Europe Under Attack: Neglected lessons from the Netherlands

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On Christmas Eve (Peace on Earth) of the year 2002 I published an article in the Amsterdam newspaper ‘Het Parool’, in which I announced that sooner or later West European countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands, would have to deal with young radicalized Muslims who would even be willing to commit suicide attacks.

This prediction was no wild guess, but a logical conclusion that was based on the work by the American sociologists Robert E. Park (1864-1944) and Everett Stonequist (1901-1979), in combination with a dramatic and tragic episode in recent Dutch history: the attacks on society by young, radicalized Moluccans, now 40 years ago.

After the independence of the former Dutch East Indies, which became the Republic of Indonesia in 1949, 4.000 men of the Moluccan Islands immigrated to the Netherlands with their families, 12.500 people in total. These men had been soldiers in the colonial Royal Netherlands-Indies Army, and therefore they were not liked and trusted by other Indonesians.

The Dutch government decided that they would be better of in the Netherlands and promised them work in the regular Dutch army. However, that promise was broken and the Moluccan families were not really integrated into Dutch society, but kept together and rather isolated in barracks and camps.

As a result the children, the second generation, grew up between two different cultures, Dutch and Moluccan. They became ‘marginals’ or ‘hybrids’: people who are familiar with the cultures from which they come, but who do not really belong anywhere themselves. The American sociologists Robert E. Park and Everett Stonequist did much research among second and third generation immigrants in the USA, and they concluded that such ‘marginals’ have specific talents and characteristics, but in an inner conflicting way:

The marginal person is poised in the psychological uncertainty between two (or more) social worlds; reflecting in his soul the discords and harmonies, repulsions and attractions of these worlds…within which membership is implicitly if not explicitly based upon birth or ancestry…and where exclusion removes the individual from a system of group relations.” (Stonequist, ‘The Marginal Man’, 1937)

As a result of the two-sided upbringing, the marginal man has a strong desire and motivation to find or create a world in which he really belongs. For this ideal he is prepared to give and sacrifice everything, even his life, and revolt against the cultures from which he came.

This is what happened to the second generation Moluccans, 20 years after their parents immigrated from Indonesia to the Netherlands. Their dream was the creation ofan independent Republic of the Moluccas within the former Indonesian homeland.

And to realize this idealized new world, they put enormous pressure on Dutch society and the Indonesian representatives in the Netherlands, by a series of violent attacks: three attempts to kidnap the Indonesian ambassador and/or Queen Juliana of the Netherlands; a succesful occupation of the Indonesian consulate in Amsterdam; hijacking of two passenger trains and keeping the passengers as hostages (executing two passengers and the train engineer); occupation of two schools and taking children and teachers hostage; and occupation of a government building. Together these violent actions took the lives of nine Dutch civilians and of seven of the young rebellious Moluccans.

Eventually the Moluccan revolt was suppressed and ended by Dutch special forces, and the surviving rebels were brought to justice. Unfortunately the Dutch government did not start a searching inquiry into the real reasons and motives behind the Moluccan revolt, so nothing was learned from it.

The same happened in other West European countries that had watched the Dutch-Moluccan revolt in amazement and horror. Dutch universities and social scientists should have used the ideas of Park and Stonequist to study and explain the revolt and create a better understanding of the motives and the neglected and isolated position of the Moluccan community in the Netherlands, but also that did not happen. Dutch society in general tried to bury and forget the whole tragic episode as soon as possible.

But among the Moluccan community in the Netherlands, now some 50.000 people, the revolt is still a painful and open wound. One rejects and regrets the actions, but one understands and accepts the motives behind it.

The Dutch-Moluccan revolt showed that immigration and succesful integration is indeed a difficult and complex process that may last several generations, and especially the second and third generations are in danger of falling between two stools. But that harsh lesson by the young Moluccan rebels was neglected in Western Europe.

It is clear that the present young, European Muslims who become militant jihadists, have a remarkable similarity to the Dutch-Moluccan rebels of 40 years ago. They are second or third generation immigrants who grew up between a strict and restricted Muslim culture at home and an open and unrestricted western culture on the streets and at school.

As a result they have the typical characteristics of the ‘marginal’ and ‘hybrid’ person, and they are thus deeply motivated to create a new and better world. So it is no surprise that the many militant rebellious organisations in the Middle East, with promises of an idealized new state, a caliphate and even a guaranteed paradise, have a strong attraction for such young, marginalized Muslims. It is not the Islamic religion itself that motivates them, but the promised new land in which they will finally be at home and for which they are willing to give their lives.

So West European countries that are committed to fight Muslim rebel groups, should understand that the source and origin of the radicalization lies within their own societies, and not somewhere in the Middle East. And as long as the integration and position of the second and third generation Muslim immigrants is not significantly improved, that fight will continue.

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