils the traditional goodwill toward the newcomers and their successors. Tears on the tolerance, openness and generosity of a country that

without blinking, immigrants from the former colonies welcomed: first and foremost, people from Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles. But that also included large groups of Turks and Moroccans as guest workers in the 60s.

Society has become like glass. So endlessly easy to crush.

The horror is on both sides. Sitting with a local artist who is about to complete his grandiose work on freedom of expression; this freedom of speech that was taken from him a year ago: the contours of a woman's body, the contours of an emerging head. Five torn heads lying around. It is a picture of evil that is always emerging. No sooner is the head of evil removed than new ones appear.

It is not meant to be anti-Islamic. It is meant to tell people that evil exists in all variants and that one must stand against it. That's what he meant when he wrote the fatal words on the wall outside his studio as well. Gÿ will not kill. They were never aimed at the mosque or the Muslims in the neighborhood. It was a public and religious observation.

It was an impulse to do something for and in a society where outspoken and stupid directors go and are murdered; because no matter how many times Muslims are called "goat fuckers", one should not be murdered in the open in Europe for one's utterances. One must not, in Europe, be murdered for one's utterances.

It sits like barbs in the body. This legacy that is ours, this right to bold life and controversial statements. This right, in this secular Europe, to make religion a satire. Chris Ripken did not use this right. He wrote something he thought everyone could relate to.

And then it happened that made something crack inside.

- I discovered, he says – that I had neighbors who thought you could kill people like Theo Van Gogh; that religion somehow justified the action. I discovered that this murder had not been committed by one disturbed individual, but that there were people, people in my own environment, who both accepted and wanted this murder.

The same night that Chris Ripken quoted the Bible on the wall outside the studio, another text appeared there: "it is allowed to kill assholes." During that night, police, city officials, mosque people and a local journalist came to the studio. Ripken was told to use the sponge, the local journalist was arrested because he defended the statement – a case that is still ongoing – and Ripken was told by the city authorities not to incite a fight.

Since then, Chris Ripken has worked indoors. Broken by the knowledge that he no longer has his freedom. Also shattered by the fact that the neighborhood no longer wants anything to do with him.

The man who made the decorations on the mosque wall to wall, and who has always had the best relationship with the people there, locks the door behind him as we walk. Freedom of speech is now locked in.

Rotterdam is the hub around which Islam in the Netherlands spins. Here is the only Islamic university in the western world – with the exception of a small branch in Schiedam, not far away. Europe's largest mosque is also being built here.

It is in Rotterdam that the minarets rise in Europe. The architecture of the mosques has become triumphalistic, city officials say. They try to reverse the trend. The discussion of the mosques has degenerated into a question of how high the minarets can be.

This small country in Europe, with its three hundred mosques, over a thousand Islamic cultural centers and 42 primary schools… They did so much right here in the past. Must have done so much right, since people still mingle so freely on the streets, interacting so naturally out there in society at large.

But day by day, the glue between people breaks down. With each passing day, the underlying debate becomes bitter. The authorities; with its demands on Islam – suddenly, as if Muslims were a kind of collective fifth column for globalized terrorism. The utter stupidity of local city politicians in Rotterdam, as if some minarets should constitute a kind of be or not be for this city. Leefbaar Rotterdam as the largest party in this half-million city after the elections in 2002. It is the populist Pim Fortuyn's legacy to his hometown, this. Fortuyn, who was also at war with Islam, after a local imam described Europeans as "less valuable than pigs" since they accept homosexuality.

Aimed at a Pim Fortuyn with his outspoken homosexuality. A populist, who shot like a comet at the pinnacle of politics after his statements that "the Netherlands is full."

And then the murder of Fortuyn, too – two years before Van Gogh was found on the streets, shot, stabbed and with a cut neck – and with a note attached to his chest: death threats against public figures, in the name of Islam. But Pim Fortuyn was not killed by a Muslim. Theo Van Gogh did the trick. The trial against Dutch-Moroccan Mohammed Bouyeri took place earlier this summer. He will spend the rest of his life in prison.

An accelerating crackling, which is a few years old now. As elsewhere, it began after the images of an inferno in flames on the other side of the globe. Opinion polls knocked out Dutch people: Almost half of the country's Muslims turned out to have a "full understanding" of the attacks. It was an unbalanced measurement. But it played less of a role. The numbers were out there. In Rotterdam, some Muslims danced in the streets.

