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Historically, the Netherlands has been a country renowned for its religious tolerance. In the Golden Age of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Republic of the United Provinces served as a haven for Jews and Protestants fleeing persecution in other parts of Europe. Muslim immigrants began to join their ranks in the late 19th century. Decades later, as it sought cheap labor during the 1960s, the Dutch government actively encouraged immigration from Indonesia and Suriname, both Muslim-majority countries and former Dutch colonies.  Such days, however, have long since passed; ideological conflicts abroad now serve as magnets for aspiring Dutch jihadists, while xenophobia and the looming threat of Islamic terrorism have driven the adoption of increasingly restrictive immigration and asylum policies. In spite of Dutch efforts to proactively counter radicalization and encourage integration, this social transformation has allowed Islamists to push the political envelope and expose the value gap between the Dutch majority and its immigrant Muslim population.

Level of Islamist Activity: 
Islamist Activity: 

In December 2012, the Office of the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) assessed the national threat level as “limited,” with little chance of a terrorist attack in the Netherlands or on Dutch interests abroad.1 Yet only a few months later, in March 2013, NCTV’s chief Dick Schoof warned of increasing radicalization among Dutch youth. He declared that nearly 100 so-called “jihadi travelers” had departed the Netherlands for Syria, intending to join the civil war there. Their experience in the hostilities was likely to make them “highly radicalized, traumatized and with a strong desire to commit violence, thus posing a significant threat to this country”2 upon their return. The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) has also reported that terrorist financing activities and the dissemination of jihadist propaganda is currently taking place in the Netherlands in support of al-Shabaab, rendering Somalia yet another (albeit less popular) destination for would-be jihadists.3 As a result of these trends, in March 2013 the government elevated its terror threat level from “limited” to “substantial”an assessment that would remain in place through the end of 2016, at which point the number of Dutch citizens fighting abroad for extremist causes had doubled to more than 200.4 

The Dutch government’s fear of individual operators traveling abroad to wage jihad far predates the Syrian conflict. In fact, multiple Dutch nationals traversing Europe were arrested in the early 2000s, allegedly on their way to fight with other radical Muslims on behalf of the separatists in Chechnya.5 In January 2002, Indian troops in Kashmir killed two young, “well-integrated” Dutch-Moroccans with ties to Eindhoven’s Salafi al-Fourkaan mosque. The AIVD, alarmed by this proof that Dutch citizens could indeed be lured into jihad, began to investigate domestic recruitment by radical Islamic elements.6 That December, the AIVD published Recruitment for the Jihad in the Netherlands: From Incident to Trend.7 This memorandum concluded that “the phenomenon of recruitments in the West for the violent Islamic war forms an intrinsic part of a globally spreading radical Islamic movement.”8 Based on its investigation, the AIVD deduced that Islamist recruitment in the Netherlands represents the “first tangible illustrations of a tendency closely related to a stealthy entrance of a violent radical Islamic movement in Dutch society.”9 The AIVD assessed that these recruiters worked with an important principle in mind: that by creating deliberate polarization and antagonism in Dutch society and alienating moderate Muslims from their non-Muslim counterparts, they would increase the appeal of their violent agenda.10

It did not take long for the Dutch public to begin sharing these concerns. For many, the brutal murder of filmmaker, politician, and activist Theo Van Gogh in November 2004 finally gave form to the specter of Islamist militancy in the Netherlands. The assailant, Mohammed Bouyeri, was a highly-educated young man who was both raised and radicalized in Dutch society—a true homegrown terrorist. Public anger intensified rapidly in the days that followed van Gogh’s murder. At least twelve mosques and two Islamic schools were torched, another was bombarded with Molotov cocktails, and two more schools linked to the al-Fourkaan mosque were victims of explosions. Angry mobs counterattacked, torching at least seven churches and six schools in response.11 As a result, whereas 12 percent of Dutch voters considered terrorism to be a primary threat to the country in the fall of 2004, that proportion had grown to more than 40 percent less than one year later.12 The chaos prompted the Dutch government to strengthen its anti-terror legislation and build a preventative strategy to counter domestic radicalization, recommending a commitment to judicial intervention in situations that were likely to lead to violence, criminal activity, or a large-scale rejection of the Dutch democratic legal system.13 Yet in spite of these measures, the Dutch public continues to believe that terrorism poses a significant threat; for example, the results of a June 2016 Pew Global Attitudes survey reported that 71% of Dutch citizens consider ISIS to be the top threat facing the country.14

One of the original targets of the government’s strategy was the Hofstadgrouep, or the Hofstad Network. Counting Mohammed Bouyeri among its most infamous members, the group was an autonomous radical cell formed in the Netherlands in 2002. The AIVD reported that the group never received significant financial support from outside networks, nor did it appear to possess a “coherent strategy.”15 Bouyeri’s arrest and the manhunt that followed swept up eight of the Hofstad Network’s other primary personalities. Many, including Dutch convert Jason Waters (also known as Abu Mujahied Amrik), maintained significant ties to the Salafi preachers of the al-Fourkaan mosque and other radical institutions. Since the jailing of the group’s principal leaders in 2005, the AIVD has regarded the Hofstad Network as in decline, even defunct, but notes that the potential still exists for similar groups to form and foment, further endangering Dutch society.16 

