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2019

August 2019: Law on face covering in the Netherlands
On 1 August 2019, a law on face covering came into force in the Netherlands. The Face Coverings (Partial Ban) Act states that, "It is (...)

  • August 2019: Law on face covering in the Netherlands

On 1 August 2019, a law on face covering came into force in the Netherlands. The Face Coverings (Partial Ban) Act states that, "It is forbidden to wear clothing on public transport and in buildings and associated grounds of educational institutions, government institutions and healthcare institutions that completely covers the face or covers it in such a way that only the eyes are not covered or it renders the face unrecognisable."
The debate had been ongoing since the years 2000, when it arose on the occasion of discussions about integration policy. The lower house of Parliament passed a law banning face veils in public buildings, including schools, government offices and hospitals; the Dutch upper house of parliament passed it in 2018. (See The Independent or Whatson.)
For a more detailed presentation of this issue, see an article on "The matter of face covering in the Netherlands" by Martijn de Koning, in English as a pdf document or in Dutch on his blog Closer (August 2019).

D 16 January 2020   

2018

November 2018: Tolerance pitted against a ban on blasphemy
Between June and August 2018, the far-right politician Geert Wilders has been busy organizing a competition of cartoons of the prophet (...)

  • November 2018: Tolerance pitted against a ban on blasphemy

Between June and August 2018, the far-right politician Geert Wilders has been busy organizing a competition of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. The competition was supposed to be held inside Wilders’ offices in the Dutch Parliament. The contest sparked a lot of protest among Muslims internationally, especially in Pakistan. Requests to close the Dutch embassy in Pakistan were followed by threats to boycott Dutch products and the cancellation of a Dutch trade mission to Pakistan. At the end of August, 10.000 Muslims engaged in a protest march towards the Pakistani capital Islamabad (“Muhammad cartoon contest in Netherlands sparks Pakistan protests”, The Guardian, 29 August 2018). At around the same time in Afghanistan, the Talibans released a call for violence against Dutch military stationed there. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a Pakistani was arrested for planning to murder Wilders (“Far-right Dutch MP cancels Muhammad cartoon competition”, The Guardian, 30 August 2018). It was only at this point that Wilders announced he would cancel the competition for reasons of public safety (“Geert Wilders cancels Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest”, Al Jazeera, 30 August 2018).

In his official reaction, the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte called the cartoon competition ‘disrespectful’. However, he also defended the right of Wilders to hold it, on grounds of the freedom of expression.

The value of freedom of expression is closely related to the value of tolerance. Tolerance in the Netherlands dates back to 1960 and has since then been central to the way Dutch people perceive themselves (Versteeg, P. G. A., “The discovery of Dutch identity. A critical exploration”, Dutch Reformed Theological Journal, 53-2, 2012, 59-66). The value of tolerance was redefined when the Dutch political climate changed after 9/11. People felt afraid that Muslims would abuse Dutch tolerance. This led to liberals re-embedding tolerance in an attitude of inclusion of differences, while populists excluded non-tolerant people from the group to whom tolerance should be provided (Versteeg, 2012). This second line was the one Geert Wilders followed when he asked for tolerance under the guise of the right to free speech for his cartoon contest, while his attitude could be deemed disrespectful (and non-tolerant) of the Muslim rule that the prophet Muhammad should not be depicted. The reaction of prime minister Rutte, thus, reflects the centrality of tolerance in the Dutch national identity, while the provocation of Wilders reflects the way the meaning of tolerance in the Dutch national identity has changed post 9/11.

Furthermore, an important issue at play was that blasphemy is not forbidden in the Netherlands, contrary to the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan (A. E. Theodorou, “Which countries still outlaw apostasy and blasphemy?”, Pew Research Center, 29 July 2016). As laws reflect values, this could explain why the protests in Pakistan and Afghanistan gained a lot more attention than those in the Netherlands. The Muslim population in the Netherlands may have adapted to a Dutch context, where sometimes the value of tolerance takes precedence over the value of freedom of religion.

D 13 November 2018    ACéline Garnier

2017

August 2017: Religion and Law in the Netherlands
An article from Sophie Bijsterveld shows that religion remains an influential force in our time despite the prophecy of secularization theory (...)

  • August 2017: Religion and Law in the Netherlands

An article from Sophie Bijsterveld shows that religion remains an influential force in our time despite the prophecy of secularization theory which argued that religion would fade away. In the context of migration, this expectation hardly came through, even in Europe where secularization is deeply rooted, because the presence of Muslim and other faith groups poses many challenges. This article examines the trajectory of state-religion relations in the Netherlands and looks at its impact on Muslims in this country. Traditionally, the state’s position has been marked by an open and friendly attitude towards religion. In recent years, however, debates on religion in the public, political, and academic domains have taken a sharper edge, and the questions that now arise with regard to religion in the public domain have become more controversial. Three elements of this new dynamic are mentioned: (1) the renewed attention to the “values” side of religion, especially in cases where these values do not easily mesh with the dominant values in Dutch society, (2) rising concerns on the balance between pluralism and social cohesion, and (3) new discussions on the functioning of fundamental rights in general and of freedom of religion in particular.

