Human rights watchdog says Islamophobia on the rise in Holland

Brussels, Belgium - A human rights watchdog groups says Islamophobia has increased dramatically in the Netherlands in the wake of terrorist attacks in Europe.

In a harshly worded report, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance says even Dutch politicians have resorted to derogatory remarks about Muslims in recent years.

It says Muslims now are the subject of stereotyping, stigmatization and frequent racist violence.

The report comes as the Netherlands is embroiled in a debate over what some Dutch politicians call an "Islamization" of the country.

The Dutch have traditionally welcomed immigrants but put little pressure on them to embrace western values.

Now, some Dutch are saying that the country's multiculturalism and tolerance have provided a breeding ground for Islamic radicalism.

Fears of such radicalism crystallized after the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh for his movie "Submission," a fictional study of abused Muslim women with scenes of near-naked women with Qur'anic texts engraved on their flesh.

Right-wing Dutch legislator Geert Wilders has generated widespread concern with plans to make an anti-Qur'an film portraying the religion as fascist and prone to inciting violence against women and homosexuals.

"Islam has been repeatedly presented as a subculture and Muslims have been presented as the carriers of backward values, generally incompatible with democracy and the values of western societies," the report said.

"In the period after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and especially in the months following the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the Netherlands has witnessed a sharp rise in racist violence and other racist crimes, essentially targeted at its Muslim population," the report said.

It said Muslims have also been disproportionately targeted by state security policies.

The report said sweeping associations between Muslims and terrorism made in virtually all types of Dutch media - newspapers, radio and television - have aggravated Islamophobic views, which are increasingly becoming part of mainstream thinking.

The Netherlands is home to approximately one million Muslims, or about six per cent of the country's population of 16 million. Most are of Moroccan and Turkish origin.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, an independent monitoring body, assesses racially motivated violence, intolerance and xenophobia in 47 European countries. The commission is based in Strasbourg, France.

Along with concerns about Islamophobia, the commission's report on the Netherlands said anti-Semitic insults and Holocaust denial are growing more widespread.

"As an illustration, the word "Jew" is reported to be increasingly used as an insult and different aspects of the Holocaust are reportedly questioned in everyday situations, such as in schools," the commission said.