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Before Polls: Dutch Muslims Fear the Future

THE HAGUE – As the clock ticks towards the March-15 elections, Dutch Muslims are feeling anti-Muslim backlash as the far-right Party for Freedom promised to close mosques and ban Qur’an if he wins elections.

“There’s no way I could have known all those years ago that Holland would get to a moment like this,” Ahmad Elbaghdadi, an imam at a local mosque, told USA Today on Thursday, March 9.

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“It’s very hard to constantly hear from a major politician that you are not a Dutch person. However, I have children here and I can’t just go. We have to hope that one person can’t just change everything.”

The Dutch vote has been drawing international interest, being the first of three major tests of the strength of populist revolts in Europe in the wake of President Trump’s upset victory and Britain’s referendum vote in June to leave the European Union.

The French go to the polls in April and Germans in September, and all three elections include anti-immigration, anti-EU candidates vowing to overturn political systems they claim are run by out-of-touch elites.

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In the Netherlands, far-right candidate Geert Wilders wants to close all the country’s mosques, ban the Qur’an and shut the borders to immigrants from Muslim countries.

A manifesto published on his party’s website discusses making the Netherlands “ours again (by) de-Islamizing” it.

“We need to stop being tolerant to the people who are intolerant to us,” Wilders said in an interview. Last year, he was convicted of inciting discrimination against Moroccans.

Elbaghdadi said his sermons stress that “we all need to live together, eat together, work together.”

But if Wilders becomes prime minister “and starts closing mosques and all the other things he wants to do, then I think we’ll have reached a moment when many people like me may need to leave.”

Shared Concerns

In a country with about 20 percent of population with foreign background,Muslims were not the only group worried by the hateful rhetoric.

Those non-natives suffer discrimination in jobs and education, according to studies by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the SCP, the Dutch government’s social research institute.

“None of the mainstream parties have done a good enough job addressing issues of integration and support for immigrants and finding good policies that are a benefit to everyone in society,” said Lars Rensmann, a professor of European politics and society at the University of Groningen.

“Wilders always says he’s for the little man, but at the same time he treats Dutch people with immigrant backgrounds as if they are not citizens,” said Jerry Afriyie, 35, a poet and activist who was born in Ghana and grew up in the Netherlands.

Said Bouharrou, vice chairman of the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, said he has extended several invitations to Wilders to visit Muslim communities to better understand life in Holland from their perspective. He has received no reply.

“This is my country. I am Dutch,” said Bouharrou, 37, who holds Dutch and Moroccan passports.

“Sometimes I go on vacation to Morocco, but I always feel like a foreigner there.”