Thursday, October 8, 2009

Unifying Dutch city falls to Muslim mayor --

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    • In Rotterdam, where cultural and social divides are apparent, the burden of bridging them now belongs to Morocco-born Ahmed Aboutaleb. How he fares could matter beyond his city's borders.
    Ahmed Aboutaleb
    • Morocco-born Ahmed Aboutaleb is installed as mayor of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, early this year. His nomination to the largely ceremonial post surprised even seasoned observers.
    • The conservative and liberal, religious and secular, Dutch and foreign stand side by side here in Rotterdam, in a contrasting and at times uneasy coexistence where social and cultural middle ground can be elusive.

      The job of finding that middle ground has now fallen onto the shoulders of a thoughtful Moroccan-born Muslim who arrived in Rotterdam just nine months ago. His address: the mayor's office.
    • Ahmed Aboutaleb is the first Muslim immigrant to lead a major Dutch city. The son of an imam, he was appointed mayor of Rotterdam late last year and in January became the official face of the Netherlands' second-largest city.
    • This is, after all, a city where the national clash over immigration and integration, particularly of Muslims, has been at its most volatile.

    • In 2002, Pim Fortuyn, a populist and openly gay politician who slammed Islam as a "backward" religion, was fatally shot by a white assassin claiming to act in support of the Muslim community.

      How the 48-year-old Aboutaleb fares as mayor could well have an effect beyond Rotterdam's borders. With ethnic minorities accounting for almost half its population, the city serves in many ways as a laboratory of demographic change for the rest of the Netherlands, and potentially other parts of Europe.
    • Right-wing politicians demanded that Aboutaleb demonstrate his loyalty by giving up his Moroccan passport (he holds dual nationality). Geert Wilders, the country's most inflammatory public figure, declared that Aboutaleb's appointment was "as ridiculous as appointing a Dutchman as mayor of Mecca."