When tied to specific ethnicities or nationalistic causes, small radical groups may appeal to the multiple Muslim minority communities—particularly Turkish and Moroccan—that reside in the Netherlands. One such example in recent years has been the Kalifatsstaat movement, headquartered in Cologne, Germany. Its very name an invocation to reinstate an Ottoman Caliphate across Europe, Kalifatsstaat dedicated itself to the restoration of an Islamist state in Turkey.17 The group’s most recent leader was Metin Kaplan, a Turkish militant raised in Germany who had reportedly received funding for his organization from Middle Eastern sources. In November 2000, a German court convicted Kaplan for inciting murder, and he served a four-year sentence. He was later extradited to Turkey, where authorities sentenced him to life in prison for his plans to violently overthrow the country’s former, secular government.18 Historically, the movement has had only a small presence in the Netherlands, and since Kaplan’s imprisonment, the organization has had difficulties obtaining financing. However, given the large Turkish minority residing in the Netherlands, many fear that the activity of such groups threatens the peaceful integration of minorities into their host culture. 

Similarly, while some authors dispute the “radical” label attached to the schools and followers of Turkish scholar Fethullah Gülen, the Dutch government’s concern with their activities prompted an official investigation into the movement’s presence in the Netherlands in 2008. The finding that Gülen-inspired schools promoted “anti-integrative behavior” prompted the government to significantly reduce the level of funding it had previously provided to the movement.19 Nonetheless, Gülenism continues to arouse suspicions and foster antagonism even among different elements of the Dutch Turkish community: after the failed Turkish military coup of July 2016, which Ankara alleges was masterminded by Gülen, a Turkish state news organization published a controversial list of all Gülen-affiliated organizations and individuals in the Netherlands. Although the Dutch government angrily denounced this foreign interference in their domestic affairs, many concerned parents withdrew their children from the “Gülen-list” schools, resulting in a 20 percent loss to the collective student body.20 

The radical pan-Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir also maintains a small presence in the Netherlands. The group is especially strong in the Rotterdam area, where it has gathered a following among highly educated young Turkish men. Although the number of its followers is assessed to be in the low hundreds, the Dutch National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism’s 2016 threat assessments note increased cooperation between Hizb ut-Tahrir and various Salafist organizations, in spite of their ideological differences, driven in part by the elevated tension in the general public discourse over Islam.21 

The Moroccan Arrahmane mosque in Amsterdam is the headquarters of the Dutch branch of Tablighi Jama’at. Although Tablighi Jama’at is in principle an apolitical movement, the Dutch authorities have expressed concern that its ideology may further the “social isolation and radicalization” of vulnerable elements within the Moroccan immigrant community.22 The mosque’s executive committee clashed in 2003 with a group of moderate Muslims who objected to the preaching of Tabligh doctrine there. The executive committee defended the organization’s weekly use of the mosque by arguing that it had been constructed using funds from donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which are countries that support Tablighi Jama’at.23 Internationally, in recent years, the movement has increasingly come to be seen as an incubator for aspiring terrorists. Many European recruits are rumored to have used Tablighi connections as a pathway into Pakistan, where they then disappeared into the jihadi training camps of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.24  

In its approach to domestic Salafism, the Dutch government applies a framework separating the movement into three “strands:” apolitical Salafism, which encourages da’wa (proselytization) and isolation from non-Muslim society; political Salafism, which promotes engagement in society in order to advance the group’s specific religious objectives; and jihadi Salafism, undoubtedly the most extreme of the three, as it glorifies violence against non-believers.25 While it is important to recognize that the risks posed by jihadi Salafism are much greater and more immediate than those posed by the other two strands, the AIVD’s 2015 annual report nevertheless expressed alarm with the overall movement’s “polarizing message of intolerance… [which can] constitute a breeding ground for processes of radicalization that eventually lead to violent jihad.”26 

From the mid-1980s until 2001, Salafism grew largely unhindered in the Netherlands.27 Salafists are estimated to have access to around 15 percent of all Dutch mosques,28 with their presence strongest in the el-Tawheed mosque in Amsterdam, the al-Fourkaan mosque in Eindhoven, the as-Sunnah mosque in The Hague, and the Islamic Foundation for Education and Transmission of Knowledge (ISOOK) in Tilburg.29 Interestingly, Dutch Salafi mosques have a multinational membership base, which is a striking contrast to the homogeneous character of the Moroccan or Turkish mosques and organizations in the Netherlands as described above. Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, as well as Dutch converts, all visit Salafi centers.30 Salafi lectures at these institutions generally draw sizable audiences of at least 100 people,31 and the centers are considered to be potential sites of radicalization in the Netherlands. As a result, after the 2004 Van Gogh murder, the Dutch government increased its pressure on Salafi centers across the country. Public prosecutors could not assemble enough evidence to close the centers outright, but three imams of the al-Fourkaan mosque were declared personae non grata and deported from the country.32  

Sources in the U.S. intelligence community reported that “[t]he number of locations, lectures and active preaching at least doubled between 2005 and the first half of 2007.”33 Ideological momentum appeared to slow in 2009 in the face of government and civilian (both Muslim and non-Muslim) opposition.  But Dutch Salafists now appear to be pursuing different tactics, and as of 2014 the AIVD assesses that the movement is gaining strength once more.34 The AIVD attributes a large part of this growth to renewed interest in Salafi doctrine sparked by the violence and chaos of the Syrian conflict.35 But there is also evidence that social media and a new generation of traveling Salafi preachers are contributing to the movement’s renewed appeal; this new generation of independent preachers, typically born and raised in the Netherlands, preaches in Dutch, allowing access to a greater number of potential Dutch converts, and it emphasizes da’wa and the expansion of the faith among non-practicing Muslims rather than the espousal of violence and jihad.36 The AIVD notes that even these da’wa organizations “have again hardened their tone after a period of relative moderation, becoming more anti-integration, intolerantly isolationist and hostile to any form of dissenting thought.”37

