“You mean that conservative corner of the country?!” is often a response you get when you tell people you live in Zeeland. It is clear that our province does not have the best reputation among the Dutch provinces. Next to its small cities and towns, excessive amount of water and many German tourists, it is also often associated with having a strict Christian community.
The Statistic Netherlands organization estimated that in 2010 around fifty percent of the population had no religion, forty percent was Christian, around seven per cent was Muslim and some three percent had another religion.
Is it actually the case that Zeeland accommodates many of the forty percent Christians?” According to Zeynep Aydin, a Muslim student living in Middelburg, Christianity is not that overt in our town. “You can see the Christian tradition in the sense that the shops are closed on Sunday, but I think that that’s as extreme as it gets here.”
However, it is true that most of the Dutch Christian community lives in less populated areas. The big cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam are the ones that attract more dynamic and multicultural crowds. The more conservative, and usually slightly older, people tend to live in the quieter areas like we find in Zeeland. Also, the number of Muslims in Zeeland is rather small. “I originally come from a city in Germany and I have to say that I was quite shocked when I came here because of the little amount of Muslims and women wearing a hijab headscarf”, confirms Zeynep.
However, has the combination of a conservative Christian view and little exposure to the Muslim faith led to an intolerant attitude towards other religions? Only six months ago a new mosque was trashed by perpetrators whose identities are still unknown. This makes us wonder if integration of another religion is hard in a (potential) conservative area.
In September of last year, a mosque under construction was smirched with discriminating words. Terms such as ‘pigs’ were painted and sprayed on the walls. Besides that, a few windows were broken. The chair of the Muslim organization, Ismaïl Kastaci, says that he has no idea who did this and what their motivation might be. It is also not the first time that the mosque was vandalized. Last summer, words were written on the building and windows were broken as well.
Looking at the small amount of Muslims that live in Middelburg, this mosque has also never been a big centre of attention. “For a long time, I didn’t even know there was a mosque here” Zeynep explains. However, this has mainly to do with the individual focus of the religion. “I practice my religion everywhere. You don’t have to go to a Mosque. In that sense Islam is very personal.” Next to that, Zeynep sees her religion as a very open one with a lot of different possibilities. “Together with a friend I am member of a more national organization, which gathers at different places throughout the Netherlands.”
Seeing that the Mosque did not even draw a lot of attention among the Muslim inhabitants, it is hard to imagine a fuss amongst the rest of Middelburg. So why did this mosque get damaged? And is this vandalism in Middelburg different from any other cities?
Across the Country
Zeynep has never noticed any form of discrimination in Middelburg, let alone such a severe form as the previous occasion mentioned. “Personally, I don’t feel discriminated. I know what it is like to live in a society where not everybody wears a headscarf so I know how that feels.” Even though it felt strange for her to hardly see any women wearing a headscarf, she thinks that people in Middelburg are in general not discriminating at all.
“As long as you don’t get into other peoples’ faces with your religion, people don’t really care,” Zeynep adds. Even though this might point more to indifference than tolerance, it is definitely not discrimination. According to Zeynep this doesn’t only count for Middelburg, but almost to the entire Netherlands. “The only difference I see [concerning Muslim integration] between, for example, Rotterdam and Middelburg is that there live more Muslims in Rotterdam. I haven’t had any experience with discrimination in either one of them.” To add a word of caution, she explains, “I don’t speak Dutch so maybe I just don’t understand or notice when people say something discriminating.”
Next to that, unfortunately, vandalism happens all over the country. As long as this is just an incidental happening it can hardly be considered a trend.
Even though it is unknown who damaged the Mosque, another point to consider is that it are often teenagers that vandalize property in fits of rebellion. The conservative Christians, who are often older, are less likely to go and trash somebody else’s building.
So how is Middelburg dealing with Muslim integration? As far as Zeynep can tell, there does not seem to be a big difference between Zeeland and other places in the Netherlands. And even though a Mosque got trashed six months ago, it is safe to say that Middelburg is not that discriminating at all.
– Kristy Evers, May 3rd 2012