Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ramadan Round-up, part III

Mocro Pride Parade

Text as published in The Amsterdam Weekly, volume 5, issue 36

Once upon a time, way back in the fifties and sixties, Islam wa
s regarded as something exotic, something exciting. And the first Muslim immigrants from the former Dutch colonies Indonesia and Surinam were treated with a great deal of respect.

This was still the case when Moroccan and Turkish immigrants arrived. They worked in factories, were usually poorly housed in B&Bs and every once in a while they would roll out their prayer rugs in the factory cafeterias.

Yet contrary to expectations, these Muslim newcomers did not return to their countries of origin. They stayed. Islam stayed. And all of a sudden words like Ramadan, Hajj and Koran made their way into the Dutch language. The country began to see a gradual increase of mosques. Still, everything was very much A-okay. Or so we thought…

For somewhere along the way things took a dramatic turn for the worse. ‘And now the word ‘Moroccan’ has become practically synonymous with crime or Islamic radicalisation,’ says Abdou Menebhi, while sipping his hot iftar soup at the Moroccan youth centre Argan in Amsterdam, where some sixty Dutch Moroccans gathered for a special Ramadan dinner party. The intention was to spur ideas on how to properly commemorate the fact that next year it will be exactly 40 years ago that Morocco and the Netherlands signed a treaty, enabling the Dutch to recruit Moroccan labourers.

The spirite
d Menebhi himself came to the Netherlands in 1974. He lashes out to Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen who in his opinion made matters even worse by telling the Moroccan community to take responsibility and reign in Moroccan troublemakers. ‘In case Cohen didn’t notice, we have been doing that for ages.’

While most of the guests are enjoying their food, listening to traditional Moroccan music and engaging in small talk, Menebhi gets even more worked up about the seemingly ignorance ‘regarding the role we played in Dutch trade unions, how we battled against far-right wing politicians like Jan Maat, how we took to the streets in the eighties to mourn the racial killing of Kerwin Duijnmeyer. This, too, is part of Dutch social history, yet people don’t know or don’t care.’

Menebhi’s views are shared by many dinner guests, including well-known Labour MP Khadija Arib and Mohamed Rabbae, a highly respected figure in the Dutch Moroccan community. Yet how to turn table talk into practice?

‘Well’, says Nadia Bouras, a migrations expert from Leiden University, ‘ this evening has brought on some very interesting ideas that need further exploration. We need to create a better awareness of our own Dutch-Moroccan history. A book or a museum perhaps. We need to have something that will make second and third generation migrants proud of who they are. Something that will rub off on the entire Dutch society forever.’

Photo credits

Khadija Arib

Abdou Menebhi

Mohamed Rabbae