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9 December, 2012 - 10:00

Moroccan culture as a scapegoat

Nadia Bouras  data/files/teaser-nadia-bouras-071212.jpg

The problems of the Dutch Moroccan community are not caused by their culture, but are the legacy of their migration to the Netherlands according to Dutch Moroccan historian Nadia Bouras. “Dutch politicians say they’re innocent and instead blame Moroccan culture.”
In the 1980s, a quiet tragedy befell the Moroccan community in the Netherlands. Moroccan men, who had emigrated two decades earlier, brought their families to the Netherlands. But the large-scale family reunification coincided with a major economic recession. Large numbers of Moroccan fathers lost their jobs.
 
Family reunification and economic recession proved to be a toxic cocktail, says Bouras, who recently obtained her Ph.D. with a dissertation on the links between the Dutch Moroccan community and its country of origin.
 
Former heroes 
“The former heroes –  the young enterprising adventurers who had built up a life for themselves abroad – fell from their pedestals. Suddenly they were stuck at home with large families whom they had rarely seen in years. Because they had lost their jobs, their traditional authority was undermined. It proved difficult for them – and their wives who had just arrived in the Netherlands – to raise their children.”
 
Moroccans had always kept close ties with their country of origin, but in the initial years, were mainly concerned with building a new life for themselves in the Netherlands. That changed in the 1980s. “The unemployed fathers made up for their loss of status by turning towards their country of origin, Islam and their own culture,” explains Bouras.
 
Changing tides 
In her thesis, Bouras also analyses Dutch politicians’ views about the ties linking Dutch Moroccans to their country of origin. Initially, politicians believed that a strong attachment to an immigrant’s country of origin and culture helped promote integration.
 
But by the early ‘90s, Dutch politicians’ views had radically changed. There had been a decade of massive unemployment in the Moroccan community, and this had led to serious social problems: poor housing, low levels of education, etc. According to Bouras, a prominent Dutch right-wing politician at the time, Frits Bolkestein, began insisting that “culture and religion were the causes of all the problems. Islam, Moroccan culture and the Dutch Moroccans’ ties with their country of origin were responsible for the community’s social problems.”
 
Passing the buck 
Bouras disagrees. “The drama that took place in the ‘80s is the reason behind the backward situation of Moroccans in the Netherlands, not the culture. It has nothing to do with Islam or Moroccan culture.”
The cultural explanation was a way for the Dutch authorities to pass the buck. “If you explain that having a strong attachment to your own culture causes social backwardness, then you’re blaming the people themselves”, says Bouras. “They don’t fit in and that’s why they’re unemployed. The Dutch government has washed its hands of the problem.”
 
According to Bouras, culture is neither an obstacle nor an incentive to development. “Dutch politicians are obsessed by culture and ethnicity. It would be better if they focussed on the social and economic position of Dutch Moroccans rather than all those cultural worries.”