Within sight of this port city's historic soccer stadium, the
largest mosque in Europe is going up. When complete, its 164-foot-
high minarets will tower over the arena.
A decade ago, few would have objected to such a large Islamic
imprint. But now, worried that the mosque is sharpening ethnic
tensions in the city's working-class Dutch neighborhood, city
leaders are calling for a design that is "less Arabic."
"There's no reason the minarets have to be that high - it will
not be Rotterdam; it will be Mecca on the Maas (river)," said Ronald
Sorenson, leader of Leefbaar Rotterdam (Livable Rotterdam), the
largest party in the city council.
The controversy is emblematic of larger concerns in the
Netherlands that the growing immigrant population - which is mostly
Muslim - will dominate more than a skyline. In a nation known for
its liberal views and openness, the days of multicultural tolerance
may be fading as residents question the numbers of foreigners and
the social-welfare costs of integrating them.
Earlier this month, citing a need to restore long-term balance in
a city projected to have a majority-immigrant population within 15
years, Rotterdam's city council approved restrictions to close the
door to poor and unemployed newcomers.
"It is as if the Netherlands has realized that they are a
multicultural society, and are beginning to say to themselves -
'Well, we always said we wanted this, but now we have second
thoughts,' " says Jan Niessen, director of the independent Migration
Policy Group in Brussels. "The time of formulating nice policies
about multiculturalism is over."
The move came after a report from the Dutch government research
bureau Centrum Voor Underzoek and Statistiek, which forecast that,
by 2017, almost 60 percent of Rotterdam's 600,000 population will be
nonnative. Now, almost half of the population in the city - the
nation's second-largest - was born outside Holland.
Rotterdam's decision, which is likely to face court challenges,
is extreme among immigration policies in Europe. Still, it reflects
an increasingly less friendly attitude on the Continent toward
Under the new policy, only newcomers earning at least 20 percent
more than minimum wage (or about $11.15 per hour) will receive a
residency permit from the city. Rotterdam has also asked that for
four years the national government send no more political refugees
its way. The city also plans to step up deportations of illegal
immigrants and to try to stop immigrants from bringing in migrant
The main national Dutch opposition parties blasted the plan as
discriminatory. Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk has
criticized the plans as unrealistic, saying that Rotterdam cannot
refuse entry to newcomers whom the federal government has recognized
as refugees or to whom it has given a residency permit.
But city leaders estimate that Rotterdam receives 60 percent of
all new immigrants to the Netherlands, and that it simply cannot
cope with the housing expenses and other social-welfare costs of
absorbing more. Meanwhile, city leaders say middle-class Dutch
residents are leaving the city because of rising crime rates and
deteriorating neighborhoods. …