Sophie van Bijsterveld (2015), "Religion and Law in the Netherlands", Insight Turkey, 17-1, p. 121-141.

  • August 2017: Debate on Islam

Van Liere’s article deals with the role of ‘Islam’ in contemporary Dutch political discourses on tolerance. It displays how Islam is described as an ideology (and not as a religion) competing with liberal values. The author argues that political disputes are not at all about Islam as a living religion, but about ‘Islam’ as a culturally presumed menace to, or negative projection of, dominant Dutch imaginaries, such as tolerance and free speech, that are taken as elementary conditions for a liberal democratic state. The first part of this article deals with the staging and development of ‘Islam’ in Dutch politics since the 1970s. Part two develops a theoretical understanding of the framing of ‘Islam’ as the opponent of ‘tolerance’ and argues that this position shows a typical modern stance.

Lucien van Liere (2014), "Teasing ‘Islam’: ‘Islam’ as the Other Side of ‘Tolerance’ in Contemporary Dutch Politics", Journal of Contemporary Religion, 29-2, p. 187-202.

  • August 2017: Ritual slaughtering

In 2011, the Dutch House of Representatives voted for the first time in its history for banning the practice of unstunned ritual slaughter in accordance to Jewish and Islamic rites. How should this remarkable vote be understood? In order to answer this question, a critical discourse analysis has been carried out. Three discourses are discerned in the debate: ‘unstunned ritual slaughter as an outdated practice’, ‘ritual slaughter as a form of ritual torture’ and ‘unstunned ritual slaughter as a legitimate religious practice’. The growing parliamentary support for the first two mentioned discourses is related to recent changes in the Dutch political landscape. In a wider context, it is related to a shift in the national self-conception of the Netherlands and, linked to that, to a change in the perceived position of traditional religious minorities within Dutch society in the aftermath of 9/11 and the ‘Fortuyn revolt’.

Sipco J. Vellenga (2015), "Ritual Slaughter, Animal Welfare and the Freedom of Religion: A Critical Discourse Analysis of a Fierce Debate in the Dutch Lower House", Journal of Religion in Europe, 8, p. 1-25.

D 9 August 2017    ASipco Vellenga

2013

16 April 2013: House of Representatives repeals provision on blasphemy
On 16 April 2013, a majority of members of the Dutch lower house voted in favour of repealing Article 147 of the Penal Code (...)

  • 16 April 2013: House of Representatives repeals provision on blasphemy

On 16 April 2013, a majority of members of the Dutch lower house voted in favour of repealing Article 147 of the Penal Code setting forth the ban on blasphemy. Representatives of the Christian Union (ChristenUnie), the Reformed Political Party (Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij) and the Christian Democrat Party (Christen Democratisch Appèl) voted against.

Article 147, which dates from the early 1930s, makes it a criminal offence to use “contemptuous” (smalend) blasphemy which publicly offends religious sensibilities. This provision had last been applied in a dispute in 1968 and the idea to abolish it was launched in June 2011 as part of a debate on freedom of expression, after the Amsterdam Court acquitted the far-right leader Geert Wilders, accused of incitement to hatred and to racial and religious discrimination. The Dutch Senate will also have to rule on the abolition.

D 14 May 2013   

2012

Draft regulation on ritual slaughter
In early October 2012, the Dutch Agriculture Minister, Henk Bleker, signed a draft regulation governing the use of ritual slaughter in the Netherlands. The (...)

  • Draft regulation on ritual slaughter

In early October 2012, the Dutch Agriculture Minister, Henk Bleker, signed a draft regulation governing the use of ritual slaughter in the Netherlands. The decree provides for animals to be knocked out 40 seconds after having their throat slit and in particular defines the size of knife to be used. This text follows several months of discussion and attempts at regulation and ought to be submitted to the Council of Ministers by the end of the year.

In 2011, a large majority of the lower chamber of the Dutch Parliament had passed a law introduced by the Party for the Rights of Animals (PvdD), which was seeking a total ban on ritual slaughter in the Netherlands.

The senate, however, rejected this text in late 2011, arguing that the law violated the right to religious freedom. The government therefore sought a compromise between the different parties and a preliminary agreement ahead of the decree was signed in June 2012 between organizations representing Jewish (NIK) and Muslim (CMO) communities and the Association of Abattoirs and Meat Producers (VSV).