Eindhoven’s al-Fourkaan mosque is the oldest Salafi institution in the Netherlands, and the number of prominent orthodox Muslim leaders that have emerged from it is a sign of its influence. Ahmad Salam, considered by many to be the most influential Salafi preacher in the Netherlands, was an imam and trustee of the al-Fourkaan mosque before he founded the Islamic Foundation for Education and Transfer of Knowledge (ISOOK) in Tilburg in 2000. Mohammed Cheppih, founder of the Poldermosque in Amsterdam and chairman of the Dutch chapter of the Muslim World League, also maintains a connection to the al-Fourkaan mosque, where his father serves as a trustee. Yahia Bouyafa, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Netherlands, was once a trustee of the Foundation for Islamic Elementary Schools in Eindhoven, an organization linked to the al-Waqf al-Islami, a Saudi proselytizing organization. 

The network of connections only grows more complex from there. The leaders of mosques in The Hague, Amsterdam, and Tilburg jointly form the board of the Foundation for the Islamic Committee for Ahl-Sunnah in Europe. This foundation is part of a European network of political Salafis managed from Saudi Arabia by Syrian Salafi leader Adnan al-Arour.38 In the past, al-Arour has been a primary speaker at Islamic conferences held at the ISOOK mosque in Tilburg and the al-Fourkaan mosque in Eindhoven. In 1999, several members of the radical Hamburg cell (who later carried out the 9/11 attacks) and their associates attended these conferences.39 That same year, at least three of the 9/11 hijackers—Ramzi Binalshib, Mohammed Atta, and Marwan al-Shehhi—were rumored to have visited the El-Tawheed mosque in Amsterdam.40 The two young men who were killed in Kashmir in 2002 (one of whom was the son of one of the mosque’s board members) had regularly attended services in the al-Fourkaan mosque.41 One of the board members of al-Waqf al-Islami (the body that controls the al-Fourkaan mosque) is Adil Hamad Abderrahman al-Husayni, who was mentioned in the infamous “Golden Chain” document that listed possible funders of al-Qaeda.42 The AIVD remains wary of this web of al-Fourkaan associations and continues to track them in annual dossiers and reports while advising the mosque to be cautious when issuing invitations to guests. In December 2015, for example, acting on NCTV guidance, Eindhoven mayor Rob van Gijzel barred seven controversial imams from speaking at the mosque because of their past glorification of violence committed in the name of Islam.43  

The Muslim Brotherhood
Although certainly less influential than Salafi elements, the Muslim Brotherhood has also gained influence in the Netherlands in recent years, supported by the organization’s European umbrella, the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE). In 2006, Yahia Bouyafa, who serves as the Chairman of the Brotherhood in the Netherlands, convinced authorities in the Slotervaart quarter in Amsterdam to allow him build the first mosque of the FIOE in the Netherlands.44 The mosque is now believed to be the headquarters of the Dutch Muslim Brotherhood.45 With the help of the Europe Trust (the European financial vehicle of the Muslim Brotherhood), its Dutch spin-off, the Europe Trust Netherlands, was able to buy its own real estate in The Hague and begin the construction of another mosque in Amsterdam.46 In both cases, the sources of the two million Euros that funded the construction remained undisclosed.

Some speculated that Bouyafa aspired to gain political influence and take over the representation of the entire Muslim community in the Netherlands, pointing to his campaign to become chairman of one of the two government-approved organizations that represent Dutch Muslims in an official channel of dialogue with the government. Bouyafa is now the chairman of the heterogeneous Contact Group Islam (CGI). This group was created as a counterweight to the Sunni-dominated Contact Body for Muslims and Government (Contactorgaan Moslims Overheid, or CMO). The CGI was originally intended to represent Shi’a Muslims, Alawites, Ahmadiyya, and Sufi groups. Yet when Bouyafa took it over, the group fell under Sunni control. The CMO is reportedly highly influenced by the Turkish Milli Görüs movement. The leadership shift meant that both organizations representing Muslims in a dialogue with the Dutch government are Sunni-dominated and highly influenced by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.   

Although they cannot compete in size with the Brotherhood, the AIVD deems a number of homegrown radical movements to be threatening as well. Such groups include Behind Bars, Street Daw’ah, and Shariah4Holland. Members of these groups have allegedly joined the ranks of those bound for the Syrian civil war.47 Moreover, they are responsible for hate crimes and public demonstrations, “encourag[ing] anti-democratic and intolerant values… [and] creating a climate in which the use of violence becomes more acceptable.”48 The AIVD’s annual report for 2013 assessed that, by virtue of the number of members of these groups who have become foreign fighters traveling to Syria, “they have crossed the line from rhetoric to action.  Effectively, the organizations have thus become actual jihadist networks with their core members fighting in Syria and, at home, a wider group of supporters engaged in ever more fervent propaganda.”49

Islamism and Society: 

