A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 4) – The contemporary racialization and securitisation of Islam

In a series of blogposts I will try to trace how the opposition between acceptable and unacceptable Islam has resonated throughout the Dutch history of Islam, yet has always remained unstable and open to changing contexts, circumstances and the pragmatic compromises made between the political elites and the Muslim community. This is part 4.

For part 1: From Turks and renegades to citizens and radicals: A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 1)

For part 2: A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 2) – On Moriscos, Turks and Renegades

For part 3: A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 3) – The management of Islam in the Dutch colonial empire

For part 5: A short history of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the Netherlands (Part 5) – Discussion: Resonance and Amnesia

The contemporary racialization and securitisation of Islam in the Netherlands

The recent concern with the management of Islam is related, mainly, to the influx of so-called guest workers from Turkey and Morocco and their families from the 1960s to the 1980s. After the Dutch East Indies (1945) and Surinam (1975) achieved independence, a large number of immigrants with Muslim backgrounds came to the Netherlands from these countries, but today the largest groups of Muslims by far are the migrants (and their descendants) who were recruited as labourers from Turkey and Morocco during the 1960s and 1970s. Other large Muslim groups from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia arrived later, most of them seeking asylum from persecution and/or escaping violence in their home countries. A small group of asylum seekers also fled to the Netherlands because of their political-religious activities in countries such as Egypt and Syria. According to the 2007 figures, there were 825,000 Muslims in the Netherlands at the time, the majority of whom were of Turkish or Moroccan descent.[i]

Danger and three modes of racializing Muslims

Initially, policies were devised to enable a return of the guest workers but by the end of the 1970s this was transformed into policies that focused on integration. Here we can also see the Dutch concern with peace, order and stability. The idea that migrants and their culture pose a danger was present from the earliest days of the Dutch minority policies. The idea of danger initially pertained mainly to the idea that migrant cultures, and in particular Islam, were a potential threat to the Dutch rule of law.[ii]

By the 1990s, developments had already taken place that involved migrants being categorized primarily on the basis of their culture and/or religion.  Dutch values with regard to secular and sexual freedoms became the standard for measuring integration: the so-called culturalisation of citizenship.[iii] This racialization of Muslims[iv] through an essentialist notion of culture is exacerbated by a second line of the racialisation of Muslims:  the distinction made in Dutch integration policies and debates between so-called autochthonous and allochthonous people. The allochtonisation of people refers to the categorizing of individuals as ‘people from a foreign land’ and autochtonisation as the categorizing of other individuals as ‘people from this land’ in discourses about belonging, migration and integration in the Netherlands.[v] This opposition, does not only pertain to birthplace but also to kinship, while the link with culture connects both birthplace and kinship to stereotypical explanations of collective differences in attitudes and practices.[vi] At the same time religion and skin colour have entered the unoffical definitions since Muslims have become exemplary ‘allochthones’[vii] while the quintessential autochtonized Dutch person is white and many allochtonized people (for example Moroccan-Dutch) are referred to as having a little colour.[viii]

Besides the racialization of Muslim through culturalization and allochtonization, a third line of racialization can be distinguished. One that might be called the creeping islamization argument. In the 1990s liberal leader Bolkestein and, then writer, Fortuyn[ix] questioned the compatibility of Islam and democracy and Islam and Dutch identity.[x] Albeit from different perspectives, what they added to the already existing focus on migrants’ culture was their emphasis on Islam, on the one hand, and protecting an ideal image of Dutch liberal values, on the other.[xi] The ideal vision of the identity of Dutch society is that it is a modern society of secular (including sexual) freedoms that has to be defended against a religion that is not yet modern (the so-called moderate Islam) or even anti-modern (fundamentalist or radical Islam).[xii]

During the 1990s and more significantly after 9/11, the argument about the Islamisation of society entered the debates. Fortuyn’s and other’s now common argument against the ‘Islamization of our culture’ transformed the regular incorporation of Islam into a cultural conflict. It is an argument that is performed in particular in opposition to mosques, the public call to prayer and occasionally the headscarf. As such, Islam is constructed in opposition to so-called Dutch liberal values, a difference which is seen as causing problems for integration and security, and is often followed by a moral evaluation and a prescription of how to act: namely that one should defend the so-called liberal secular values.

The contemporary construction of ‘The Muslim’

In summation, we can say that the current racialisation of Muslims, albeit an always contested and never totalitarian process, has transformed a religiously diverse group of Dutch citizens into a separate and exceptional category of people who are problematized in policies and debates. Interestingly, in this process of problematisation no mention at all is made of any previous Dutch connections to Islam such as those which existed in the 17th century and experiences with Indonesia. Islam is recreated as a recent, new phenomenon coming from outside the Netherlands.[xiii]  This historical amnesia enables an ideal image of Dutch culture to be presented without any reference to colonial crimes of the past and instead glorifies a ‘VOC’ mentality. On the other hand, it contributes to producing a doomsday scenario of Islamisation (or Wilders’ reference to Islamic invasion) that threatens Dutch identity.


[i] Mieke Maliepaard and Merove Gijsberts, Moslim in Nederland (The Hague: Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, 2012).

[ii] Peter Scholten, Framing Immigrant Integration: Dutch Research-Policy Dialogues in Comparative Perspective, (Amsterdam: AUP, 2011), 143.

[iii] Paul Mepschen, Jan-Willem Duyvendak and Evelien Tonkens, ‘Sexual Politics, Orientalism and Multicultural Citizenship in the Netherlands’, Sociology 44, no. 5 (2010): 962-979.

[iv] See Nasar Meer, ‘Racialization and Religion: Race, Culture and Difference in the Study of Antisemitism and Islamophobia’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 36, no. 3 (2013): 385-398.

[v] Willem Schinkel, ‘The Virtualization of Citizenship.’ Critical Sociology 36, no 2 (2010): 22-23; Dvora Yanow and Marleen van der Haar, ‘People Out of Place: Allochthony and Autochthony in the Netherlands’ Identity Discourse – Metaphors and Categories in Action,’ Journal of International Relations and Development 16, no. 2 (2013): 227-261.

[vi] Yanow and Van der Haar, ‘People’, pp. 245-246.

[vii] Peter Geschiere, The Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Africa and Europe, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 148-150.

[viii] Dienke Hondius, ‘Black Dutch Voices: Reports from a Country that Leaves Racism Unchallenged’, in Dutch Racism, ed. Philomena Essed and Isabel Hoving (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014), 273-293.

[ix] In 2001 Fortuyn founded a populist anti-Islam and anti-migration party. He was murdered in 2002 by Volkert van der Graaf, an animal rights activist.

[x] Martijn de Koning, De ideologische strijd tegen de islam. Het gedachtegoed van Pim Fortuyn als scharnierpunt in de racialisering van moslims (Alkmaar: Karakter Uitgevers, 2016).

[xi] Adam James Tebble, ‘Exclusion for Democracy’, Political Theory 34, no. 4 (2006), 463-487.

[xii] De Koning, Ideologische.

[xiii] Cf. Kennedy and Valenta, ‘Religious’.


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