The defence of Israel by politicians is increasing Islamophobia in The Netherlands
"Israel is going to shoot you all," a man shouted at a woman wearing a hijab who was with her child in a supermarket in The Netherlands. Another woman who stood in front of her home heard "Hamas Hamas" shouted at her by a passer-by who then also hurled a tirade of curses. A Muslim man was fired on the spot after years of service as a prison nurse because he shared an article with a colleague who asked about his views on Palestine. A Moroccan-Dutch teenager was questioned about his views on Hamas and pressed to take “sides” by his chemistry teacher in front of his classmates. As he made his way to a new workplace, a young Muslim man was notified by the job agency that the employer decided not to sign his contract because they’d seen he’d posted something in solidarity with Palestine on social media. Another Muslim woman was taken to task by her supervisor over the image of the Palestinian flag on the profile picture of her personal WhatsApp account and was pressured to remove it. A young woman was verbally and physically harassed, and called a terrorist by a passer-by when she stuck a ‘Free Palestine’ sticker on a light pole.
This is but a small selection of the dozens of reports of islamophobia and censorship documented by the Dutch foundation Report Islamophobia (Meld Islamofobie) since Israel started its bombing campaign in Gaza. The cases, which have risen exponentially since 7 October according to the organisation, range from restrictions on freedom of expression by employers and university boards, to physical and verbal assault.
Many of the reports of everyday islamophobia mirror media and political discourse in which Islam, Muslims and violence are often carelessly conflated.
''it reveals a deep cynicism amongst political representatives, that they seize the moment when thousands of Palestinian civilians are slaughtered by Israel under the pretext of ‘the war on terror’, to initiate increased surveillance of Muslims at home. The oppressive impacts of securitisation, on the other hand, seems to be of no interest to those in seats of power. This is unsurprising given it fits the policy framing they have developed, that Muslims are always potential perpetrators, and never victims of racist policies."
At first glance, these attacks appear to be a temporary consequence of international political tensions. However, the patterns visible in these cases point to a structural link between political discourse and policy on the one hand, and everyday Islamophobia on the other. Perpetrators readily assume a connection between Islam, Muslims (anywhere in the world) and terrorism.
This does not come out of the blue. It is a consequence of an Islamophobic discourse with international reach that has permeated political rhetoric, policy and media framing in the Netherlands and across Europe for two decades.
The consequence of stereotyping and racialisation is that Muslims are treated as a permanent security risk. Recent apologies by the Dutch Minister of Social Affairs about the covert state investigations in mosques and unlawful data sharing that took place on her watch, is just the most recent of in a series of revelations regarding Dutch government agencies trampling on the civil rights of Muslims.
Homogenising the Palestine solidarity movement
Report Islamophobia was founded as an independent citizen initiative in 2015, when a wave of violence against Muslims in the Netherlands spread following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. The group’s 2019 research on Dutch Muslims found that all respondents had experienced Islamophobia more than once in previous years. More than half reported feeling increasingly unsafe due to experiences of everyday Islamophobia. Those feelings of fear, anxiety and exclusion have intensified in recent weeks.
Today, political leaders are directly contributing to creating an unsafe climate for Muslims.
With its unconditional support for Israel's "right to self-defence," outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet is being accused of complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza. For many, this unquestioning support means the Dutch government accepts Israeli war rhetoric that identifies Hamas with the entire civilian population of Gaza, and equates Palestinians with animals and IS.
This implicit association between Hamas and all Muslims is also applied to the local context. On 12 October, a majority in the Dutch House of Representatives voted in favour of a motion to reinforce Israel's right to self-defence. On the same day, a majority also voted in favour of a motion that calls for the investigation of domestic support for Hamas. It included a reference to a 2021 report by the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) which warned that ‘a support base for jihadism continues to exists in the Netherlands’ and that ‘renewed conflict in Israel/Palestine’ may result in ;radical extra-legal actions’ and ‘targeting Jewish objects…especially from the pro-Palestinian side.
It is important to note that this risk-analysis is based on unsupported assumptions about a link between ‘jihadism’ and the entire Palestinian solidarity movement, not empirical evidence. The notoriously vague concept of jihadism links the supposed support for Hamas exclusively to the Dutch Muslim community and thus frames a hugely diverse pro-Palestine movement into an exclusively Islamic cause.