As of 2014 (the latest such data available), the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), or Statistics Netherlands, reported that legal Muslim residents in the Netherlands accounted for approximately 5% of the country’s total population.50 The illegal Muslim population is much harder to quantify but is also quite substantial.51 The two largest groups of Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands are Turks (approximately 37 percent of the total Muslim population) and Moroccans (roughly 36 percent).52 Other large Muslims communities come from Suriname, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, and Iran.53 Several thousand native Dutch converts and children of second-generation Muslim immigrants comprise the last piece of the multifaceted Dutch Muslim community.54

According to one assessment of Islam in the Netherlands, “whereas today many of the Dutch majority population support the idea of migrants adopting Dutch norms and values, the migrants themselves aspire to a combination of independent cultural development.”55 While it is certainly possible to debate the truth of this statement, there are several other important factors that create a gap between Muslim immigrant communities and the rest of Dutch society. The average age of the Muslim population is much lower than that of the country in general, at 25 years of age for Muslims and 38 for non-Muslims.56 This age gap, taken in combination with discrepancies in levels of education achieved and language ability, poses a challenge to the seamless integration sought by the Dutch authorities, potentially even increasing the sentiments of disaffection and alienation that can lead to radicalization. The diverse nature of the Muslim community has also prevented any kind of large-scale, viable political movement from forming in support of its varied interests and concerns.57

At 2.4% of the country’s overall population,58 Turks make up the largest Muslim community in the Netherlands, and the infrastructure that exists to support them is quite sizable. The main Muslim organizations within the Turkish community belong to mosques under the control of Diyanet (the Turkish religious affairs directorate in Ankara) or to the non-governmental Milli Görüs movement, which is headquartered in Cologne, Germany.59 This directorate maintains significant power over its diaspora community in the Netherlands, including the right to appoint imams for Diyanet-controlled mosques,60 although all imams are required by the Dutch government to take a year-long “integration course” before they are permitted to practice in the country.61 Diyanet operates through two larger umbrella organizations: the Turkish Islamic Cultural Foundation (TICF, founded in 1979) and the Dutch Islamic Foundation (ISN, founded 1982).62 Traditionally, the government-controlled official nature of Diyanet has kept it distinct from Milli Görüs. For decades, in fact, the Turkish government was openly hostile to the group, suspicious of the multiple Islamist parties that sprang up in its wake.

In the Netherlands, however, both Diyanet and Milli Görüs cooperate in umbrella organizations such as the Council for Mosques (Raad voor Moskeeën) or the aforementioned CMO.63 Milli Görüs has not been explicitly active in Dutch politics but retains a power base within the insular Turkish community, and its influence continues to grow. Many scholars believe the perception of Milli Görüs in the Netherlands to be more favorable than that of its sister chapter in Germany, asserting that the Dutch government’s more tolerant attitude has allowed the organization to establish itself more effectively.64 While Milli Görüs’s image in the Netherlands remains relatively benign, one of its radical offshoots gained international attention in 2008. A cooperative sting spearheaded by France led to the arrest of ten suspects for financing international terrorism. One of the suspects was a Turkish immigrant to the Netherlands, who was accused of collecting funds for Metin Kaplan’s Kalifatsstaat.65 In 2013, Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher announced that the activities of both Diyanet and Milli Görüs would be monitored closely to ascertain whether or not the way the organizations were operating was inhibiting integration.66 A vivid example of this trend occurred in 2016 after the failed coup in Ankara, when Gülen-sympathizing Dutch Turks reported that they had been the targets of vandalism and threatened with violence. Allegedly, this hostility came from Dutch Turks who are decidedly anti-Gülenist a demographic that includes members of Diyanet-controlled mosques.67 Thus the government has valid reason to fear that poor integration of the Turkish community will cause religious violence and tension to spill over into the broader Dutch society. 

Moroccans constitute the second-largest Muslim community in the Netherlands, controlling a full 40 percent of all Dutch mosques.68 Although the majority of Moroccan immigrants appear to have integrated well into Dutch society, the demographic is disproportionately represented in the government’s threat assessments of potential jihadists. After 9/11, the Dutch authorities reported that, of the small number of Dutch citizens willing to actively support or carry out violent terrorist activities, most of these potential militants were Moroccan immigrants.69 More recently, AIVD reports published in 2014 and 2015 affirmed that the majority of Dutch foreign fighters in Syria are also of Moroccan origin.70 71 There has been a corresponding increase in angry public rhetoric and anti-Moroccan discrimination;72 in one particularly high-profile example, Geert Wilders, the leader of the nationalist Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom, or PVV), started a chant at a rally calling for “fewer Moroccans” in the country. 

