Dutch Debate a 'Values' Divide after Slaying

Article excerpt

The murder of a controversial Dutch filmmaker has reenergized an uncomfortable debate over Europe's relationship with its growing Muslim minority.

Theo van Gogh, whose latest work cast a critical spotlight on Muslim treatment of women, was gunned down and stabbed last week as he road his bicycle in Amsterdam. A letter left on his body threatened lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim who worked on the movie, as well as Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen.

Prosecutors have targeted what they say is a gang of young Muslim extremists. They have also arrested two men who made a video that promised paradise to those who could behead Geert Wilders, a right- wing politician opposed to immigration.

The slaying and disclosures of other threats underscore growing tensions in the Netherlands over the integration of Muslim immigrants and their tolerance of Western values. Moderate Muslims, meanwhile, say they are being victimized because of the actions of a few.

"Tensions are really blazing up," says Ruud Peters, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Amsterdam. "Many Dutch think the activities of radical Muslims spreading hatred should be ended, and they don't separate extremists from the large majority of moderate Muslims. The Islamic community feels forced to apologize for something they cannot be held responsible for.''

It's a divide that has played out across Europe, where the Muslim population has more than doubled in the past 15 years, according to the UN, and perceptions have been shaped by Sept. 11. In the Netherlands, reports surfaced after the attack on the US that Dutch Islamic schools were teaching anti- Western lessons, and that imams were taking intolerant stands against homosexuals. In 2002, Pim Fortuyn, a popular right-wing populist who said borders should be closed to all new immigrants, was assassinated by a left-wing Dutch activist.

A survey last week found that 80 percent of all Dutch people feel their society has changed for the worse as a result of the slaying of Van Gogh. …