The Netherlands shocked by ethnic unrest

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The town of Culemborg in the middle of the Netherlands remains the scene of unrest between youths belonging to two ethnic minorities: Moroccans and Moluccans. The authorities have banned groups from hanging around on the streets for the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the conflict has spread as young Moroccans and Moluccans all over the Netherlands provoke each other on internet sites.

Tension between Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Moluccan youths in Culemborg has risen sharply in the last few months. There are street brawls and cars have been set on fire. A number of youths have been arrested, and street workers have been sent in, but up to now these measures haven’t helped much. On New Year’s Eve, police had to intervene once again to prevent the two groups from fighting.

Trivial row
A trivial row about a car that was damaged sparked the latest unrest. And that is always what happens, says sociologist Rudy Koopmans of the Free University in Amsterdam. In other countries, these kind of clashes escalate and become much more serious:

"It is all about competition for public space, but it could also be about competition on the labour market. It may be that a certain neighbourhood is dominated by shops owned by one ethnic group, like during the riots in Birmingham in Great Britain a few years ago."

Police have been given special powers in the Terweijde district of Culemborg. There is a ban on gatherings of four people or more on the streets, and roads have been blocked to keep the rival groups apart.

Christian Moluccans
Around 65 Moluccan families live in the neighbourhood. Their community originally came from the Moluccan islands in what was once the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). They came to the Netherlands in 1950, when Indonesia gained independence. The Christian Moluccans had fought alongside the Dutch against the Muslim Indonesian independence fighters. The Moluccan community has a strong ethnic identity as a group in the Netherlands.

Reverend Nah Sahuleka is a Moluccan living in Culemborg. He says the current conflict between the two groups started in September last year. It began when a car belonging to a Moluccan resident was damaged by Moroccan youths.

"I know what we Moluccans are like. We won’t be driven into a corner. Whatever it costs, we try to defend the area we live in. It is in our genes. We are like our forefathers, who fought alongside the Dutch in Indonesia."

Internet sites
Meanwhile Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Moluccan youths throughout the Netherlands are provoking each other on various websites. Sometimes the reactions are based on religious divisions. A majority of Moluccans in the Netherlands are Christian; the Moroccan community is mainly Muslim. The conflict in Culemborg has got nothing to do with religion, says Reverend Nah Sahuleka:

"I have good relations with Moroccans. I think some parents have trouble keeping their children under control. I have the idea that this is more of a problem in Moroccan families. In Moluccan families, there is more respect for the authority of parents. The commandment ‘honour your father and your mother’ is still held high."

According to Mr Sahuleka it is impossible to see either of the two groups as the wrongdoers or as the victims. The youths react to one another and then the violence escalates.

Although, there has been no serious violence, says sociologist Koopmans:

"We are not used to seeing this kind of thing in the Netherlands - which is good, and that is why we should take it seriously. But we shouldn’t make too much out of it and turn it into a national problem when it is really just about an age-old form of rivalry which has happened to culminate in violence between two groups with different ethnic backgrounds."

RNW translation (nc)