Other outside Islamist organizations also maintain a footprint in Dutch society, including the Saudi-funded Muslim World League. In the Netherlands, the MWL has its home in the Tilburg Islamic Cultural Center.73 The organization takes responsibility for building mosques, operating cultural centers, and publishing Islamic texts. However, many MWL financers adhere to the fundamentalist Wahhabi brand of Islam, which has made many non-Muslims skeptical of its influence.74

The Syrian conflict has catalyzed changing attitudes among many Dutch citizens as the wave of refugees seeking asylum in the EU brings the conflict closer to home. The Dutch government has stated that Syrian asylum seekers represented nearly half of all the arrived refugees in the Netherlands in 2015 (approximately 27,700 out of a total 58,880).75 At the EU Migration Summit in 2015, the Netherlands agreed to accept over the course of two years an additional 7,000 resettled asylum seekers who had originally arrived elsewhere in Europe.76 As the November 2015 attacks in Paris made clear, foreign fighters en route to Europe from Syria could easily take advantage of the chaos caused by the refugee crisis to return unnoticed. The AIVD reported in 2016 that there were 40 returned fighters back in the Netherlands, and at least 150 still at large in Syria, who would likely “pose a greater threat [upon their return] because they will be better trained and have more combat experience” than those who had returned sooner.77

Consequently, the famous Dutch tolerance has decreased somewhat and been replaced by rising xenophobia in the wake of the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis. In September 2016, the Pew Research Center reported that 61 percent of Dutch citizens think that refugees will increase terrorism in the country; in the same poll, a full third of Dutch respondents said that growing diversity made the Netherlands a worse place to live.78 As is the case across Western Europe, the presence of large Muslim communities and questions of integration have clearly provoked sentiments of unease and fear among neighbors who blame multiculturalism for increased violence and other social ills.79 Indeed, the AIVD has noted how radical elements may attempt to exploit these sentiments:

…the Islamists involved are indeed aware of the “favorable” polarizing effect of Islamist-inspired violent activities. Such violent activities promote the prejudices of the Dutch population about all Muslims. As a result thereof, Muslims also increasingly get the idea that they are alienated from the Dutch society and the chance that they become susceptible to radical ideas becomes bigger.80 

Islamism and the State: 

As attacks in Paris, Brussels, and Istanbul rocked Europe in 2014 and 2015, the Dutch government proactively took steps to lead anti-extremist efforts on the continent while simultaneously strengthening counterterrorism legislation and border security measures. The Netherlands serves as a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, conducting airstrikes on behalf of the coalition, and maintaining a liaison in U.S. Central Command. Amsterdam also recognizes the importance of travel intervention in keeping foreign fighters from leaving its territory. As of 2016, the Dutch government is deliberating legislation that allows for harsh administrative sanctions linked to citizenship and freedom of movement. In May 2016, for example, the lower house of the Dutch Parliament approved a controversial bill permitting the revocation of a dual citizen’s Dutch nationality if he or she is deemed to have joined a terrorist organization.81 The government is also now permitted to “impose a notification requirement, an area ban or a restraining order in response to practices that can be placed in connection with terrorist activities or support for them. Examples include contact with other radicalised [sic] people combined with a conspicuous interest in certain properties or events.”82 Notably, both of these penalties can be imposed even without prior criminal convictions for the individual under suspicion.  

Another goal of the government’s strategy is to isolate radicals, empower the voices of moderate Muslims, and strengthen the bonds between Muslim immigrants and the Dutch democratic political system and society.83 The Netherlands helps lead the European Commission-sponsored Radicalisation Awareness Network and its Centre of Excellence, and it has championed EU efforts to develop protocols to counter terrorism financing. In August 2014, it began implementation of a Comprehensive Action Programme to Combat Jihadism, intended to “protect the democratic state under the rule of law, to counter and weaken the jihadist movement in the Netherlands and to eliminate the breeding ground for radicalization.84 Among the important tactics introduced in this program are: an increase in administrative measures to block and disrupt radical imams and propagandists; the creation of support networks for those concerned or affected by the perceived radicalization of a loved one; the establishment of a center to monitor social tensions and radicalization; and the formation of an infrastructure to guide the dissemination of narratives and views that counter Islamist doctrine and promote the rule of law. 

Another important tenet of the program is its emphasis on combating radicals online.  By recognizing the power of social media as a recruiting and dissemination tool, the government is responding with new measures to identify and sanction online producers of propaganda, work with internet companies to proactively dismantle any sites or users violating terms of use agreements, and manage a hotline for citizens to report any online content inciting hatred or promoting violence.

The NCTV is responsible for the implementation of the Programme. The NCTV was born out of the muddled European response to the 2004 Madrid train bombings, at which point the Dutch government realized the dire need to patch the holes in its own counterterror infrastructure. In keeping with its mission “to minimize the risk of terrorist attacks in the Netherlands and to take prior measures to limit the potential impact of terrorist acts,85 the NCTV has since focused on the issue of counter-radicalization, launching a joint government and law enforcement operation to “disrupt” the work of the main Salafi centers in the Netherlands.86 The Dutch counter-radicalization approach focuses both on Islamic fundamentalists and right-wing nationalists, since racially-motivated attacks against Muslims (as occurred increasingly after Van Gogh’s murder in 2004) can spike hate crimes and deepen feelings of alienation and anger.87  

This preventative outlook in the current European security environment demonstrate the Dutch government’s continued adherence to its so-called “broad approach” to countering radicalization.88 It is grounded on the idea that “no one is born a terrorist, but first goes through a short or longer process of radicalization before he or she decides to risk the life of other and his or her own for a political objective.”89  Funds allocated for this program support the goal of cooperation with Muslim communities by stimulating partnership and reducing the appeal of Islamist narratives.  As explicitly delineated in the Comprehensive Action Programme, law enforcement authorities are encouraged to pursue partnership with moderate mosques and imams to negate the polarization pushed by radical elements. At the same time, the government incentivizes integration by Muslim community leaders and individuals. For instance, while the government provides educational subsidies for the training of imams at Dutch universities, each participant in the program must first complete a yearlong “integration course” to familiarize themselves with local communities and customs.90 Law enforcement officials and social workers familiar with local conditions in various towns and villages are designated as official points of contact in such approaches. Skeptics, however, have long derided the utility of the broad approach, given that it oversimplifies the motivations for at-risk individuals, may spark resentment among moderate Muslims, and has little effect on the low-profile, small study groups where such radicalization often occurs.91 92  