And then, three years after, the murder of Van Gogh. It drove the knife in society. For this was the director who, together with the Somali-born parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, had made the film Submission about the abuse of Islam. The apostate Hirsi Ali dressed as a Muslim in a transparent burqa, with quotations from the Qur'an that allow violence against women.

The conflict was suddenly completely open. It was Islam against the secular, Muslims against the rest. Immigration was given a new dimension. For here, there was no longer talk of fully compatible immigrants from the former colonies, who mastered both language, values ​​and working life. Here it was about religion; a backward and conservative offensive against a vulnerable and liberal state.

So society went berserk. Attempts were made to set mosques on fire, Quran schools in Eindhoven and Uden were bombed. The smoke was literally above the Netherlands while the social fire was raging across the country. The Muslims made desperate attempts to declare that they were not the enemy. Thousands gathered in the streets of Amsterdam to show their spontaneous resistance to terror and murder.

Words like "civil war" suddenly appeared in the newspaper columns. It was a dam that burst, and it washed over the Muslims with relentless force.

It is a sudden and unexpected sight. A colossal fist to consciousness, where it shows up as the train heads into Rotterdam Central Station. The Mevlana Mosque, with its vibrant minarets and round architecture. A triumphalistic architecture, as Leefbaar Rotterdam would have said. An architecture that places Islam right in the heart of Europe, visible to all, threatening to some, quite natural to others.

It is not alone among mosques. Just a few hundred meters down the street lies the Annasr Mosque, with its imam condemning Europeans as worse than pigs. But where Annasr and other mosques slip anonymously into the urban landscape, the Mevlana Mosque glitters like a jewel on the outskirts of the city. For a beautiful confirmation it must be for the Muslims that they belong here, that Europe is their continent too. For a glorious consummation of a religion's quest for belonging.

Rotterdam, with its thirty mosques, although the city does not huser more than six hundred thousand people. Mevlana is the biggest, so far. But it doesn't last long. To the south of the city, the Muslims build Europe's largest mosque, the Essalam Mosque. Not unexpectedly, after the political change in Rotterdam three years ago, the building plans have been an arena for fierce confrontation. Typically, in this secular Europe where football has taken over for religion, the dispute has been about whether the minarets can be taller than the stadium floodlights.

Or whether it should be allowed at all.

A question the Minister of Physical Infrastructure in the City Government, Marco Pastors, would definitely have answered with a resounding no. Had it not been for the fact that the previous administration had already given its permission when Leefbaar Rotterdam stormed the city's Stadhuis three years ago and began to rule together with the Christian Democrats and the Liberals…

- You know, architecture is not just concrete and glass. It is a representation, an external form; in this case a form that represents a completely different culture. I do not think this form, this representation, is good for the further integration in our city. Many people simply do not think that this type of mosque is particularly fun to look at.

Something from an amusement park. This is the term Pastors use for the shape and representation of Rotterdam's new mosques. And the truth is that the mosque that is already fully finished, the Mevlana Mosque, is a kind of adventure with its blue, pink and shower yellow pastel colors. Europeans would never have built their churches with these smiling, flirtatious colors. Europeans have always built their churches as a heavy, oppressive mass – in line with the content of religion, possibly.

But here, on the outskirts of Oude West; a burgeoning and boisterous immigrant neighborhood outside the city center itself, the Mevlana Mosque resembles the turquoise blue, red and yellow headdresses that walk up and down the streets. In contrast, the cheerful colors are strangely absent in the square in front of the mosque itself. Here are just men, and they are not very young either. It is a picture of the metamorphosis within the Muslim immigrant community. Contrary to official mythology, there are fewer and fewer Muslims who have this heartfelt relationship with their religion. The numbers are clear:

Only twenty percent of Dutch Muslims actively practice their religion. The number of people in the mosques is declining. Muslim schools are losing ground. While 38 percent of Moroccan children attended Muslim schools in 1998, the figure was only 23 percent in 2002. Islam is becoming less and less important for young, highly educated and well-integrated second- and third-generation Muslims.

