Young Dutch fighters in Syria - heroes or potential terrorists?

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Three quarters of young Muslims in the Netherlands say their friends who go to fight in Syria are heroes, according to a recent survey. Speaking to RNW, Dutch MP Ahmed Marcouch said “It is important to hold the Muslim communities - mosques, imams, and individuals - responsible for those who participate in this violence and those who glorify the participants”.

By Mohamed Amezian

A report by research bureau MOTIVACTION for Dutch public television showed a huge difference in opinion on the Syrian war between young people of Dutch origin and those with an Islamic background. The latter were clearly against the regime of Bashar al-Assad says the report: “They think they have to do whatever they can in order to take the president down. From this starting point, they see that the Dutch government often reiterates its support for Syrian revolutionaries, but they think the government should also assist them with military equipment.”

Help justified
The study shows that for a majority of young Dutch Muslims, their sympathy for the Syrian revolutionaries justifies the recruitment of young fighters in the Netherlands. The majority even consider them heroes and believe the Dutch government shouldn't forbid them from going to Syria to fight against the regime. Many also say the young fighters should be allowed to retain their Dutch nationality and be helped to re-integrate when they return.

The researchers, who questioned Dutch Muslims of Turkish and Moroccan origin, also found that the majority were willing to assist the Syrian revolutionaries with material support and help Syrian refugees who arrived in Turkey and the neighboring countries.

Too complicated
Young people of Dutch origin, however, said the Dutch government should not get too deeply involved in a conflict they consider “very complicated”, although a majority do oppose the current regime and support its overthrow. Furthermore, they believe fighters who return from Syria are a potential terrorist risk. For this reason, they support the government's campaign to arrest would-be fighters before they leave for Syria, and to consider recruitment a criminal act. The majority of respondents of Dutch origin also say legal action should be taken against fighters who return and their Dutch citizenship withdrawn .

Pseudo-religious explanations
Talking to RNW’s Arab desk, Labour Party MP Ahmed Marcouch, himself of Moroccan origin, said it was the responsibility of the Muslim community to prevent the recruitment of Dutch fighters. “Everyone who supports recruitment should ask himself whether he would allow his son or daughter to fight in Syria. And if not, then why would you allow others to do this?”

According to Ahmed Marcouch, there are a lot of pseudo-religious justifications which can only be countered by religious arguments so he is calling on local imams to clearly denounce what is happening and to explain to fathers the danger of their sons getting involved in the Syrian civil war. Mr. Marcouch also insists on the importance of involving local authorities and neighborhood and Muslim organisations, in the effort to stop young people being recruited to die. “These young people don't need to die”, he says, adding that “there are other more intelligent ways of helping Syria from the Netherlands”.