Published 30 Oct 07
By Abigail R. Esman
World Defense Review columnist
Riots and Radicals Rising in the Netherlands
Riots in Amsterdam.
For six nights running (as I write this; it may be more by the time you read it), Moroccan youth in the Slotervaart neighborhood have burned cars, busted windows, and brought mayhem to the streets. But unless you're one of those people who follow these things closely, you may not have heard about it yet: the events have not received much play in the media outside Holland. The chaos hasn't reached the level yet of the Paris riots in 2005; perhaps it just doesn't seem important enough for foreign press to bother with.
But it is important, in part because it comes only days after a multicultural festival in the Hague also ended in a riot, as 200 or more Moroccan youth threw stones and other objects at policemen. Why? Because the time allotted for the Moroccan band had ended and it was another ethnic group's turn to play.
In Amsterdam, the cause is something different altogether. On the morning of October 14, 22-year-old Bilal Bajaka, a Dutch-Moroccan who lived in the area, entered a local mosque and asked directions to the nearest police station. It wasn't far.
At 11:30 a.m., Bajaka entered the police headquarters on the August Allebéplein, leapt across the counter, grabbed a female police officer and stabbed her in the chest. As she tried to free herself, he plunged his knife into her back, perforating a lung. He then lunged at a male colleague, stabbing him in the throat, shoulders, and back. As the two men wrestled, the wounded woman drew her gun and fired. Seconds later, Bajaka lay dead on the police department floor.
As it turned out, this was not Bajaka's first encounter with the Amsterdam police. He'd been arrested earlier, and was known already to have connections to the Hofstadgroep, Holland's largest home-grown terror network to which Mohammed Bouyeri, who slaughtered filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004, also belongs. According to Dutch intelligence records, Bouyeri once paid a visit to Bilal, and Bouyeri's cohort, Samir Azzuz, is known to have met several times with Bilal's brother, Abdullah, probably concerning the acquisition of illegal weapons and explosives.
That's not all. In October, 2005, Dutch intelligence reported that Azzouz, Bilal and Abdullah had planned to shoot down an El Al plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. (It is not known exactly what went wrong.) Abdullah was arrested and released within ten days. Bilal himself received no sentence.
This past August, after a slew of smaller crimes, a judge ordered that Bilal Bajaka be admitted to a psychiatric center for treatment of what his parents now say was schizophrenia. Over the next few months, he escaped the center several times before doctors officially released him, maintaining that he posed not threat either to himself or others. On October 11, three days before the stabbing, he checked himself in again.
Then he left.
I know, I know. I can hear the arguments already, the explanations and excuses about "underprivileged youth" and "marginalization," the claims that Bajaka and the rioters are victims of our culture. It is none of it their fault.
But Slotervaart is not the banlieue, with its cement walls and lack of light. One quarter of the homes in the district are owner-occupied and valued at over 200,000 euros. Parks and gardens adorn the neighborhood, which is over 50 percent white.
And yet, the stratification is obvious: Muslim man stabs non-Muslim police officer, who shoots him in self-defense. And the outrage that follows has nothing to do with the attack on officers of the law. It's not the Dutch who take en masse to the streets, but the Muslim "brothers" of the attacker. Even the local district leader, the Moroccan-born Ahmed Marcouch (the first Muslim to fill this office in the Netherlands), accuses the rioters of "terrorizing" the street.
Since the event (which, it should be noted, followed by mere days the knifing of a 16-year-old Dutch-Moroccan by a 14-year-old Dutch-Turkish boy at a Slotervaart schoolyard), fingers have pointed in all directions. Some blame the state for releasing Bilal after the discovery of the El Al plot. Bajaka's parents, for their part, lay blame on the psychiatric hospital.
To my knowledge, they have taken no responsibility themselves.
To my knowledge, they have issued no apology to the injured.
And they have not once called upon the rioting youth to calm their anger and return to the quiet of their homes.
Imams, whatever their opinions, keep them to themselves.
And so the police are left to keep the peace, patrolling the streets of Slotervaart at night, even as they themselves are the primary targets of the young men's rage. The mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, pays a visit to Balil's parents. Twice, groups of young boys are caught carrying jerry-cans full of benzine. Thirty cars are destroyed in a nearby garage. Police arrest eight young men and a judge immediately lets them go.
"We need the right to come down harder on these kids," the police declare.
The mayor answers, "no."
Rather, he decides, he will speak to parents in the neighborhood, beseeching them to keep their boys at home. A motion is made to cut welfare payments to the parents of kids whom cops believe are blowing cars up in the street. The rioters themselves go free.
Radicalization, the Dutch intelligence agency reports, continues rising - mostly among young Moroccan boys.
Another day. Another Muslim riot. The mayor shrugs. The two assaulted officers remain hospitalized, still.
How the winds are laughing.
— Abigail R. Esman is an award-winning author-journalist who divides her time between New York and The Netherlands. In addition to her column in World Defense Review, her work has appeared in Foreign Policy, Salon.com, Esquire, Vogue, Glamour, Town & Country, The Christian Science Monitor, The New Republic and many others. She is currently working on a book about Muslim extremism and democracy in the West to be published by Praeger in 2010.
Visit Esman on the web at abigailesman.com.
© 2007 Abigail R. Esman
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