by Soeren Kern
In January, the gangland shootings of two young Moroccan men in downtown Amsterdam drew renewed attention to the growing problem of violent crime among Muslim immigrants. The two men were gunned down with AK-47 assault rifles in a shooting the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, described as reminiscent of “the Wild West.”
In March, the Dutch public broadcasting system NOS television reported that the Netherlands has become one of the major European suppliers of Islamic jihadists. According to NOS, about 100 Dutch Muslims are active as jihadists in Syria; most have joined the notorious Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group.
Belgium and the Netherlands have some of the largest Muslim communities in the European Union, in percentage terms.
Belgium is home to an estimated 650,000 Muslims, or around 6% of the overall population, based on an average of several statistical estimates. The Netherlands is home to an estimated 925,000 Muslims, which also works out to around 6% of the overall population. Within the EU, only France (7.5%) has more Muslims in relative terms.
Belgian and Dutch cities have significant Muslim populations, comprised mostly of Turkish and Moroccan immigrants, as well as a growing number of converts to Islam.
The number of Muslims in Brussels—where roughly half of the number of Muslims in Belgium currently live—has reached 300,000, which means that the self-styled “Capital of Europe” is now one of the most Islamic cities in Europe.
In 2013, Muslims made up approximately 26% of the population of metropolitan Brussels, followed by Rotterdam (25%), Amsterdam (24%), Antwerp (17%), The Hague (14%) and Utrecht (13%), according to a panoply of research.
Not coincidentally, Belgium and the Netherlands have been at the forefront of the debate over Muslim immigration and integration in Europe. What follows is a chronological summary of some of the main stories about the rise of Islam in Belgium and the Netherlands during 2013.
In January, the Belgian branch of the Dutch department store chain HEMA lost a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a Muslim shop assistant whose contract was not renewed because she refused to stop wearing a hijab, the traditional Islamic headscarf.
The woman, a Belgian convert to Islam, had been employed as temporary sales staff for two months, during which time she wore the hijab at work. But when customers complained, the store manager asked her to remove the headscarf.
After she refused to comply, HEMA declined to extend her contract in sales, but did offer her an alternative job in its warehouse, where she would not have direct contact with clients. She said the alternative job offer was unsatisfactory and then consulted a lawyer.
Lawyers defending the Belgian shop said that to maintain the “neutral and discreet image of HEMA, the shop did not want employees wearing any kind of religious symbols.”
But a labor court in the nearby Belgian city of Tongeren ruled that HEMA did not have a clearly stated policy on headscarves and thus had no valid justification to dismiss the woman. The court ordered HEMA to pay the 21-year-old woman €9,000 ($12,000), the equivalent of six month’s salary, as compensation.
According to the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism, an NGO that helped bring the woman’s case to trial, the main purpose of the legal action was to clarify how far a company can go in seeking to present a “neutral image” to its customers. The NGO believes neutrality cannot be invoked as a genuine and determining occupational requirement, and says it is not self-evident that neutrality can amount to a legitimate goal if and when it is chiefly invoked to please a private company’s clients.
Also in January, the gangland shootings of two young Moroccan men in downtown Amsterdam drew renewed attention to the growing problem of violent crime among Muslim immigrants. The two men were gunned down with AK-47 assault rifles in a shooting the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, described as reminiscent of “the Wild West.”
According to the Amsterdam-based newspaper Het Parool, young Moroccans continue their “unstoppable march to become the largest group of violent criminals” in the country, despite decades of government programs aimed at steering young Muslims away from a life of crime. Moroccan gangsters specialize mainly in robberies of banks and jewelry stores, as well as in drug trafficking, according to Het Parool. Continue reading
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