by Abigail R. Esman
The first national Muslim party in the Netherlands is now a fact.
The Netherlands, that country that so bravely pioneered movements such as gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, seems on the brink of pioneering yet another: the official Islamization of Europe's parliaments.
That, anyway, would seem to be the wish of Tunahan Kuzu and Seleuk Ozturk, the founders of the country's newest political party, which they established only a few days ago after splitting from the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA), or Labor Party, in a dispute over Dutch Turkish organizations and the Dutch Turkish community at large. Although their party, Group Kuzu/Ozturk, has not yet been entirely defined, its creators describe it in sweeping terms as "the party the Netherlands longs for," aimed at promoting "a society in which everyone is treated equally."
Except that does not seem to be what they actually have in mind.
Seleuk Ozturk (left) and Tunahan Kuzu (right) speak to the media, November 2014. (Image source: NPO video screenshot)
And Ozturk, reported the national daily, Telegraaf, has regularly demonstrated a stronger allegiance to Turkey and to Islam than to the secular Dutch state he was elected to represent. On at least one occasion, for instance, he skipped a day of parliamentary voting, and explained his absence only the following day with the casual remark that, "Yesterday was a Muslim holiday."
Ozturk, who defended the Turkish government's violent backlash against protesters during the 2013 Gezi riots, has also demonstrated particularly strong support for Turkey's Islamist President (and former prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- again indicating a greater solidarity with Turkey, and its current regime -- than with The Netherlands.
This should probably come as no great surprise: the Dutch parliamentarian also holds ties to the Diyanet, Turkey's office of religious affairs, (which, the Telegraaf reports, also provides funding for most of The Netherlands' Turkish mosques). In fact, it was PvdA Social Affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher's proposal to investigate the Dutch Diyanet connection (along with the activities of other Turkish conservative religious organizations in the Netherlands) that precipitated Ozturk's and Kuzu's defection from the party.
Asscher's concern, in turn, stemmed from recent reports about the problematic integration of Dutch Turks; it indicates the development of a "parallel society" in the community -- a society encouraged by the work of groups such as the Diyanet and others -- most of which seek to strengthen ties between Dutch Turks and Turkey, rather than to encourage integration into Dutch culture. As such, they stand as instruments of Erdogan's outspoken efforts to fight the assimilation of Europeans with Turkish roots into European culture.
Now, it seems, Ozturk and Kuzu plan to go one better: they are providing Dutch Turks with a political party in the Netherlands based largely on the Turkish community and culture, and with conservative Islamic values and mores. And although they were not elected to Parliament as leaders of their new party, because they earned their seats in the Parliament through the PvdA, they are able to keep them -- at least until the next national elections. The first national Muslim party is now a fact.
In many ways, this was inevitable. The PvdA, which is largely considered the "immigration party" with broad support among Dutch Muslims, has been plagued of late by the radical positions of several of its Muslim members. Last summer, for instance, Yasmina Haifi, a PvdA member and employee of the Ministry of Justice, declared ISIS "a Zionist plot." In 2013, former PvdA member Mohammed Talbi founded Rotterdam's local Nida party on the basis, according to the party's website, of "the Islamic spirit within all of us" and the "universal principles of god as expressed by the prophet."
More recently, as political columnist Afshin Ellian points out, the PvdA's Michiel Servaes proposed official recognition of Palestine -- on precisely the day that Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews during morning prayer in Jerusalem.
And even as far back as 2002, the PvdA refused to provide protection for then-member Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who received death threats for her outspoken criticism of Islam and accusations (proven true) of honor killings in the Dutch Muslim community. Hirsi Ali was forced to flee the country, returning only when the competing Party for Freedom and Democracy [VVD] guaranteed her 24-hour bodyguards if she would leave the PvdA for them. She agreed. It was a huge win for the VVD and a strategic loss for the PvdA; but even more, it set out in black and white the priorities of the party whose strategies now seem to have made possible a pro-Islam party within Holland's own national government.
That party is already seeing some success: less than a week after its founding, a November 18 poll found that approximately 77% of Dutch Turkish PvdA voters plan to switch allegiances from the PvdA to Group Kuzu/Ozturk; and among all Dutch Turkish voters, about a third expect to support the party, although most seem to feel that they would like Kuzu and Ozturk to broaden their appeal to all the Dutch, and not just those of Turkish background.
That expansion, however, does not seem to be in their plans. In their first parliamentary vote, the duo has already opposed requirements that foreigners speak Dutch in order to qualify for welfare. Even before leaving the PvdA, their final words to fellow member Ahmed Marcouch, a Dutch-Moroccan known for his rigorous support of integration programs, spoke volumes: "May Allah punish you!" Ozturk said.
Now, only a week later, the pair is finding support not for their programs and proposals (they have none) but for their ethnicity and religion. Already the future of their party -- and its potential power -- suggests a very real threat to the Netherlands, and the course of freedom it has known.
Abigail R. Esman
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