The Netherlands is often quoted as one of the most gay-friendliest nations. However, the social polarisation we witness worldwide has not skipped this country entirely. During the early morning on Sunday, April 2nd, a gay couple was severely abused in Arnhem, the Netherlands. The men were walking home after a night out, when they got bothered by a group of Dutch-Moroccan youths. Jasper (35) and Ronnie (31) were both significantly physically harmed. The police stated there was “strong reason” to believe the attack was aimed towards their homosexual orientation. Like they often did when they walked home together, the couple was holding hands.
“Normally we never do this, walking hand in hand in public. Precisely not to provoke. But we had a good night, and we thought we were alone.” Jasper told the Dutch media. “But then a group of six to eight Moroccan youths showed up.”
Jasper and Ronnie were first yelled at and insulted. When they responded, the boys pulled them apart and started fighting them. At one point, one of the young assailants pulled out a pair of bolt cutters, and used it to knock out several of Ronnie’s front-teeth. Both men are, understandably, mightily affected by the experience. Jasper said, “The fact that this can still happen anno 2017 is incomprehensible”.
Two suspects (14 and 20 years old) had been arrested the same day. Later 4 more youths involved in the incident (ranging 14 to 16 years old) have reported themselves to the local police.
Although it has not been explicitly confirmed, some in the Netherlands are speculating that the violent act was committed out of Islamic convictions. This, they claim, is owing the fact that almost all Moroccan-Dutch civilians (97%) identify as believers of Islam. Even for those who are not practising the religion, the Islamic ideology plays a big part in their lives.
Violence against people based on their sexual orientation is not only sharp in contrast with the liberal tolerance usually representative of Dutch culture; it goes against basic Human Rights. Several public figures, among others prime-minister Mark Rutte (VVD), have expressed their disbelief and disapproval of the discrimination and violence. Tanja Ineke, president of the COC (a Dutch interest organisation advocating LGBT rights) called the incident “horrific”. She further commented on the matter: “Being beaten up for whom you love is too abominable for words.”
Upcoming Saturday (April 8th) a protest will be held at the Jansplein (Jans-square) in Arnhem in light of the attack to encourage support for the victims. On the Facebook eventpage, the gay community of Arnhem shared the statement behind the protest: “it is time to signal society: the Netherlands is a country where everyone should be able to be themselves, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, ancestry, believes or skin colour.”
A peaceful protest
Barbara Barend, sports journalist, made a suggestion on her twitter: “This week, can all men (straight and gay) please just walk hand in hand…”
The initiative has received significant attention, and the gesture symbolising a stance against the hate crime caught on. This morning, Alexander Pechtold and Wouter Koolmees (both representing the political party D66) arrived at their meeting (regarding the formation negotiations) holding hands. When asked by a reporter, they voiced the action was a statement against violence and discrimination in the Netherlands.
And they were not they only ones. More and more Dutch public male figures are holding hands and sharing their support for the gay community through the (social) media. Pechtold and Koolmees inspired other Dutch politicians as well. Lodewijk Asscher (PVDA) posted a picture on instagram, showing him and colleague Jeroen Dijsselbloem holding hands at the beach in Scheveningen.
However, some are stressing caution against complacency. For example, Barend said, “I hope it doesn’t stop with this protest. I hope something actually happens.” She points out that parents and schools hold a strong responsibility to hold up the moral code and educate the country’s posterity liberal values. She went on to say that not everyone sets a perfect example for the kids. “I see 7-year-old boys calling each other faggot and homo, without parents stepping in.”