Protestant church laments lack of Islamic leadership

The Dutch Protestant Church (PKN) has criticised the Muslim community in the Netherlands, alleging that the drive to integrate is primarily coming from the native Dutch and that there is a lack of leadership on the Muslim side.

PKN general secretary, Bas Plaisier, also accused the Muslim community is too inwardly focused. "The Islamic community has too little outlook towards the broader society, and for the churches who wish to enter discussions," he said.

And speaking on behalf of Plaisier in Amsterdam at a policy conference between the various religious faiths on Monday, a PKN official called for "a culture of passionate and involved discussion with people of other philosophies".

The official emphasised further the importance of social roots in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic communities, newspaper De Telegraaf reported.

But Plaisier also claimed it was difficult to enter into discussions with Muslim representatives because they are only interested in their small communities.

Nevertheless, he recognised that Muslims in the Netherlands cannot simply and easily integrate into Dutch society. He said it was a process that would occur over several generations.

Plaisier said he hoped his statement would stimulate further discussion between churches and mosques. But he refrained from suggesting who could come forward to represent the entire Muslim community.

There are some 1 million Muslims in the Netherlands, ranging from Turkish to Moroccan to Somali immigrants. Many of these communities have separate lobby groups and separate representatives.

The PKN secretary told public broadcaster Radio 1 on Monday morning that the Muslim community needed to put forward a leader with a mandate to represent the entire community. He said the lack of leadership made it difficult for native Dutch people to understand the Islamic standpoint.

He admitted further though that the situation was similar to the Dutch protestant church, which lacked a pope or bishops to act as the entire faith's leader.

Plaisier also said the lack of adequate discussions between native Dutch and the Islamic community was due in part to the fact native Dutch did not know of any Islamic leaders besides terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Netherlands has encountered strong social polarisation in recent years, highlighted by the November 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an alleged Islamic militant. A series of attacks against mosques and churches followed, prompting a call to order from Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

The Dutch government is stepping up its push to integrate the immigrant community and is set to legislate later this year a grand plan to integrate 750,000 immigrants and lower educated Dutch. It is also pushing to restrict the possibilities for immigrants to hold dual citizenship.