Select elements in the Dutch political discourse, however, threaten the credibility of this approach, thus risking a further increase in social polarization in a way that serves extremist purposes. Particularly in debates over immigration and asylum, the narrative of the looming threat posed by potential radicals gains more ground than that of the government’s constructive attempts to head it off. This trend largely began at the turn of this century when the “leader of the Dutch new right” Pim Fortuyn spearheaded a campaign to restrict Dutch immigration and asylum policies.93 Fortuyn was known not only for his aggressive stance against militant Islam, but also for a hardline belief that Dutch borders must be closed to any further Muslim immigration. He charged that the Netherlands was too small to continue to absorb high numbers of immigrants, and that Islamic values clashed irreconcilably with the permissive Dutch society.94 After Fortuyn’s murder in 2003 by a radical activist (whose motive was reportedly to stop the scapegoating of Dutch Muslims for society’s problems),95 his political mantle was quickly assumed by Geert Wilders, head of the Freedom Party (PVV). Wilders was initially able to leverage his party’s crucial position in the ruling Center-right coalition to push the conversation on his priority issues and controversial proposals: stricter regulations on immigration, outlawing the burqa and the niqab, and a ban on dual nationality (which is held by an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Dutch citizens).96 The Dutch electorate checked the influence of the PVV in the 2013 parliamentary elections when the party lost 9 seats and, with them, Wilder’s ability to advance his agenda legislatively.97 This perceived backlash was complemented by the 2012 formation of the No Border Network, an alliance of activists and extremists opposed to the restrictive immigration policy of the center-right coalition.  

However, Wilders’ star appears to be rising once again.  The PVV is just one of the hardline Eurosceptic parties that soared in popularity in the lead-up to the United Kingdom’s 2016 Brexit vote, and its platform has been gaining ground ever since. In November 2016, for example, 132 of the 150 members of Parliament voted to outlaw wearing the niqab in schools, hospitals, government buildings, and other public places; Wilders vowed to expand this to a total ban in 2017.98  Wilders makes no secret of his personal views of the threat that Islam poses to Dutch society and to the West, and he has faced legal action for this position. His December 2016 conviction for inciting discrimination against the Netherlands’ Moroccan minority did not hurt his party’s image;99 rather, the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation reported increased support for the PVV, due in part to the fact that many Dutch citizens believed it was unfair that Wilders had been tried at all.100 By the end of 2016, with three months left until the general election, the ruling Liberal party was falling farther behind in the polls, and Wilders and the PVV enjoyed the support of 20-25% of the Dutch electorate101—not enough to make Wilders the Prime Minister in the Dutch coalition-based Parliament, but enough to ensure that the contentious agenda outlined Wilders’ August 2016 party manifesto will continue to further polarize Parliament and the public debate. The manifesto proposed closure of all Islamic schools and mosques, a ban on the Koran and the wearing of headscarves, and a halt to all immigration from Islamic countries in pursuit of complete “de-Islamization” of the Netherlands.102 Although the actual passage of any such agenda would require the PVV first to win the election and then to build a strong coalition in Parliament, the propagation of these ideas contributes to social polarization and puts at risk the counter-Islamist agenda that the Dutch government is currently pursuing. 


