Lotfi El Hamidi was fifteen when, on September 11, 2001, he watched terrorists pierce the towers of the World Trade Center in New York with hijacked planes on Al Jazeera. He doesn’t remember how he felt then. But the fear in the eyes of his Moroccan parents in Rotterdam-West, ‘as if we were about to be deported’. He was advised to keep a low profile, but that has never been his strongest gift. ‘I dared to face the confrontation that my parents feared.’ It is the difference between the first generation who still considered themselves guests and the subsequent generations who have come to stay, even though they feel they will never be fully accepted by the society they were born into.
Speaking of the confusing times just before, during and after “9/11,” historian El Hamidi, editor at NRCin Generation 9/11 a series of essays on migration, diaspora and identity. In the wake of the attacks, there was a rise in the Netherlands by Pim Fortuyn, who described Islam as a backward religion in a newspaper interview. It was completely different from the experience of the young El Hamidi, who, thanks to a loving and spiritual grandfather, experienced his Islamic upbringing as extremely positive and warm.
North African terringliier
But at school he suddenly had to answer for it and answer impossible questions about his religion and society. Suddenly he was a damn Moroccan. For the police, a NATOS, a ‘North African teringlijer on sports shoes’. His background was no longer cultural but existential and not multi-layered but singular. War language was used, such as the ‘liberal jihad’ of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders. His religion had been hijacked twice, first by terrorists, then by populist right-wing nationalists.
That Holland, which is usually known as sober, also developed in the decades after 9/11 carried away by fear and hysteria, is perhaps the most convincing evidence that Osama bin Laden has achieved his goal, according to El Hamidi. Because the confrontation of that time has taken on a permanent character. With a group of Muslims that half the world sees as hostile, and with an armored right against it that continues to feed that feeling. And for those who think that El Hamidi only fires his arrows at the right, the paternalism of the left is also put through the lens a few times.
And yet El Hamidi is not particularly gloomy or despondent when it comes to the future. What his cautious optimism is based on cannot really be traced, except that he notes that he cannot afford cynicism and that the children of the diaspora move much more smoothly in the modern world than native Dutch, they are better able to deal with differences …, they are more agile.
It may not be as innovative, but this book is still very valuable. Because El Hamidi notes that despite half a century of presence and countless debates and discussions about the multicultural society, many Dutch people still feel uncomfortable when they meet a Turk or Moroccan.
Even representatives of the people still have a distorted view of the people they speak about and for whom they make laws. It would be very good if all Dutch people were introduced to this clear book, with the story of someone who grew up as part of a minority that they stigmatized and oppressed.
Because what it’s like to grow up in a drug-ridden neighborhood, and to be rejected as a supporter of a backward culture, and how you can look back on it with a little nostalgic feelings, that’s what El Hamidi describes very clearly.
But these essays are also recommended for others. Not only because El Hamidi has written down his thoughts with sense and here and there a touch of humor, but also because it makes you think about your own role in the new Western society.
To name just one thing, well-meaning Westerners are usually more familiar with the names and ideas of Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Atta, or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi than with those of Anis Chouchène or Omar Saif Ghobash. But the West pays little attention to, or seems to have little faith in, these soft forces in Islam. Religious extremists and cynical critics of Islam reinforce each other’s message, and many blindly fall into that trap. While there are also more than enough voices in the Muslim world warning against the temptations of radical Islam. We just have to want to hear them and dare to amplify them. It is good that a historian with roots in the multicultural west of Rotterdam reminds us of this from time to time.
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