Moroccan-Born Mayor Dispenses Tough Love

July 30, 2007, Spiegel Online

For one Amsterdam mayor, the Netherlands' famous tolerance has gone too far. Morrocan-born Ahmed Marcouch is taking the tough cop approach in a rough Amsterdam neighborhood, pushing his fellow immigrants to integrate. But some consider him a traitor ...

Normally life in Slotervaart isn't nearly as convivial as the speakers paint it. Crime and unemployment are significantly higher than the national average, and one in three of the neighborhood's young people are high-school dropouts.

Ahmed Marcouch grew up in this environment, but he has since made a better life for himself. He was illiterate when he came to the Netherlands from Morocco at the age of 10, but he was lucky enough to encounter a teacher at a progressive Montessori school who helped him get on track.

A Different World

There is little evidence of Amsterdam's typical charm in Slotervaart, a neighborhood where bleak concrete apartment blocks cluster around a futuristic-looking town hall. Almost half of Slotervaart's 45,000 residents are foreign immigrants, and it is not uncommon to see eight-member families living in cramped, 50-square-meter (540-square-foot) apartments. And it's perhaps no coincidence that the police station is across the street from the mosque.

Immigrants from Turkey or the former Dutch colony of Suriname are not the ones that keep the police on their toes. The "problem" immigrants in Slotervaart come from Morocco, not from major cities but from villages in the High Atlas and Rif Mountains. They live here in their own world, eating couscous with lamb's brain salad, watching Al-Jazeera and attending the mosque on Fridays. There is little pressure to conform to Dutch customs and lifestyles ...

Kok, a member of the left-learning Labor Party (PvdA), lives here because he wanted to set an example. But his political adversaries on the right call it a pointless experiment in multiculturalism. The neighborhood, they argue, is contaminated beyond repair.

Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of eccentric filmmaker and provocateur Theo van Gogh, lived in Overtoomse Veld, not far from Kok's house. Bouyeri was born in Amsterdam, a second-generation immigrant. Like many Dutchmen, he rode his bicycle and loved to eat traditional Dutch stews. He couldn't have been more Dutch, but he got caught up in the radical Islamist movement nonetheless.

Van Gogh's murder marked a turning point in Holland's warm and fuzzy take on democracy. Until then, the Dutch were accustomed to looking generously the other way when it came to a wide range of abuses. The approach even had a name: the gedogen principle. The untranslatable word gedogen refers to the Dutch practice of turning a blind eye to things which are officially illegal but tolerated, such as soft drugs and euthanasia. Under the gedogen principle, anything went. The fact that some Muslim men beat their wives was tolerated, as was the selling of polemic texts -- which encouraged believers to stone women who committed adultery and throw homosexuals from tall buildings -- at the Al Tawheed Mosque on Jan Hanzenstraat.

Taking a Hard Line

But since the Van Gogh murder, the gedogen principle no longer applies -- at least in Slotervaart, a change that is in no small part due to the mayor's efforts. Marcouch, a former police officer, experienced at first hand the unrest that followed the Van Gogh murder. He wasn't a softie like some of his colleagues, who routinely looked the other way when rowdy mobs swaggered through the streets. He took a hard line when he believed it was necessary, which was the case more often than not. And a tougher police approach is suddenly popular with the no-longer-quite-so-relaxed Dutch.

The government of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende insists that it will fight lawlessness in the suburbs and will no longer tolerate foreign-born hate preachers in the country's mosques. But it has done little so far to make good on its promises.

Marcouch, on the other hand, is doing something. He has instructed his officials to conduct one-on-one interviews with young unemployed residents to help them find ways to make a fresh start. Especially tough cases are referred directly to Marcouch ...

But not a few of Marcouch's fellow Moroccans in the area, which is known locally as Little Morocco, consider the mayor a turncoat. Two 11-year-old boys recently accosted him as he was walking through his community, calling him a "chaïn" -- Arabic for "traitor."

Marcouch was furious. When he managed to catch one of the boys, he took hold of his chin and pulled the boy towards him, glaring at him and barking in Dutch, "sukkel" -- "loser."

He refused to admonish the children for calling him a "traitor," considering it beneath him. But it didn't mean the insult didn't hurt.
Single mom with 10 kids terrorises neighbourhood
April 28, 2007

... in the neighbourhood of Slotervaart in the west of Amsterdam, one woman’s 10 kids have been wreaking havoc for 9 years and counting. The children enjoy breaking and entering, stealing, arson and defecating in entrance halls of other people’s flats. It’s so bad that three families have already moved away. About 10 different help organisations work with the family, but it’s not helping, even though the house was renovated, the mother was taught how to clean her house and make sandwiches for her children.
Marcouch sounds like a decent bloke. But, still, one man versus thousands of satellite dishes, and a violent Koran. Good luck with that ...

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