Well integrated. It's a difficult concept; presupposes that Muslims are only valuable citizens if they embrace secular and liberal values. But then, it may not be what it is about anyway, but the degree to which one roots, takes education, works and moves in the community to which one actually belongs.

Jack Burgers, professor of urban studies at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, is optimistic. He believes new groups of immigrants will eventually form middle-class formations, as the Surinamese have already done. The trends and trends are in a student body that is becoming increasingly heterogeneous, in a setting where Turkish and Moroccan girls have become very competitive.

Opportunity of escape. That's the phrase he uses. A way to break away from parents and traditions. One way to get ahead. But it doesn't take a generation to do this. It takes two or three because they have to learn the language first. The immigrants from the colonies who were offered Dutch passports in the 1970s already knew the language. They are on their way out of the cities and into quiet suburban houses. Turks and Moroccans will follow suit, Burgers believes. It only takes a little longer.

In Rotterdam, authorities are trying to change the ethnic profile of the city by halting the escape of the white middle class. Jack Burgers also believes that the emerging middle classes within ethnic minorities must be considered.

Minorities. Of course they are. But just so far. In total, immigrants and their descendants will make up 57 percent of Rotterdam's residents in 2017. A majority of today's 14-year-olds in the four cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht are born of non-Western immigrants.

One knows the little bit of recognition when Leefbaar Rotterdam, personified by its leader Ronald Sørensen, simply states, in slightly other words, that critics of ethnically homogenous nations should shut up against a society where half of the population is non-Western. Almost half, at least. The official figure is 37 percent. And growing.

37 percent. This would give a proportion of immigrants in Oslo of almost two hundred thousand. It would give Oslo thirty mosques, and more 14-year-olds of immigrant-parents than of Norwegian-ethnic. So, yes. We might as well shut up. No society could do this better than the Dutch. No other community in Europe could have created these multicolored cascades of energy that flow so naturally on the streets of Rotterdam.

An image of relief. But so fragile, so fragile ..

So skirt, for a young Muslim, Dutch by birth, Turkish by origin…

- September 11, 2001 .. we could not believe it. But it happened, and it changed so many things .. Friends of mine who lived here and studied here, who were born here and who had married Dutch girls… They thought they were Dutch youth. That they belonged here.

- I thought I was a Dutchman with a Turkish background, says R. Kazanci. – Then it turned out that the majority society had never really seen it that way. The murder of Theo Van Gogh told me that I will always be a Turkish person in the eyes of others, an intruder ... maybe even a terrorist.

- In people's heads I will always be seen as a Turk, as an immigrant…

Kazanci is a spokesman for the Mevlana Mosque. We have been welcomed into this towering and proud mosque with its colors, carpets and chandeliers. It is Friday. Men kneel and pray. The Imam speaks. We do not understand what he is saying. But he looks… kind. It is a low-key and mesmerizing voice that at no time carves out in religious thunder speech. Nothing aggressive or hateful about this very simple ceremony.

This is in line with the message of dozens of Muslims in Rotterdam. They do not realize the bitterness that was suddenly directed at them after the fatal killing. A bitterness and a rage that led to an attack on the mosque. Someone tried to set it on fire. After that there have been guards at the mosque at night.

Fury and hatred. A Netherlands in flames. Mosques with triumphalistic architecture, which provoke and shock. An Islam that has its margins, in the form of religious leaders who believe, says and writes that homosexuals should be killed and that women who lie to their men should be beaten.

It was a book – sold from the El Tawheed Mosque in Amsterdam. "The way of the Muslim," or "the way of the Muslims." It all stood there. That homosexuals do not have the right to life. That women do not have intrinsic value. It was a furious showdown. In parliament, there was a debate about whether the mosque should be closed, the leaders punished or the book banned. Or all this. The El Tawheed Mosque struck back with arguments that made people even more furious, that it was not only them who sold the book, but that it was available in a number of places.

As if it made things better.

Some skepticism .. Because was that really the case? If you read the newspapers, then yes. But it does not match another impression; all these Muslims who answer so openly to all questions. Who replies that they have no problem living in a society that legalizes prostitution and drugs, because this is exactly what the Netherlands loves, this Netherlands that is so liberal that mosques have been able to shoot up like hats all over the country. Which is so liberal that an imam comparing Europeans to pigs is still preaching over there in the Annasr Mosque. So liberal that an Islamic university has been able to establish itself here, as the only one in the entire Western world.

