Don’t think of ‘us’ and ‘them’, urges PM

Prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende made a plea for unity and respect during last night’s parliamentary debate into Islamic activism, but said the government would come down hard on those who preached hate and violence.

The government stood firmly behind the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion but would not accept efforts to undermine the state, he said.
‘We must not think in terms such as ‘us’ and ‘them’,’ Balkenende urged. We must not ‘put people to one side because of their religion’. Many Muslims contribute fully to our society and deserve our solidarity and respect, he said.
The prime minister also criticised MP Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration party PVV, who earlier in the debate had called housing minister Ella Vogelaar ‘quite mad’.
The PVV failed to get any other parties to support its calls for Vogelaar to resign over her statement earlier this year that the Netherlands would eventually have a ‘Christian, Jewish and Muslim’ tradition.
Meanwhile, Labour MPs urged the cabinet to broaden its contacts among Muslims to include more representative voices. Some 50% of Dutch Muslims either never or rarely attend mosques and are not represented by traditional mosque-based groups, MP Jeroen Dijsselbloem said.
Justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin also confirmed that ministers were looking at ways to strip people who ‘damage the national interest’ of their Dutch nationality.

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