If you had been watching the TV news in the Netherlands the past few months, you would have concluded that the country is facing a major social problem: groups of boys and young men of Moroccan background harassing people and causing trouble in the major cities and many large towns.
In the most recent case, in a neighbourhood of Gouda, a young Moroccan allegedly threatened a bus driver with a knife. When the public buses subsequently wouldn’t go through the neighbourhood, that proved one step too far for some politicians. Hero Brinkman, of the far-right Freedom Party, called for the Dutch army to be deployed in neighbourhoods to keep the peace.
Tough measures called for
Brinkman was alone in wanting to call in the army, but politicians across the political spectrum now advocate tough measures. And everyone from left to right agrees that public disturbances are more often caused by kids of Moroccan background than by other groups.
Hero Brinkman says the problems are caused by a culture clash.
"I think that we are a Dutch community with a Christian, Jewish and humanistic background, and not with an Islamic background. And not at all from the little bit retarded North African background from the Moroccan people."
Mr Brinkman is clearly not a cultural relativist. Are Dutch neighbourhoods being overrun by Moroccan toughs? Is the problem really so bad?
Trouble in Amsterdam
Ahmed Marcoush is President of Slotervaart, a borough of Amsterdam known for its large Moroccan population. Last year, a young Moroccan was killed in Slotervaart after he threatened some police officers. For two nights, a few cars were set on fire and bricks were thrown at the police station. Some said they thought Moroccan young people were on the verge of large-scale riots similar to those in France.
Borough President Marcoush disagreed and – more than a year later – says things are going well.
"Crime has decreased dramatically, in some cases by 50 percent. Those are spectacular developments. We’re not there yet, but I hope we can keep it up."
Marcoush advocates dealing with troublesome kids by combining tough law enforcement with getting parents involved. He says the kids who get into trouble spend lots of time out of the house, like they would if they were in Morocco. And he should know. He himself came here from Morocco at the age of ten, and credits his success to having a father who did keep track of him when he was young.
Involving the families
Mourad Taimounti is also a Dutchman of Moroccan background. He’s helping to implement the new family-oriented approach to dealing with street kids. He says its working well, as in the case of a 17-year-old who was getting into trouble.
"We called the school and they told us they didn’t even know his name, because he hadn’t been even one day to school. So we confronted the father with that situation, and at that time the father got really furious, because he was ashamed for that situation. He had the feeling he had been fooled for a long time by his own son, a son he trusted."
Marcoush and Taimounti say they are implementing a form of social control. Surpisingly, they even start to sound a bit like the Freedom Party’s Hero Brinkman, when they talk about the role Moroccan culture plays.
Taimounti says it’s important to bring back social control, because the parents are used to that back in Morocco.
"They’re used to being confronted with the behaviour of their children, they’re used to their children being raised in the streets, by the neighbours. But that’s a different situation in the Netherlands."
The analysis of those working closely with the Moroccan community may be similar to that of some politicians. But Marcoush and Taimounti, and many others working closely with the community, say the problem of Moroccan street kids is going in the right direction.
But with every new incident where a kid of Moroccan background disturbs the public order, people like Marcoush and Taimounti worry that politicians in the Hague will overreact and make the problems worse.