Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Smiley Gang Panic: Ethnic Legends about Gang Rape in the Netherlands in the Wake of 9/11(1)

Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Smiley Gang Panic: Ethnic Legends about Gang Rape in the Netherlands in the Wake of 9/11(1)

Article excerpt


In public discourse, legend and media are inextricably connected. This case study of post-9/11 gang rape legends in the Netherlands features news items about gang rapes that turn out to be legends. These legends can be read as a public response to media discourse on gang rape as a type of ethnic crime. By depicting others as inhumanly cruel, individuals distance themselves from the ethnic "Other."

KEYWORDS: contemporary legend, mutilation, Netherlands, rape, xenophobia

In the wake of 9/11, ethnic relations in the Netherlands shifted from lukewarm to overheated. In national memory, September 11, 2001, stands as the first of three landmark dates that mark shifts in the relationship between the Dutch and the Muslim population, or more specifically, Moroccan immigrants. After 9/11, the rise of Muslim fundamentalism and the emergence of Muslim terrorism on Dutch soil became topics of public concern.

The second jolt to the Dutch equilibrium of mind occurred on May 6, 2002, on the eve of the parliamentary elections. After his meteoric rise to fame, anti-Islamic rightwing politician Pirn Fortuyn was murdered after taking part in a radio show. Although most people expected the murderer to be a disgruntled Muslim, the killer turned out to be animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf. Still, his supporters remember Fortuyn mainly for his anti-Islamic, anti-establishment stance.

Then, on November 2, 2004, controversial moviemaker and columnist Theo van Gogh was murdered by Muslim fundamentalist Mohammed Bouyeri. Earlier that same year, Van Gogh had finished the short film Submission, a j'accuse against abuse of women condoned by Islam, written by former Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim herself. The film showed the nude bodies of abused women, covered with bruises and with texts from the Quran. In his columns, Van Gogh habitually referred to Muslims as "goat fuckers."

Apart from these major upheavals in Dutch society, several comparatively minor incidents garnered a large amount of media attention, becoming key events in the developing moral panic about Muslim immigrants and Moroccan adolescents. Briefly: on September 11, 2001, Moroccan kids in the provincial town of Enschede allegedly partied to celebrate the attacks on the United States (cf. Langlois 2005); in a 2002 newspaper interview Fortuyn called Islam "a backward culture" (Poorthuis and Wansink 2002); on March 6, 2002, unaware of an open microphone near him, an Amsterdam councilman used the word kut-marokkanen ("fucking Moroccans"); on November 20, 2004, in front of television cameras, a fundamentalist Muslim preacher refused to shake hands with Minister for Immigration and Integration Rita Verdonk; on January 17, 2005 in Amsterdam, a woman pursued the Moroccan young man who allegedly tried to grab the handbag from her car seat. He ended up dead, squashed between her car and a tree.

Since 9/11 it has become accepted in the Netherlands to use ethnic slurs that used to be taboo, and to depict North African immigrants as potential terrorists, muggers, and rapists. Focusing as it does on media and folkloric discourse, this essay does not assess the reality behind these allegations.


In the fall of 2003, a legend-panic about a youth gang bent on rape and mutilation swept through the Netherlands. The scare started approximately on September Lit could not have started much earlier, because during the summer months the youthful conduit for this particular legend was on holiday. As schoolyards and college halls filled up, though, rumors started to buzz. During the next two or three months, students and school children lived in fear of the Smiley Gang, a group of Moroccan youngsters that marked their victims' faces with an ear to ear slash.

Here is 17-year-old Nadieh, a high school girl from the town of Delft, writing in her Internet diary on October 29, 2003:2

Hi folks,

Here I go again. …

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