The Dutch-Moroccan Aboutaleb, who has been mayor of Rotterdam since 2009, has pleaded for “patience” and ‘calmness’ in the debate about the role of Islam in society. He has been recently interviewed by Dutch newspaper Trouw, in which he discussed his views on the ways Islam has been debated in the Netherlands for the last decades. There has been some controversial issues around Aboutaleb in the past. After the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015, Aboutaleb held an emotional speech, where he told fellow Muslims who sympathized with jihadists, to “fuck off”. He argued that it was necessary for Muslims to distance themselves from the attack, which led to many critical remarks among Muslims. Other controversies have centered around his alleged hypocrisy as a “liberal” Muslim: he has been attacked by conservative Muslims who have criticized his willingness to “sell out” his Muslim and Moroccan identity and on the other hand, he has been attacked by extreme right groups such as Leefbaar Rotterdam, who consider Aboutaleb “untrustworthy” because of his Muslim background.
Now recently Aboutaleb has argued that the debate around Islam in the Netherlands has been strained by politicians and opinion-makers, which is caused by the fact that Dutch intelelctuals believe that the Netherlands is ready for certain developments. However, Aboutaleb believes that the majority of the people in the Netherlands are not. In addition, he states that the debate around Islam in the Netherlands has been going on for at least fifteen years, which demontsratres how tense the debate has become. Aboutaleb has mentioned a few examples to support his argument that the Netherlands is not yet ready for certain developments. He has said for example, that building mosques is a very recent development and will – in ten or twenty years – become more self-evident. This is also the case with the Ramadan, argues Aboutaleb, but also the case of a more recent controversial issue: the Islamic headscarf. Aboutaleb believes that it is best to maintain the status quo – not allowing female police-officers to wear an Islamic headscarf – because this debate is not “sensible”, especially in the light of the forthcoming municipal elections.
In another recent interview, Aboutaleb has made an even more controversial statement. In a NPO Radio 1 interview for the show Dit is de Dag (‘This is the Day’), Aboutaleb has criticized the idea of a possible ban on Salafism in the Netherlands, which has been proposed during the last Cabinet of the VVD and the PvdA. Aboutaleb has argued that if you look at Salafism linguistically, in its core a Salafist is simply someone who “follows” a predecessor – in this case the prophet Muhammad. This would mean that prohibiting Salafism would mean to aim policy at 1.7 billion people in the world. Instead, Aboutaleb argues that the boundaries should be at the use of violence. If there are Salafi who believe one should use violence against someone else, that should be reason to track them down and isolate them, states Aboutaleb. In addition, Aboutaleb claims that every Muslim is “a little Salafi” – including himself – which resulted in outrage. Geert Wilders for example, the leader of the PVV and not without controversy himself, has called for Aboutaleb to resign.