Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Netherlands - First muslim mayor of Rotterdam

Ahmed Aboutaleb (47), a prominent Labour politician who was born in Morocco, is the new mayor of Rotterdam.
Before becoming a deputy minister in February 2007, Aboutaleb made a name for himself in Amsterdam, where he was the city council's executive for social affairs.
Aboutaleb is the first mayor of Moroccan descent to be appointed in the Netherlands. Rotterdam is the country's second biggest city (population 584,000) and has substantial social and poverty issues.
It is also the city where populist politician Pim Fortuyn started his short-lived political career. Fortuyn was murdered by an environmental activist in 2002, just a few days prior to the national elections.
His 'heirs' still make up the largest opposition party in Rotterdam and have voiced strong criticism of Aboutaleb, not so much for his background in rival city Amsterdam, but for his roots in Morocco.
"Aboutaleb is a Muslim and he has two passports. Should he, of all people, be in charge of a city where the majority of the immigrant population refuses to integrate?" city councillor Dries Mosch said.
Poet, journalist, politician

Ahmed Aboutaleb, now 47, was born as the son of a Muslim cleric in the town of Beni Sidel in the Rif mountains of Morocco. At the age of 15 he emigrated to the Netherlands with his family. His childhood ambition was to be a poet but he later exchanged this dream for a career in journalism, working for the commercial station RTL4 and public broadcaster NOS Radio. He then moved into the world of politics, becoming an alderman on Amsterdam City Council.

The city was shaken to its core in 2004 when film maker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a militant Muslim. Ahmed Aboutaleb's resolute stance in the wake of the killing earned him the praise of many Amsterdammers, both inside and outside of the Moroccan community. Perhaps his most famous hour was the speech he gave at an Amsterdam mosque, in which he told residents who have trouble accepting Dutch values to pack their bags and board the next plane out. His performance brought him to prominence but also resulted in death threats. Since that time he has been unable to leave home without bodyguards. Yet he has steadfastly refused to tone down his approach, and shows no signs of changing his ways.
"I'll treat young Moroccans in Rotterdam the same way as I treat all young people. If you do the right thing, you can count on my support, my hand on your shoulder. But if you are out to disrupt society, to deliberately pull a fast one, if you don't want to work - I will show you no mercy."
(Radio Netherlands Worldwide/NRC Handelsblad)

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