November 8, 2013
Amsterdam is known as an incredibly diverse city—the most international city in the world in fact—and prides itself off of such a mixed population. The presence of other cultures in the Netherlands heavily influences the lifestyle here, in particular the cuisine and tourism industry. According to the Amsterdam City Administration, over 177 nationalities are represented in the city, and the biggest immigrant groups are the Moroccans, Turks, and British. Muslims make up five percent of the population of Amsterdam (NIDI), and this is largest of any other single ethnic group in the EU. I will focus on the role of Muslims in Dutch society, specifically Moroccans, as they are a minority population in Amsterdam that receives much criticism from the general public.
The stigma associated with Muslims in Amsterdam is one of violence and crime, particularly in the youth, and a lack of effort by families to integrate into Dutch society. The Moroccan youth have a stigma around them based on simple statistics; seven out of ten do not graduate schooling with a useful diploma and one in ten is registered by police as suspect of a punishable crime. Families suffer from increased addition, debts, mental disabilities, domestic violence, and poverty.
Dutch-Moroccans also have the reputation of not only refusing to integrate into Dutch society (not speaking the language or attending leisure activities with other Dutch individuals, for example) but also not accepting gay or LGBT culture of Amsterdam that the city is known for. While some reports attribute violence and crime to injustice from the Dutch society, others view these activities as cultural and unrelated to acts of protest as the Dutch government doesn’t appear to discriminate against Muslims or Dutch-Moroccans. There is no right answer to this debate.
The population of Muslims and Moroccans was incredibly apparent to me when I started commuting to school and functioning more around the city. I pass through a Muslim neighborhood on my way to my university and see a few things that I have mentioned above in terms of stereotypical Muslim attitudes; I see young boys fighting in public with no parental figures stopping them, groups of young men gathered outside of food stands belonging to the same race, and signs of poverty such as bad roads and less expensive grocery store chains. While riding my bike past a grocery store and refusing to accept a flyer mid-cycling, I was cursed at in Dutch by a young male. I have also witnessed the Muslim youth intentionally stepping out in front of city buses and laughing, seeming to enjoy messing with the driver, only for the driver to stop the bus, get out, and scold the child. Moroccans rule the drug scene as well, as it is common knowledge that approaching a Moroccan man at night will most likely lead to a successful drug deal.
I’m not sure if the stigma surrounding Muslims and Moroccans in Amsterdam will change in the future, but it will have to involve systematic changes within both communities. These attitudes from Muslims goes back to laborers that came to the Netherlands in the 1970s that felt as though they could not leave the country, and therefore were trapped. In actuality, many Muslims in the workforce did return home, and were not kept against their will. Understanding the history of this group might change the attitudes of the Muslim and Moroccan youth. Increased education and support in Muslim communities would aid in the violence issue, and increased education in Dutch communities on Muslim culture could aid in assimilation of Muslims and Moroccans. This reminds me of the African American population in South Dallas. I worked at a nature reserve that hosted many low-income African American students and taught them about the reserve that was located right in their backyard. Learning respect for nature and other living things was a big stepping stone for these kids and they felt more of a connection with their environment. Learning respect in general would translate into their everyday lives and could help decrease crime in the youth populations and encourage staying in school to work for the greater good. I’d like to see something like this applied to low-income Muslim communities in the Netherlands.