The Dutch government Thursday moved to reverse a long tradition as Europe's most liberal haven for immigrants by signaling tougher treatment of foreigners and Muslims and greater powers for security services, in response to the Netherlands' worst ethnic and religious crisis.
Several more arson attacks on schools, churches and mosques were reported across the country Thursday, bringing to more than 20 the number of incidents of racial and religious violence since controversial Dutch filmmaker and Muslim-basher Theo van Gogh was killed 10 days ago in Amsterdam. A Dutch citizen of Moroccan descent is the prime suspect. The murder has triggered a spiral of tit-for-tat attacks on mosques and churches and a national mood of alarm.
In raids this week in the Hague, Amsterdam and Amersfoort -- including a 14-hour standoff with armed Muslims -- anti-terrorist units have arrested seven alleged Islamist terrorists. This is in addition to the arrest of Mohammed Bouyeri, charged with the murder of van Gogh, and a further five arrests connected to the killing.
Amid a mood of rising national anguish, government ministers went to Parliament in the Hague yesterday armed with a 60-page analysis of the background to the van Gogh murder, proposals to get tough on troublemaking immigrants, and a version of events that appeared aimed at getting cabinet ministers off the hook.
The interior minister, Johan Remkes, has been facing calls for his resignation over alleged police and intelligence failures to penetrate Islamist networks. Remkes and the justice minister, Piet Hein Donner, announced proposals to close some of the mosques serving the Netherlands' Muslim community of almost 1 million if the mosques are identified to be inciting breaches of public order.
In a country where it is relatively easy for immigrants to obtain citizenship, the ministers also announced measures to take away the Dutch passports of those with dual citizenship if they are convicted of a crime. The ministers also said the powers of the security services should be beefed up to tackle a problem that appears to be careering out of control. Merely tracking 150 radical Muslims considered dangerous was proving difficult, Remkes said. "It is an illusion to think you can have complete operational control over that group 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Remkes said.
The move to get tougher on Muslim immigrants reflected the emerging government consensus on how to respond to a challenge that is shaking the country. On Wednesday the immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, blamed the Dutch culture of tolerance and liberalism for being ill-equipped to meet the challenge. "We've been too naive," she said.
Appeals were made for Queen Beatrix to address the nation. One daily newspaper put out a front-page appeal saying: "Hate is spreading across this country like a firestorm. Mosques, churches and schools are being attacked. The Netherlands risks turning into a country of us and them, a country under the rule of fear. Your Majesty, please speak to your people."
Overnight Thursdday schools and churches were attacked by arsonists in Rotterdam, Utrecht and Eindhoven, while a mosque near the northern town of Groningen was scrawled with White Power and Nazi graffiti symbols. No injuries were reported. Ministers and the security services said that the seven arrests on Wednesday were connected with an Amsterdam-based Islamist terrorist cell, the Capital Group, with which Bouyeri had contact.