Friday 17 October 2008

Dispelling stereotypes: Moroccan-born Muslim becomes mayor of Dutch city

The selection (not election, mayors are still appointed in the Netherlands)of a Morrocan immigrant as mayor of the second-largest Dutch city Rotterdam shows that, in spite of the undeniable polarization and increased sense of antagonism in Dutch society following the assassination of cineast Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist of Moroccan origin, there is a glimmer of hope for successful integration into the adopted culture.

At 47 years of age, Ahmed Aboutaleb is a rising star of the Social Democrat party. As an 'alderman' (an awkward & medieval-sounding term, but there appears to be no alternative)in Amsterdam, he earned kudos for his handling of the van Gogh murder. Speaking in the Al-Kabir Mosque the day after the murder, he was not afraid of confronting discordant elements in the Muslim community. Insisting that immigrants should fully underwrite the core values of Dutch society or get on the next plane home, Aboutaleb was suddenly considered as 'potential cabinet material', although, when the next government was formed, he had to settle for deputy secretary of labour and social affairs.

The appointment is not uncontroversial, supporters of right-leaning parties, often running on the basis of covert or overt anti-immigration agendas, are dismayed over the fact that Aboutaleb still holds dual nationality. On the other hand, it has been suggested that if anybody should be capable of turning around Rotterdam's dismal record in integrating immigrants, it would be this tough-talking son of an imam and practicing Muslim with the can-do attitude.

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