[1] United States Department of State, Office of the Coordinator of Counterterrorism, Country Reports on Terrorism 2012 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, May 2013),
[2] “Netherlands, Germany alarmed over Islamic extremists,” Hurriyet Daily News, March 14, 2013,
[3] Ministry of Interior of the Netherlands, AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service), “Annual Report – 2012,” 2012,
[4] National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, “Current threat level for the Netherlands: Substantial,” November 14, 2016,
[5] The “Hofstadgroep,” Transnational Terrorism, Security, and the Rule of Law, European Commission 6th Framework Program, April 15, 2007, revised April 2008,
[6] E.S.M. Akerboom, “Ten Years of Dutch Counterterrorism Policy,” National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, September 9, 2011.
[7]AIVD, Recruitment for the Jihad in the Netherlands: From Incident to Trend, Leidschendam, December 3, 2002.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibidem.
[10] E.S.M. Akerboom, “Counter-terrorism in the Netherlands,” Tijdschrift voor de Politie (Police Magazine), June 2003,
[11] Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, National Crisis Centrum, Situation Report NCC2004/81492/nr.1, November 10, 2004; NCC2004/81492/nr.2, November 11, 2004; NCC2004/81759/nr.3; November 12, 2004; November 13, 2004; NCC2004/81759/nr.4, November 15, 2004; NCC2004/81759/nr.6, November 16, 2004; NCC2004/82039/nr.7, November 23, 2004; NCC2004/82663/nr.11, November 26, 2004; NCC2004/83053/nr.12, November 30, 2004; “Golf van aanslagen sinds dood Van Gogh,” Brabants Dagblad, November 2004, 
[12] The “Hofstadgroep,” Transnational Terrorism, Security, and the Rule of Law.
[13] House of Representatives of the States General, “Letter from the Minister of Internal Affairs & Kingdom Relations and the Minister of Justice,” Session 2005-2006, No. 30, September 29, 2005.
[14] Bruce Stokes, Richard Wike, and Jacob Poushter, “Europeans see ISIS, climate change as most serious threats,” Pew Research Center, June 13, 2016,
[15] The “Hofstadgroep,” Transnational Terrorism, Security, and the Rule of Law.
[16] Ibid.
[17] “Profile: The Caliph of Cologne,” BBC (London), May 27, 2004,
[18] Ibid.
[19] Claire Berlinski, “Who is Fethullah Gulen?” City Journal 22, no. 4, Autumn 2012,  
[20] Janene Pieters, “Dutch politicians outraged over new ‘Gulen-list,’”, August 31, 2016,
[21] NCTb, “Terrorist Threat Assessment for the Netherlands 42: Summary,” July 2016, 5,
[22] Ibid., 25.
[23] Jaco Alberts, “Marokkanen willen ‘hun’ moskee terug,” NRC Handelsblad, September 20, 2003.
[24] See, for example, Omar Nasiri, Inside the Jihad: My life with Al Qaeda (Cambridge: Basic Books, 2006), 109-115.
[25] AIVD and National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, “Salafism in the Netherlands: Diversity and Dynamics,” September 2015, 5, 
[26] AIVD, “Annual Report 2015: A Range of Threats to the Netherlands,” April 2016,
[27] National Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Salafism in the Netherlands. A passing phenomenon or a persistent factor of significance? (The Hague, March 2008), 25-26.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibidem.
[30] Ibidem.
[31] NCTb, 7e voortgangsrapportage terrorismebestrijding, November 26, 2007, 5516003/07/NCTb, 5.
[32] NCTb, Derde Voortgangsrapportage terrorismebestrijding, December 5, 2005, 5388583/05/NCTb.
[33] NCTb, Derde Voortgangsrapportage terrorismebestrijding, December 5, 2005, 5388583/05/NCTb., 40.
[34] AIVD and National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, “Salafism in the Netherlands: Diversity and dynamics,” 8.
[35] Ibid, 8.
[36] Ibidem, 9.
[37] AIVD, “Annual Report 2014: Not only returnees but also ‘stay-at-homes’ pose a threat,” May 13, 2015, 19,“stay-at-homes”-pose-a-threat.
[38] Chamber of Commerce, dossier number 34153259; NCTb, Salafism in the Netherlands, 31.
[39] Ian Johnson and Crawford, “A Saudi Group Spreads Extremism in ‘Law’ seminars, Taught in Dutch,” Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2003.
[40] “Official: Terrorists Met in Amsterdam,” Associated Press, September 13, 2002.
[41] AIVD, “Saudi influences in the Netherlands. Links between the Salafist mission, radicalisation processes and Islamic terrorism,” 2004; Chamber of Commerce, Foundation Waqf, dossier number 41091392.
[42] Chamber of Commerce, dossier number 41091392; Tareek Osama, file number 41 (Golden Chain document).
[43] “Eindhoven weert zeven imams die geweld verheerlijken uit moskee [Eindhoven bans seven imams who glorify violence from mosque],” de Volkskrant, December 22, 2015, 
[44] Moskee Moslim Broederschap in Slotervaart vormt geen gevaar, April 21, 2009,; “FION announces building of Mosque in Slotervaart (in Arabic),” March 2008,; “SP wil opheldering ove FION moskee in Slotervaart,” February 16, 2009;
[45] Ronald Sandee, The Influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Netherlands, NEFA Foundation, December 2007,
[46] Joost de Haas, “MOSLIMBROEDERS RUKKEN OP; Peperduur pand aangekocht voor nieuw ‘hoofdkwartier’ in Den Haag? ‘Achterliggend doel is invoering van sharia’ ‘Ze zien er niet uit als extremisten,’” De Telegraaf (Amsterdam), May 31, 2008; See also Answers of the mayor of Amsterdam to questions of the Amsterdam city council, February 19, 2009,
[47] AIVD, Annual Report 2012, 27.
[48] Ibid.
[49] Soeren Kern, “Dutch Jihadists in Syria Pose a Threat to the Netherlands,” Gatestone Institute, May 15, 2014,
[50] “The Netherlands,” in United States Department of State, 2015 Report on International Religious Freedom, August 10, 2016,
[51] Sheila Kamerman, “Illegal Aliens like Helen can’t hack it in the Netherlands,” NRC Handelsblad, February 11, 2010,  
