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A Dutch identity crisis?

While support for anti-immigrant parties grows, young minorities celebrate their nationality.

Wilders’ supporters say the spread of Islam has undermined traditional Dutch liberal values. He is seen by many as the successor to Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay political leader who cited Islamic intolerance to homosexuality as one of his major concerns. Fortuyn was assassinated by a Dutch animal-rights activist in 2002, but his party briefly became the second largest in the Dutch parliament after his death.

Wilders’ opponents counter that his anti-Islamic message does more to undermine traditional Dutch values of tolerance and openness to outsiders.

Nearly one-in-eight Dutch citizens have foreign parents or grandparents. Many are frustrated by the politicians’ obsession with national identity.

“It’s a lousy debate,” says Rabiaa Benlahbib, director of Kosmopolis, a cultural group that aims to bring down barriers between citizens in The Hague.

“I’m from different backgrounds; that gives me the chance to explore my identity, it’s a privilege,” adds Benlahbib, who is of Dutch-Moroccan parentage. “It’s never possible to say this part is Dutch and this part is something else.”

Benlahbib is one of the organizers of El Hema — an Arab-inspired variant of the eclectic Hema chain of department stores that are an institution on high streets around the Netherlands. El Hema sells rubber gloves decorated with traditional Moroccan henna tattoo designs, Halal versions of Hema’s famed sausages, Barbie-style dolls wearing Islamic headscarves and a range of North African-inspired kitchenware.

“We should look at the community like a salad. Every ingredient has its own taste, its own character, but it’s the dressing of Holland that keeps us together,” says Elyazid Bouziki, a trader who supplies mint to many of the city’s Moroccan tea houses and restaurants.

Bouziki considers himself lucky that his family chose to live in mainly Dutch neighborhoods when they moved from Morocco in the 1960s. That way he avoided joining the youth who often grow up alienated from society in immigrant “ghettos,” where many risk drifting into crime or extremism.

He is confident that the majority of Dutch people remain tolerant of minorities, but he acknowledges that Wilders has succeeded in exploiting a deep vein of unease.

“I have a lot of Dutch friends and when we start discussing these things, they say ‘you are like us, it’s no problem,’ but they are not in my skin,” he says. “I’m a very kind, polite person, but if I walk down a dark alley I know that any Dutch granny that meets me will be scared, her heart will pump harder because it’s me, rather than a blond Dutch guy. That’s in the people here, but hopefully one day it will fade away.”

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