For further information, see the text of the agreement of 5 June 2012 (Convenant onbedwelmd slachten volgens religieuze riten, in Dutch)

D 14 November 2012   

2009

Islam in the public debate
Geert Wilders’ Popular People’s Party (PVV) and the Conservative Liberal Party (VVD) have initiated a debate about women wearing the burqa or niqab. It is perceived as a (...)

  • Islam in the public debate

Geert Wilders’ Popular People’s Party (PVV) and the Conservative Liberal Party (VVD) have initiated a debate about women wearing the burqa or niqab. It is perceived as a sign of lack of integration (or even refusal to integrate), demeaning to women, and a threat to safety in the public domain. All these themes are also important in the larger debate on Islam. In 2003, the Ministry of Education prepared an optional functional dress guideline, but in 2005, parliament supported a resolution to ban the public use of the burqa. The cities of Amsterdam and Utrecht have proposed cutting social benefits to unemployed women wearing a burqa, on the grounds that it makes them unemployable in a non-Muslim country.
In 2008, members of the Netherland’s Christian Democrat, Labor, and Conservative parties wanted to cut government funding for organisations affiliated with "the Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen" and to thoroughly investigate the activities of the Gülen movement deemed to be radical. According to the movement itself, its aim is to bring out the universal mission of Islam which is to serve people regardless of faith, colour, or national origin.
In February 2009 Wilders was invited to show his movie Fitna in the Palace of Westminster but was refused access to the UK on the basis that he was considered a threat to public safety. Wilders went nevertheless but was detained and sent back. The event was highly criticised both by supporters and opponents of Wilders and the Dutch government. The decision to ban him was overturned and he visited the UK in the autumn.
Wilders’ film Fitna and his anti-Islamic comments led several Muslim organisations, the Dutch anti-discrimination group The Netherlands Shows Its Colors and others to take legal action in 2007. Their attempts to prosecute Wilders under Dutch anti-hate speech laws, in June 2008, failed. The public prosecuter stated that Wilders’ comments contributed to the debate on Islam in Dutch society and also had been made outside parliament. "That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable. Freedom of expression fulfils an essential role in public debate in a democratic society. That means that offensive comments can be made in a political debate." The decision not to prosecute was overturned in January 2009. The judges argued that "in a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to... draw a clear line" and that "the court also considers appropriate criminal prosecution for insulting Muslim worshippers because of comparisons between Islam and Nazism made by Wilders".
Following the debates in the UK, a debate was launched in June 2009 about the presence of ‘shari’a courts’ in the Netherlands. After a Dutch television programme reported that shari’a justice is also being practised in the Netherlands, for example with regard to informal marriages, several politicians and opinion leaders took up the issue and pleaded for zero tolerance towards the application of ‘shari’a courts’. Leiden University and Radboud University Nijmegen will conduct a research into the matter of the prevalence, and if so, practices of Islamic arbitration. Also in 2009, an explorative research concerning informal Islamic marriages was conducted. Reliable figures on the prevalence of such marriages could not be given although an increase is observed. According to the report this is related to an increased religiosity and fundamentalism but also to the general trend of informalisation of relationships. Respondents in the empirical study make very clear that Muslim marriages within mosques in the presence of an imam is decreasing.
Second generation, highly educated Moroccan-Dutch Muslims are worried about the perception of Islam among native Dutch people. More than Turkish-Dutch Muslims, the Moroccan-Dutch Muslims state that native Dutch people have a far too negative idea of Islam and lack respect for Islamic culture. This means that, in particular among Moroccan Dutch Muslims, the most integrated part of the group also has the most negative perception of Dutch society; a phenomenon that can be described as the integration paradox. There are however also signs that the negative attitude towards Islam and Muslims (and migrants in general) among native Dutch may slowly be decreasing. On the other hand, research also shows that in 2007 more native Dutch people were convinced that Muslims easily resort to violence than previously.
Another debate has revolved around the newly appointed Muslim chaplains for the Dutch army. The Moroccan Dutch imam had, in the past, expressed severe criticism towards the Dutch prime minister and the Dutch mission in Afghanistan. His loyalty was questioned but he received support from the army and the Dutch minister of Defense and was appointed nevertheless.
In August 2009, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) fired the Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan for hosting a show on an Iranian television station, Press TV. Both the City of Rotterdam (for which he worked as an advisor) and Erasmus University dismissed Ramadan from his positions as "integration adviser" and professor, saying his program "Islam & Life" on Iran’s Press TV is "irreconcilable" with his duties in Rotterdam. According to the EUR, that could be seen as endorsing the regime. Ramadan had already been criticized in the Dutch press and by Dutch politicians before for allegedly voicing more conservative views for Muslim audiences than he does in the West. In particular, his view on homosexuality caused a stir after it was picked up by a Dutch special interest group focusing on homosexuals.

D 17 September 2009    AMartijn de Koning

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