NETHERLANDS. The new Dutch Muslim Party (NMP) aims to be a political heaven for Muslims with different backgrounds. Coming November, the NMP wants to challenge Geert Wilders, the Dutch popular anti-Islamic politician, in his own backyard of Venlo.
Henny A. J. Kreeft is anything else but a charismatic populist. The tiny Dutch man sits quiet in the restaurant of the Apollo Hotel in Lelystad, a small city northeast of Amsterdam. He chooses his words carefully; it takes him long to get to the point. His hanging shoulders are moving rarely, the golden dolphin around his neck never shivers because of his moves. “We want to work respectfully with other religions.”
The leader of the Dutch Muslim Party (Nederlandse Moslim Partij, NMP), which was founded in 2007, is the complete opposite of his greatest opponent: Geert Wilders. The right-wing populist of the Freedom Party (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) has created lots of public uproar with his anti-Islamic statements. The NMP now wants to balance his outcries, enhancing the image of Islam and building a bridge across the increasing gap between Muslims and non-Muslims in Holland. The first challenge will be to get at least two seats in the City Council in Wilders’ hometown, Venlo. On November 18th people will have the chance to vote for NMP party members with Moroccan, Turkish or Pakistani backgrounds.
In order to attract the people’s attention, Kreeft, who converted to Islam in 1995, has lots of plans. “We want to do local politics, hence we have to go directly to the communities”, says Kreeft. One of his main concerns are youngsters living in troubled areas. “We will go there and ask them what they need.” Another instrument of raising awareness of the party will be to visit Islamic communities, visit mosques and speak to the imam: “He should convince the people.”
The unknown party
The spirit of the party, which is so far without a party program, has not yet arrived in Bos en Lommer, a post-war suburb in Amsterdam. It’s quiet and empty on this Sunday afternoon. The area, where lots of Muslims live, is clean and bleak. Lots of houses are protected by sharp metal thorns. Not far away from a slip road is a small building of a Turkish community. Old men are sitting outside, drinking tea, buying fruits. One building unites a fitness club, a mosque and a recreation room. Halil Malkoc is standing in front of big windows, Turkish flags are dangling from the ceiling inside of the building. He doesn’t know the NMP, but he supposes nobody will vote for them: “Even in Turkey Islamic parties are excluded. They will not get the power to change anything.”
Ronald Kroon, an English and political science teacher at the Hogeschool of Amsterdam, also doubts the NMP will be successful: “My main concern is that many Muslims are not participating in politics from an Islamic point of view.” How many of the 850.000 Muslims in the Netherlands are not voting, has not yet been researched. However, according to statistical data gathered over the last fifteen years from Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Arnhem, Turkish turnout in local elections is higher than that of Moroccans.
Four men of Moroccan descent are standing close to the Moroccan mosque on the pavement of the Bos en Lommerweg, a ten-minute-walk from the Turkish community. Cars are passing by, the men are ready to enter the mosque. One man in his mid-twenties is holding the Koran in his hands. They answer the questions very friendly. None of them knows the NMP. They wouldn’t vote for them anyway. “It’s forbidden to vote”, says one man, who was born in the Netherlands. “We don’t believe in a system which has been made by human beings.”
Filling a void
Putri Gayatri, who is a Muslim with parents coming from Indonesia, thinks in a completely different way. In order to change something you have to vote. However, she can understand that it is difficult for Muslims to vote for conventional parties “since they cannot identify themselves with these political parties”. Recently she discussed with some friends whether the Muslims in the Netherlands need a Muslim Party or not. It seems to be a mixed blessing: “On the one hand it’s not a good thing for integration, because we should not distinguish ourselves from the others on a political level. On the other hand, if you look at the whole range of the political parties – why shouldn’t there be a Muslim party too?”
Henny Kreeft is sure that his party is filling a void. He would even change the party’s name, if it would create any problems. His blue eyes are following the Dutch flag outside of the hotel. If the NMP will succeed in the upcoming elections in Venlo, it might be the first step to one of his goals: one day becoming a nationwide party.