Imams. They come from outside, with poor knowledge of the country's values ​​and traditions, with a completely different mindset, from another geographical and ideological setting; these imams who scare. But it will end now. Throughout Europe, great efforts are being made to put in place national systems for the training of religious leaders. The Islamic University of Rotterdam is just one of the places to conduct imam training.

Outside the Mevlana Mosque, men are in conversation. Prayer time is over. They discuss the murder of Theo Van Gogh because they have been asked a question. About what they mean about all this, about the murder, about his provocative statements.

A certain desperation beneath the polite surface. They've heard this before. And they respond the same as they always have. As they always do… that Van Gogh should have been met with words, and not with weapons. That Islam does not recognize killing. That Mohammed B, as he is called here, was an isolated and confused guy who did not really know his religion.

Confused and isolated people living in the interface between Islam and modernism. This is where one finds the fanaticism and hatred of some of these young Muslims who walk across the boundaries between their own and others' societies. They are not many. But they seem. And they are right here, in the fracture surfaces. It is not people's affiliation with religion that is the problem, but humanity's lack of anything.

It is quiet at the Islamic University. The semester has not started yet. The classrooms are empty. But it doesn't last long now. Soon this classic stone building will be filled with noisy laughter and trampling feet. Will soon be filled by .. more girls than boys, in fact.

Three hundred students will soon be walking up and down these stairs and wide corridors. An ethnic mix of Turks, Moroccans, Egyptians, Somalis, Dutch and Americans. A religious mix of Shia and Sunnis, multiplied by different directions within each of these. A political mix of different thoughts and ideas, with the war in Iraq as a central theme in and outside the lecture halls.

But never has there been a single incident at this school that has rocked the calm harmony prevailing here. Not a single spark that has lit the fire for religious confrontations. Rector Ahmet Akgunduz and Secretary Ertugrul Gokcekuyu are proud of.

The reception is solemn. As if a visit from a foreign embassy, ​​or a foreign power. The presentation is solemn. The dress is impeccable. As if the label itself should be the most important thing.

As if the surroundings were to be hostile. As if representation and phrasing are a conscious response to a skepticism out there.

A building of stone, but a society of glass. A physique and a metaphor that deceives. Because it is the Muslims who are vulnerable here. It would be so easy to remove the contents of this gorgeous building with its round and laid back architecture.

A university that teaches both Islamic theology and the arts, as well as language and civilization. A university that has two major goals for its business: to make students good Muslims and good citizens, within the framework of Islam's main sources.

But where the most important thing is to send the Muslims into a track where they do not do things in the name of Islam that religion does not allow:

- The Netherlands is a land of peace, says Ahmet Akgunduz. – If we bring in students who believe that Europe is a territory of war, then it is our task to guide them, to give them knowledge of the right doctrine. The problem is that many second- and third-generation Muslims do not really know their religion. We are here to change this, to educate and educate young people in an Islam that is not violent and militant, an Islam that recognizes women's rights and an Islam that is not in confrontation with the Western world…

The difficult laws. After all, there is no concealing that this liberal country is on the outskirts of Europe; this country, with its somewhat loose morals, has laws that are particularly problematic for Islam. Nevertheless; they are there. And it is not up to the Muslims to break them, Akgunduz says.

The laws of this country that have given the Muslims their mosques and religious schools should not be broken. But they should not always be complied with either. Homosexuality is such a law. The Netherlands allows, Islam forbids. And Islam will always be ahead.

A compromise of living and living. You don't break any laws, but you don't obey them either. A beautiful thought, perhaps. But surely hard to balance with the real world.

And even harder now, as the dividing lines harden into concrete…

Where new mosques are no longer a matter of course…

Essalam Mosque. It rises south of town. Sending their long slender minarets against a glowing sun, so they almost touch this image of eternity that is heaven. Higher, definitely, than the floodlights of the stadium.

So much stupidity. As if some minarets were to be or not to be Europe's.

A triumphalistic architecture. Or simply a caress to God. Flirty and sensual. The largest mosque in the western world. We stand watching it. Think this is Europe.


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