A breach of trust, which is far from resolved more than a year later. This is how six Almere mosque boards describe their relationship with Almere municipality. The sick relationship occurs at the end of 2021, when the NRC publishes a story whose consequences are still noticeable today. An overview of a cooled relationship.
“Undercover for the Mosque”, headlines NRC Saturday, October 16, 2021. The newspaper reveals that various Dutch municipalities are conducting undercover investigations in mosques. The investigated organizations knew nothing for years.
The results end up in a secret report. It states what the mosque administrators, imams and teachers involved have studied. It is also mapped who is related to whom, who they fight with and how often they have contact with, for example, the Moroccan authorities.
According to experts with whom the newspaper speaks, this method is prohibited. The researchers in the agency that prepares the reports, NTA, do not disclose this to the mosques as such.
When the NRC questions the secret reports, the municipalities distance themselves from them. Almere informs the newspaper that they are about to start an investigation and are disappointed that the working methods are now being revealed. “We regret that this article may affect the reliability of data that has not yet been collected.”
After the publication of the NRC article, Almere municipality rushed to ’emphatically distance itself from it.’ Although an investigation into extremism has been launched in Almere, it is not specifically aimed at mosques and Islamic extremism. Left-wing, right-wing and environmental extremism are also being investigated, that is the message. In addition, the analysis agency NTA in Almere would not have progressed further than an ‘exploration phase’. Specific institutions and individuals would not have been targeted.
Mosques deeply disappointed
Despite the denial and the weakening of the municipality, mosque boards indicate that they are deeply disappointed by the course of action. There is also surprise. Mosque boards say they are on good terms with the municipality until that moment. There are regular consultations four times a year and there are also many informal contacts. The NRC article causes a big dent in confidence.
This does not apply to the Baitul Afiyat mosque in Almere Poort: “We have no objections, nor are we disappointed by the municipalities’ actions. It is the municipality’s right to stay informed about what is going on in different groups in order to maintain peace and security ,” Imam Siddiqui said in October 2021.
Mayor Franc Weerwind, who is responsible for the subject, invites the mosque’s boards to a discussion. But that invitation was declined.
At that time, according to Weerwind, the mapping of extremist influences in Almere was only in its early phase. This is a desktop survey. “The next stage is a field investigation. Then they have conversations and interviews, but they also have to state who they are.”
No matter how firmly Weerwind rejects, the trust in cooperation with the municipality has completely disappeared from the mosque’s boards. This will be reinforced in 2022 when documents are released outlining how things have been at City Hall in recent years.
In 2016, for example, the municipality asked for an offer for ‘mapping the religious & ideological infrastructure within the Islamic communities.’
Doubt and restraint
It appears that Mayor Weerwind was in serious doubt midway through 2017 as to whether such a network analysis should be carried out. “Franc notes that there are disadvantages to conducting such a display operation,” says an interview report. Weerwind points to the risk of disruption of relations with the Islamic community.
It was decided to postpone the investigation until further notice. “Because there is no immediate reason to implement it now.” However, there is a ‘network director’ from the NTA research agency active in Almere. “He will do an initial inventory. If there is reason after the initial inventory, we can still get an analysis done.”
What Weerwind feared: a disturbed relationship with the Islamic community, has become a reality. Even though Almere says they have never actually conducted undercover operations in mosques.
“Trust comes on foot and goes on horseback”
Breach of trust
At the end of last year, November 2022, the disturbed relationship becomes clearly visible in the Almere City Council Chamber. It will be an evening that will be dedicated to Councilor Hassan Buyatui, who will receive fierce criticism from councilors after it is clear that he shared incorrect information in a tweet.
The trouble surrounding Buyatui completely overshadows two speakers who had time earlier in the evening to tell their story. First of all, Fariz Akkouh speaks. He is the chairman of Etihad, an alliance of Islamic organisations.
“All mosques and the municipality had regular consultations on various issues. We also had discussions with local police officers and various officials,” Akkouh recalls in his speech. All these negotiations have been stopped since October 2021. “Everything was denied. This has hit the Islamic community hard. They feel abandoned and consider themselves third-class citizens. Trust in the municipality is hard to find.” Akkouh sums it up by quoting a proverb. “Trust comes on foot and goes on horseback.”
The second speaker is Kasim Tekin, who mainly speaks on behalf of the Muslim youth of Almere. He’s also tough. “At first we were told that it was not about Muslims, but that it was about extremism in its entirety. Now I have a very thick document full of evidence that it was indeed aimed at Muslims.”
‘This has hit the Islamic community hard’:
The ministry is trying to get the conversation going again
Not only in Almere, but also in other municipalities, the relationship between the Muslim community and the city council has been disturbed by the NRC story.
The Ministry of Social Affairs is now trying to play a mediating role to normalize relations again. However, many mosque boards do not like that conversation. Not even the mosques in Almere. The invitation to the meeting on 24 January has been declined.
A solution to the breach of trust is therefore not yet in sight.