[52] “The Position of Muslims in the Netherlands: Facts and Figures,” Institute for Multicultural Affairs (Utrecht), 2010, 
[53] Ibid.
[54] “More than 850 thousand Muslims in the Netherlands.”
[55] Jan Willem Duyvendak, Trees Pels and Rally Rijkschroeff, “A Multicultural paradise? The cultural factor in Dutch integration policy,” Paper presented at the 3rd ECPR Conference, Budapest, Hungary, September 8-10, 2005, 7.
[56] “The Position of Muslims in the Netherlands: Facts and Figures.”
[57] Barahim and Ostawar, “The Political Participation of Dutch Muslims.”
[58] “Netherlands,” CIA World Factbook, January 12, 2017,
[59] Nico Landman, Van mat tot minaret: De institutionalisering van de islam in Nederland (Amsterdam 1992), 80-82.
[60] “The Netherlands,” United States Department of State, 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom.
[61] Freedom House, “Netherlands: Country Report,” Freedom in the World 2016, n.d., 
[62] Thijl Sunier, et al., “Diyanet: The Turkish Directorate for Religious Affairs in a Changing Environment.” VU University Amsterdam, Utrecht University, January 2011,
[63] Heelsum, Fennema and Tillie, Moslim in Nederland, 16.
[64] Ahmet Yukleyen, “State Policies and Islamism in Europe: Milli Görüs in Germany and the Netherlands,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 36, iss. 3, 2010; Gonul Tol, “What Type of Islamism for Europe? Islamism in Germany and the Netherlands.” Middle East Institute Insight Turkey 11, no. 1, 2009, 133-149.
[65] John Leicester, “10 arrested in France, Germany, Netherlands in terrorism probe,” Associated Press, May 17, 2008,
[66] “Pikant: Asscher steunt Nederlandse krant van omstreden Turkse beweging Gulenbeweging start weekblad voor Turkse-Nederlanders en Vlamingen,” [“Hot: Asscher Supports a Dutch Newspaper for the controversial Turkish Gulen movement in Dutch and Flemish”], March 30, 2013,
[67] Janene Pieters, “Turkish-Dutch threatened for supporting Gulen,”, July 19, 2016,
[68] NCTb, Salafism in the Netherlands, 25-26.
[69] National Security Service (BVD), Annual Report 2001, 17; Landman, Van mat tot minaret, 160-161.
[70] AIVD, “The Transformation of Jihadism in the Netherlands: Swarm Dynamics and New Strength,” June 30, 2014, 26,
[71] AIVD, Annual Report 2015, 15.
[72] “Netherlands,” in United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015, n.d.,
[73] Islamic Cultural Center in Netherlands,” Muslim World League, n.d.,
[74] “Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth,” Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, September 15, 2010,
[75] “The influx of asylum seekers is changing in terms of composition,” Government of the Netherlands, March 14, 2016,
[76] “Dijkhoff satisfied with outcome EU migration summit,” Government of the Netherlands, September 22, 2015,
[77] AIVD, Annual Report 2015, 15.
[78] Jacob Poushter, “European Attitudes of the Refugee Crisis,” Pew Research Center, September 16, 2016,
[79] Steven Erlanger, “Amid Rise of Multiculturalism, Dutch Confront Their Questions of Identity,” New York Times, August 13, 2011,  
[80] Ibid.
[81] Wendy Zeldin, “Netherlands: Two New Sets of Administrative Sanctions Proposed to Fight Terrorism,” Global Legal Monitor, Library of Congress, June 2, 2016,
[82] Ibid.
[83] Ibidem; Ministry of Justice, Nota radicalisme en radicalisering, August 19, 2005; 5358374/05/AJS.
[84] Zeldin, “Netherlands: Two New Sets of Administrative Sanctions Proposed to Fight Terrorism.”
[85] National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism of the Netherlands, “About the NCTb,” n.d.,
[86] NCTb, Derde Voortgangsrapportage terrorismebestrijding, December 5, 2005, 5388583/05/NCTb; Minstry of Justice, Nota radicalisme en radicalisering, August 19, 2005; 5358374/05/AJS.
[87] “Netherlands Sets Plan on Extremism,” Associated Press, August 28, 2007,
[88] Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior, “Operationeel Actieplan Polarisatie en radicalisering 2007-2011,” August 27, 2007,
[89] Akerboom, “Ten Years of Dutch Counterterrorism Policy.”
[90] “The Netherlands,” United States Department of State, 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom
[91] Ministry of Justice of The Netherlands, “Court has ruled in case of Hofstad group suspects,” March 10, 2006,; Janny Groen and Annieke Kranenberg, Strijdsters van Allah, Radicale moslima’s en het Hofstadnetwerk (Amsterdam: J.M. Meulenhoff, 2006) 69-99, 127-137.
[92] Teun Van Dongen, “The Case for Tailored Interventions in the Preventative Approach: Lessons from Countering Jihadism in the Netherlands and the UK,” Countering Terrorist Recruitment in the Context of Armed Counter-Terrorism Operations, S. Ekici et al. (Eds), IOS Press, 2016. 
[93] Kirsty Lang, “At home with ‘Professor Pim,’” BBC, May 4, 2002,
[94] Ibid.
[95] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Joan Clements, “Fortuyn killed ‘to protect Muslims,’” Telegraph (London), March 28, 2003,
[96] “Parliament to press ahead with burqa dual nationality ban laws,”, May 31, 2013,
[97] “Dutch election: Pro-Europe VVD and Labour Parties win,” BBC, September 13, 2012,
[98] Harriet Agerholm, “Dutch government approves partial burqa ban in public places,” The Independent, November 29, 2016,
[99] Sheena McKenzie, “Geert Wilders guilty of ‘insulting a group’ after hate speech trial,” CNN, December 9, 2016,
[100] “Peilingwijzer: opmars PVV zet door,” Nederlandse Omroep Stichting [Dutch Broadcasting Foundation], December 21, 2016, 
[101] “Geert Wilders’ PVV stretches lead in latest poll of polls,”, December 21, 2016,
[102] Caroline Mortimer, “The Netherlands’ Most Popular Party Wants To Ban All Mosques,” Independent (London), August 28, 2016,