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Europe, Islam's New Front Line: The Netherlands

"The problems here came from the Middle East. But you can't solve them with war," says Mohammed Alhabase, who runs a fish market in Rotterdam.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR /
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"The problems here came from the Middle East. But you can't solve them with war," says Mohammed Alhabase, who runs a fish market in Rotterdam.

In the Netherlands, the recent murder of controversial filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic extremist has revealed a climate of deep mistrust between Muslims and traditional Dutch society. In the last two weeks, nearly a dozen mosques and churches have been attacked in a wave of religiously motivated reprisals, and passions on both sides have run high.

According to police, Van Gogh, an outspoken critic of Islam, was repeatedly shot and stabbed by Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan who left a note warning that enemies of Islam should fear for their lives. The murder traumatized a country that has long prided itself on its liberalism, but many acknowledge that there is growing alienation among Muslims from the broader Dutch society. In response, the government has begun to cut back on welfare programs that encourage immigrants to maintain strong links with their homelands, and Dutch language classes are now mandatory for new immigrants.

"The problems here came from the Middle East. But you can't solve them with war," says Mohammed Alhabase, who runs a fish market in Rotterdam. "And here in the Netherlands, the Dutch have no experience with these problems, and they don't know how to handle them. I'm afraid it's only going to get worse."

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli begins a five-part series on Europe as the emerging new battlefield in the struggle to define Muslim identity.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.