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Controversy over Palestine memorial in the Netherlands

Datum: 4 mei 2014 | Waar: OnIslam.net news section

Every year on May 5th, the people in the Netherlands celebrate their freedom and the end of the second world war. The day before, on May 4th at 8PM, there is a nation wide memorial for those who have lost their lives in wartime. But this year, the days leading up to Memorial Day are marked by controversy as an Islamic organization choose to also schedule a memorial for the Palestinians who've lost their life at the founding of the Israeli State, what they refer to as the 'shadow holocaust'.

Using social media, an organization called 'Platform for Muslim Awareness' shared the invitation for their event to be held in the afternoon on memorial day in a mosque in Hilversum. Quickly after that, both local and national media put their spotlights on the event and criticism arose over both the date and the title of the event. Over forty complaint were send to the major of the city, demanding him to obstruct the event because it was 'insensitive' and 'provocative' to use the word 'holocaust' for anything other than the second world war, especially on this date.

"We did not intent to provoke anybody by using the term 'shadow holocaust'," says Abou Hafs, a 31 years old Muslim from Moroccan decent and one of the main speakers at the event. "We didn't even contact the media to get all this attention. We did however chose this term for a reason: as our aim is to spread the idea that the word holocaust should not be used uniquely for one historical episode of ethnic cleansing. Especially if that term is later used to safeguard it's victims from any criticism on their actions in the decades after the occurrence of this European holocaust."

Although Abou Hafs is aware of the widespread criticism he doesn't consider to alter the events description. "When Shimon Peres was still an Israeli minister, he himself used the term 'holocaust' to describe the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. Like him, we use this term to describe organized mass killing, in this case of Palestinians. An yes, if you look at death count, the European holocaust was much bigger, but that doesn't mean the mechanism of ethnic cleansing is different."

"I expect it to be a day with good and interesting lectures, but also a sense of brotherhood," Abou Maariya, a 26 years old convert to islam, explains. "It blew up in the media after I had already decided to attend. I think the criticism on the event is a bit childish and overreacted. Nobody is trying to block the nationwide memorial day, we just want to get together inside our own mosque to also remember Palestinian victims."

Under pressure of the major of the city Hilversum, the mosque decided to discontinue hosting the event. Not on moral grounds, but because they feared not being able to host the amount of expected visitors, which grew due to all the media attention. Abou Hafs: "We did find an alternative location but will not state upfront which one, as we don't want the major to also put pressure on them to cancel our event."

"It is a shame that the government is so inconsistent with it's approach to Muslims," Abou Hafs continues. "When we feel insulted - for instance due to anti-islamic cartoons - the Dutch government states that our subjective arguments are less important that the objective conclusion that within the boundries of the law everybody has the right to speak his mind. However, when we use our freedom of speech, which is objectively within those legal boundaries, they put pressure on us to cancel it due to the subjective arguments of people who feel insulted."

Abou Hafs: "From our perspective, we have a memorial for those who have died on a date on which this country has a memorial for those who have died. We consider our event to be in accordance with this custom, not conflicting with it. We just add a dimension by also looking at Palestinian victims."

"After hearing all the criticism, I was even more motivated to attend the meeting," Abou Maariya concludes. "At first, I wanted to go for my own personal interests, now I also want to support my brothers who worked to make this event happen."

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