As the Netherlands heads to the polls on Wednesday, an election campaign focused on identity issues and dominated by anti-Islam leader Geert Wilders has left some Muslims reflecting on their place in Dutch society.
With his campaign of "de-Islamising" the Netherlands, Wilders of the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) has pledged to ban the Quran and shut all mosques. In December, a Dutch court found Wilders guilty of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans with his infamous "fewer Moroccans" comment.
The claim that Islam is a threat to Dutch identity and questions over whether the Netherlands has done enough to preserve its own culture have been debated alongside policy issues at national election debates.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who leads the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, launched his election campaign with a letter (link in Dutch) calling on those who reject Dutch values to leave the country. Targeting people who he said "attack gays, jeer at women in mini-skirts, and call ordinary Dutch people racists," the letter was widely interpreted as addressed to ethnic minorities.
Questioning of identity
Five percent of the country's population is Muslim, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan descent. A recent government report shows that 40 percent no longer feel at home in the country.
"Even if I'm born here, I don't feel at home," says 35-year-old Fatma Kaya, whose grandparents migrated from Turkey to the Netherlands, speaking to Al Jazeera under a pseudonym.
"Every day, from morning to evening, it's about Muslims," Kaya says, reflecting on the political discourse and the media coverage of the election.
This focus on Muslims has made Dutch-born bartender Toria El Gharbouni, 38, feel as though she's under surveillance.
"Now, I'm looking at older Dutch people, are they watching me? I've been pushed in a corner, under a spotlight. Look, she's Moroccan, she's Muslim!"
Tofik Dibi, 36, a former MP for the Green Left party who was also born in the country, says he's ceased to refer to himself as a Dutch Moroccan due to the way this identity has come to be understood.
"At a certain point, I said I'm a Moroccan," he says.
"It's like a declaration of independence," Dibi elaborates. "I experienced that no matter how much you try to integrate, you will always be seen as a Moroccan."
He stopped identifying as Dutch Moroccan after a parliamentary debate in 2013 titled "the Moroccan problem" on criminality among Moroccan boys. He was appalled that an entire group of people were being tied to a social issue.
"So, you're going to play it like this? I'm not going to be one of you any more," Dibi says of his decision.
Kaya and Dibi say hostility towards Muslims is about being framed as the "other".
Dibi says he doesn't like to distinguish between Islamophobia and racism.
"The way it works is exactly the same. It's always your appearance that's dominant," he explains.
"I think a lot of Dutch people feel like they are being left behind, while people who don't look like them are surpassing them," he says of poorer white voters who have expressed anger as the descendants of immigrants progress up the social ladder. (Aljazeera.net)