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Amsterdam mayor receives Martin Luther King Award

Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen yesterday received the Martin Luther King Award.

The award — which is presented to those who carry on work for social justice in the spirit of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — was handed to Cohen by Isaac Newton Farris, a nephew of the Afro-American civil rights leader.

It is the first time that a non-American has received the award.

Cohen was given the award for, among other things, the fact that he officiated at the first homo-weddings, in 2001 in Amsterdam — as well as for his efforts at bringing diverse people groups together.

Same-Sex Marriage and Islamic Extremism

Job Cohen’s official profile explains:

One of Cohen’s first notable acts as mayor was to officiate over the first ever same-sex legal marriage, having piloted as Deputy Minister of Justice the legislation required only months earlier.

Together with the city aldermen and city council, Cohen distinguished himself in 2005 by preventing escalation after the murder (by a fundamentalist Muslim fanatic) of film director Theo van Gogh (2004). He led the city’s people in a street protest meeting, calling for unity and tolerance. Ever since the murder, which saw Cohen himself targeted by the assassin (who was arrested immediately), the mayor, the aldermen and the city councillors have made an enormous effort to involve all inhabitants of Amsterdam – from all communities indiscriminately, exception made for those threatening with or practising violence – in a tolerant, peaceful and open society without discrimination.

The fundamentalist murder triggered on the other hand a tough policy on radicalism and radicalisation, where mayor Cohen as head of the Amsterdam police and in close cooperation again with his aldermen and the City Council, plays a prominent role, not accepting any violence, threat of violence or other abuses in the city, in close collaboration, when necessary, with national security services.

Cohen´s approach brought him huge popularity in the Netherlands. Furthermore Cohen was named one of Time magazine’s ‘2005 European Heroes’, was chosen ‘best mayor of the Netherlands 2006’, ‘best mayor of the Netherlands in the last 25 years’ and has been nominated ‘best mayor of the world 2006’.
– Source: Profile of Job Cohen, Mayor of Amsterdamoffsite

A 2005, TIME magazine article about “hate buster” Cohen, says: “Cohen was born into an intellectual Jewish family; his paternal grandparents were killed at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. But Cohen says the Holocaust was always discussed in rational rather than emotional terms during his childhood; this taught him to look at problems analytically. Those who know him say this background contributed to making Cohen such a pragmatic politician.”

“Listen to all sides”

After explaining how Job Cohen defused tension in Amsterdam after the murder — by a Muslim extremist — of film director Theo van Gogh, Time states:

Since law school, Cohen says his motto has been audi et alteram partem, which he loosely translates as “listen to all sides.” And he works hard to stay true to that dictum. Earlier this year, for example, a group of young Moroccans complained that they were being systematically turned away from discos; club owners countered that young Moroccans are often the instigators of rowdy behavior. Together the two sides agreed to come down hard on venues that discriminated, but to be equally tough on troublemakers. Says Ayhan Tonca, chairman of the Contact Group for Muslims and the Government, a leading Dutch Muslim organization: “Cohen puts the emphasis on dialogue, which is the only way divisions in our society will be solved.”
– Source: Hate Buster – Key to the City, TIME, Oct. 10, 2005

Drinking Tea

Not everyone agrees with Job Cohen’s approach to serious issues. For instance, Amsterdam has been — is being — plagued by hordes of, for the most part, young Moroccans who engage in hooliganism and criminal behavior.

Many Amsterdammers — both of native and foreign backgrounds — are fed us with what many regard as a lackadaisical approach to this problem.

On the face of things, Job Cohen’s suggestion that we should “drink tea” with their parents — in order to gain an understanding of where things go wrong — does indeed appear somewhat naive, to say the least.

Worst, some of Cohen’s views are cause for concern.

In his book, Murder in Amsterdam — The death of Theo van Gogh and the limits of tolerance, Ian Buruma writes about a 2002 speech the mayor delivered:

Quoting Geert Mak, Cohen suggested that “a new adhesive” was needed to “glue society together.” Without making it entirely clear what this glue should be, Cohen stressed the importance of mutual respect. This means, in his views, that we should tolerate opinions and habits even if we do not share them, or even approve of them.

We tolerate the fact that women are not allowed to become members of an ultra-Calvinist political party. Just so, we have to “tolerate certain groups of orthodox Muslims who consciously discriminate against their women.”

Cohen went further. Why not revive the Dutch idea of the pillar. Dutch citizens used to organize their lives through their religious affiliations. Perhaps Muslims should be encouraged to do the same. Then he spoke the sentence that most upset his critics: “The easiest way to integrate these new immigranst might be through their faith. For that is just about the only anchor they have when they enter Dutch society in the twenty-first century.” This was seen as rank appeasement; a reason for Theo van Gogh to compare Cohen to a Nazi collaborator.
– Source: Murder in Amsterdam, Ian Buruma. Pages 244-245.

Indeed, what upsets many Dutch natives is the fact that many — though certainly not all — Muslims refuse to accept certain aspects of Dutch culture and society. In so doing, these Muslims separate themselves from the population and become easy prey of radical imams — something not easily fixed by drinking tea…

About the Martin Luther King Awardoffsite

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This post was last updated: Sep. 25, 2011    

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