I’m a Legal Alien; I’m a Turkish Man in Holland

For decades now, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands have been home to several million Turkish immigrants. Although Turkish immigrants have spread around the world very rapidly in the past few years, the majority is still situated in these three nations. Ever since the large labor import in the 1960s, the Netherlands has housed several thousand Turks. While some accept the multitude of Turkish immigrants coming into their countries, others are very uncomfortable with so many foreigners habituating in their land. This issue is an especially heated one in the Netherlands, where Turkish immigrants compose the majority of the immigrant population. Almost every city in the Netherlands is filled with Turkish stores and restaurants, selling semi-authentic Turkish products that many consider to be a taste of “real Turkey”. From citizens to politicians, such as Geert Wilders, almost everyone has a very distinct and clear-cut opinion regarding this sensitive subject.

“Islam is not a religion, it’s an ideology, the ideology of a retarded culture. I have a problem with Islamic tradition, culture, ideology. Not with Muslim people.” This is a direct quote from the infamous Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who is one of the frontrunners of the anti-immigration and anti-Islam movement in the Netherlands. Wilders has been very openly against Moroccan and Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands for the past few years, while also protesting the general practice of Islam. His controversial comments are just one example of how extreme the views against Muslim immigrants are in the Western world. Not convinced yet? Wilders also stated “The Koran is a fascist book, which incites violence. That is why this book, just like [Adolf Hitler’s] Mein Kampf, must be banned. The book incites hatred and killing, and therefore has no place in our [Dutch] legal order.” As an immigrant from a non-Western country, it is very hard to assimilate to a culture if the most powerful local opinion leaders constantly face you with hatred, prejudice and exclusion. More importantly however, these comments cause insecurity, discomfort, and unruliness, thus becoming the root to certain issues.

Being a diplomat’s son, I was lucky enough to live in several different countries, and experience various cultures. However, one challenge that I have always had to face as a Turk has been overcoming the prejudices and stereotypes that have been associated with my culture. I was faced with this issue for the first time when we moved to New York in 2006. Not only did many of my classmates not know where Turkey was, a large portion of them were not even aware of the existence of a country named Turkey. For them, turkey was an animal, and nothing else. Those who knew, or found out, about Turkey automatically associated it to terrorism and radical Islam due to the geographical location of my country. As an 11-year-old child, it is very difficult to not only act as an ambassador for your country at school, but also deal with the constant mockery and ridicule of your peers. This is especially sad because the United States, namely New York City, has always been considered one of the biggest melting pots of cultures and ethnicities.

In 2008, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance released a report on the Netherlands, where they stated that Turkish immigrants were affected by “stigmatization of and discrimination against members of minority groups” as a result of the very controversial immigration policies. Moreover, the same report noted that the tone of Dutch political and public debate on the integration of immigrants has drastically deteriorated recently. While reports show that over half the Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands face racial discrimination, there is also a growing fear of Islam influencing this situation.

Personally, I am not Muslim, and I have never practiced any religion in my life. However, I believe in respecting the practices and beliefs of everyone regardless of what religion, ethnicity or background they have. Unfortunately, in the Western world, there has been a growing decline in tolerance when it comes to Islam. So, even though religious matters do not directly impact me, their association with my Turkish background and the assumptions that follow this association greatly impact my life in the Netherlands.

Most Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands migrated in order to find better employment opportunities and earn money to send to their families back in Turkey. One of the biggest issues in assimilation is the generation gap between the older generation who migrated, and the newer generation born in the Netherlands. This new generation is constantly faced with a cultural shock, because they are thrown into Turkish culture at home with their parents, and into Dutch culture once they are at outside or at school. In this regard, I do believe that Turkish and Moroccan immigrants may cause a lot more controversy and conflict than other immigrant segments and locals, but I do not believe that they are the sole perpetrators. Ever since I moved to the Netherlands, I have noticed a general dislike and discrimination against Turkish and Moroccan immigrants, and some of the stories involving robbing, assaulting and other crimes do support this exclusion. However, I strongly believe that if these immigrants were given a proper chance to assimilate into the Dutch culture, and if they were accepted and included in society, a large portion of these petty crimes could be avoided. There is no doubt that the Turkish and Moroccan immigrants are behind some very unruly behavior in the Netherlands, but this situation could be avoided by altering the policies and public debate on this issue to make it more inclusive and accepting, rather than maintaining a very exclusive and discriminatory approach.

There is a growing sense of islamophobia in the Netherlands, and most people look down on Turkish and Moroccan immigrants, thinking they are superior to them, solely because these people migrated here for better opportunities. If this attitude were to change, these immigrants could display very different behaviors, solving some of the most controversial issues in the country.

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