The Hague, 13/01/09
Labour's (PvdA) integration icon Ahmed Marcouch is at the centre of controversy once again. This time, he has made a plea for making Amsterdam-West a "town in itself" where a "blooming Muslim community" should arise.
Marcouch, Moroccan and Muslim, is the leader of Slotervaart, one of the 14 district councils in Amsterdam. These districts, which also exist in Rotterdam, were introduced years ago following the example of the five New York boroughs.
A debate has been raging for some time over the future of the district councils.
In an internal letter to other district council leaders in Amsterdam-West, Marcouch has now described his ideas for a "town in itself," which could be created by merging their district councils to form "New West". A blooming Muslim community could arise with sufficient social capital. The Muslim minority would then become a positive point and "New West could focus on the integration of immigrants", Marcouch writes.
Last year, Marcouch became the centre of controversy when he proposed introducing education about Islam in all schools. Three members of the Slotervaart district council then resigned from the PvdA. And recently, newspaper De Telegraaf reported that in 2005, Marcouch wanted to bring the Muslim Brotherhood's chief ideologist, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, to the Netherlands to participate in a congress about Islam. The Amsterdam city council prevented this.
National PvdA leader Wouter Bos has consistently praised Marcouch as a Muslim who dares to express criticism of the Islamic community, but some, including Party For Freedom (PVV) leader and MP Geert Wilders, see him as a wolf in sheep's clothing. Wilders yesterday requested clarification from the cabinet about Marcouch's letter, terming "the Islamisation desire of Amsterdam politicians perilous."
Conservative (VVD) MP Paul de Krom said in free newspaper De Pers, which obtained Marcouch's letter, that administrators must not allow themselves to be influenced by their religion. "If Marcouch means to say that he wants to strengthen the Muslim community, or that he wants to create a specific Muslim district in Amsterdam, I would consider that very unfortunate."
PvdA MP Jeroen Dijsselbloem said he "does not understand" what exactly Marcouch wants. "Muslim communities form around mosques and not along district council borders."
Clyde Moerlie, one of the three Slotervaart district council members who resigned last year, said Marcouch's letter "fits into his thinking. I see little good in the one-sided Walhalla that Marcouch wants to set up. Perhaps a district council where public servants do not have to shake hands with women, with Islam lessons in public schools. We thought that we were members of a secular party at PvdA, but Marcouch sees it primarily as his duty as a good Muslim to propagate Islam."