Surveillance of Muslims
New grounds for the surveillance of Dutch Muslims are being devised, while no one has yet been held accountable for the thousands of citizens in recent years whose names have been entered into a police terrorism registry without their knowledge. Names were gathered based on actions ranging from taking part in a demonstration, performing the Muslim prayer at school, or being in contact with someone under surveillance for (but not officially suspected of) ‘terrorist sympathies’.
Indeed, racial profiling practices within anti-radicalisation policies has repeatedly resulted in security interventions against innocent Muslims. The voting through of the ‘Hamas motion’ will only green-lighting a further expansion of security policies that disproportionately targets this group.
Furthermore, it reveals a deep cynicism amongst political representatives, that they seize the moment when thousands of Palestinian civilians are slaughtered by Israel under the pretext of ‘the war on terror’, to initiate increased surveillance of Muslims at home. The oppressive impacts of securitisation, on the other hand, seems to be of no interest to those in seats of power. This is unsurprising given it fits the policy framing they have developed, that Muslims are always potential perpetrators, and never victims of racist policies.
Conflating Palestinians, Muslims & terrorism
In 1986, Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk wrote in a French newspaper that it had become Israeli policy in the 1970s to describe Palestinian nationalism, in toto, as “terrorism”. The goal, he wrote, was to dismiss the rightful Palestinian claim to the land from which they had been expelled in 1948. Edward Said cited Kapeliouk's analysis a year later in a book review of Terrorism: How the West Can Win, edited by Benjamin Netanyahu. ‘Terrorism’, Said wrote, ‘serves to isolate your enemy from time, from causality, from prior action, and thereby to portray him or her as ontologically, gratuitously interested in wreaking havoc for its own sake’. Actions labelled as terror require no explanation. A terrorist is a category that conflates "the Muslim" and "the Palestinian" who is perceived to act out of an innate hatred and barbarism. In attempting to uproot it, therefore, anything is permissible. By invoking terrorism, Israeli leaders evade questions about their own actions in the fate of Palestinians.
Since 9/11, Said's analysis has only increased in relevance. Following Bush's global "War on Terror" in 2001, the image of the Muslim terrorist has been fruitfully deployed to legitimise successive (neo)imperialist campaigns. The consequences are well documented: invasions and proxy wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and the Sahel, among others, all resulting in mass murder and long-term political destabilisation. Israeli leaders, themselves a major source of War on Terror imagery and rhetoric, seamlessly adapted its framing of the Palestinians to whatever image of the quintessential terrorist prevails: Hamas is IS, 7 October is 9/11, is the name of the game today.
This is not to say that islamophobia, censorship of pro-Palestinian views and actions, and of anti-Arab racism recorded across Europe and the US in recent weeks is equivalent to the gruesome violence inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza. Rather what is being highlighted here is the transnational nature of an anti-terror discourse that legitimises interventions against a homogenised and, as Said described it, "outside-of-history Muslim terrorist." The woman abused in the supermarket, the man spat on and called a terrorist etc; these attacks are all fuelled and made possible by political policies that repeatedly reproduce the supposed inseparable links between Islam, Muslims and violence.
Decades of framing Islam and Muslims as a security problem has resulted in a vicious cycle of suspicion, stereotyping and collective punishment. The recent acts of violence and censorship documented by Report Islamophobia demonstrate, once again, that policy framings and everyday islamophobia are intricately connected.
The Dutch Minister of Social Affairs promised in a parliamentary letter last month that the ministry would do everything in its power to restore the trust of the Dutch Muslim community. However, good intentions and research funding to study communal needs are not enough to make this a reality. A paradigm shift is urgently required, that includes the safety of individuals not being determined by their religion, as well as an end to racial profiling and surveillance that pervade government policy at all levels.
Recent national elections, which resulted in an overwhelming victory of Geert Wilders’ far-right and rabidly Islamophobic Freedom Party (PVV) has only increased the need for, and lowered the odds of safety and justice for Muslims in The Netherlands.
Ibtissam Abaâziz is a sociologist and researcher. She is a co-founder of the Meld Islamophobia Foundation and S.P.E.A.K.
Rahma Bavelaar is an anthropologist and the co-founder and chair of the Dutch NGO Report Islamophobia.
This article was originally published in Dutch with OneWorld.
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