A moderate in the firing line

11th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

Fielding questions on an English-language radio show, Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen maintains the moderate stance that contrasts sharply will the shrill tones of other leading politicians in the Netherlands today. Cormac Mac Ruairi reports.

Mayor Job Cohen ... building bridges

If you want to make a splash in Dutch politics these days it seems the best approach is to raise your voice repeatedly, bang the table in front of you for emphasis and gesture wildly with your hands for show.

Most important of all is a compulsion to break taboos and single out one element of the community for constant, unceasing criticism. 

Given 11 September, conflicts elsewhere and recent events in the Netherlands, Islam is the bogeyman of choice.

Pim Fortuyn broke the mould of traditional, low-key politics in the Netherlands by daring to say the previously unsayable about Muslims and immigrants — and saying it with gusto.

He paid for this with his life; he was gunned down in Hilversum in May 2002 by animal-rights activist Volkert van der Graaf, who said he wanted to protect "the weaker elements of society".

But the new politics unleashed by Fortuyn can't, it seems, be silenced by bullets.

Independent MP Geert Wilders — previously best known for his interesting hair style — has emerged as the "new Fortuyn". He is unshakeably against Islamic Turkey joining the EU, he opposes immigration from Muslim countries, he wants to close radical mosques and he wants the toughest security measures to deal with the threat of terrorism.

His case seemed to receive chilling justification with the murder of fellow Muslim-critic and filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November last year.

The Amsterdam man arrested for the killing, Mohammed B., 26, has Moroccan and Dutch nationality. Police have linked him to a terrorist cell and they say the arrest of a dozen of B.'s associates have helped prevent further "terrorist attacks".

So presumably Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen is firmly in Wilders' camp and is just as suspicious of the large Muslim community in his city?


Building bridges

It stark contrast to Wilders, Cohen, a member of the Labour PvdA, has stuck to a moderate tone and does not seem about to fall into line with the new school of "hyper-politics" in the Netherlands.

Cohen continued to press his call for calm when he appeared on a special edition of the Amsterdam Forum, a current affairs discussion programme on the English-language service of Dutch world broadcaster Radio Netherlands. The station has listeners in more than 60 countries.

Cohen was invited on the programme to answer questions put by presenter Andy Clark about the "extremist challenge" in the Netherlands.

The mayor also took questions from the audience attending the recording at the exclusive IGB business club in central Amsterdam and questions emailed by listeners around the world.

Cohen — who has also received death threats allegedly by the 12 associates of Mohammed B. — recalled that he had been the guest on the first edition of Amsterdam Forum, also in the IGB club, on 6 May 2002.

Cohen: Amsterdam was spared retaliatory attacks after Van Gogh's murder

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