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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dutch news - Serious Concerns about Turkish-Dutch Youth

A group of 10 successful Dutch Turks have signed an open letter to the Dutch authorities expressing concern over what they see as the increasing isolation of many Dutch youths of Turkish origin. The group had apparently tried to raise this issue with Dutch authorities but decided to publish a letter in the newspaper De Volkskrant instead when they did not get the desired response.

I am myself increasingly concerned that many European countries are in the midst of a vicious circle in which marginalization and alienation of immigrant communities, an associated radicalization and militancy among (still very small) pockets of especially young Muslims, and growing xenophobia and discrimination in the dominant host societies feed on and exacerbate each other.

The aftermath of the recent failed suicide bomb attack in central Stockholm, Sweden, during the Christmas shopping rush illustrated the negative potential of this dynamic, but also some positive signs from surprising sources. The reactions to the bombing (which left only the bomber dead, as he for some reason detonated his bomb on an empty side street rather than the busy shopping street a block away - the better part of me wants to think that he came to his senses at the last moment, but I don't know if the issue has been determined) in mainstream media outlets were generally measured.

But there were exceptions, such as the columnist in the large Swedish evening paper Expressen, who worried (article in Swedish) that Swedes were in the process of "abolishing" themselves due to the higher birth rates of the Muslim population in Sweden (said population constitutes ca 4.3 % of the total Swedish pop of 9.4 million), describing this demographic scenario as a "war." And the Swedish blogosphere was replete with reactions that were anything but measured. In short, my concern is that if even a failed bomb attack with no casualties (except the bomber) elicits such latent hostility, what if the attack would have succeeded? Or what happens when an attack does succeed?

Many immigrants already feel discriminated against in comparatively liberal and open Sweden - experiments at Stockholm University showing that many employers treat applicants with identical CVs apart from whether they had Swedish or foreign-"sounding" names differently gives credence to such sentiments - and it is reasonable to assume that this increases the alienation of many young men, who are the recruits of choice for militant extremist groups. The thought that it could get a lot worse is not encouraging. Changes in Dutch public opinion following the murder of Theo van Gogh is a warning-sign of what could come.

The positive surprise in the aftermath of the failed bombing in my view came from an unlikely source - the "secret police." SÄPO (the Swedish Security Service) was heavily criticized for a report that they coincidentally published just days after the attack (it had been commissioned in February and completed in the month before the attack), in which they evaluated the threat from militant Islamic extremism as
currently not a threat to the fundamental structures of society, Sweden’s democratic system or Central Government
even though it posed a threat to individuals, especially abroad. This sounds like an entirely reasonable assessment to me. What was even more encouraging was that SÄPO spokespersons continuously rejected calls in the media and elsewhere for more extensive and intrusive surveillance. In one radio interview, the spokeswoman on counter-terrorism was asked why SÄPO did not know about the activities of a person who had traveled to both the UK and the middle east, and responded quite reassuringly that in order for SÄPO to track everyone with the same traveling patterns (the current author would be included in this group!), we would no longer live in the open society that Sweden now is.

(Note - I am not saying that it was a good thing that SÄPO was unable to prevent the botched attack or that they should not survey militant extremists. Just that they were an unexpected voice of sanity in the post-attack debate.)

I won't end with any wise suggestions for how to get out of the negative spiral that we may find ourselves in, merely note my concern over it. Perhaps on another day I will feel more inclined to be constructive.

(Link to the Dutch article courtesy of Turkish Digest.)

UPDATE 2010-01-13: 
In an interview with De Volkskrant, Turkish government minister Faruk Çelik has responded to the open letter, according to, which quotes him as saying:
The fact that Turkish Dutch youngsters still feel they are second class citizens, that they are not welcome and that they are discriminated against, shows the Dutch authorities that they should revise their integration policy.
A part of that which the Netherlands calls integration policy has isolated immigrants, rather than integrated them.

Turkey will be in the EU, says Sweden's foreign minister - Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt continues to express support for Turkey's EU membership bid. As I previously noted, on Dec 10 last year Bildt wrote a NYT op ed together with the foreign ministers of Finland, UK, and Italy in which they expressed their support for Turkish membership.

And in a recent interview with the Turkish TV channel Skyturk, Bildt reiterated his views. As reported by Hürriyet Daily News, Bildt argued that
Historical experience shows that a democracy that knocks on the door of the democratic European Union will at the end of the day never be refused
I think that Bildt is doing an important job - if for no other reason than to let supporters of both continued reforms and eventual EU membership in Turkey know that they have friends in the EU. While I have heard him make the argument in Swedish media on at least one occasion, I have not noticed him being quite as active in Sweden as he has been in international and Turkish media. It may well be that I have missed something, so I don't want to press this point. But it does point to a more general challenge for supporters of Turkish EU membership in EU member states: making the case for a Turkish membership at home.
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