Students threatening teachers. Teachers threatening students. Corruption in the classrooms, the hallways, and, eventually, becoming a national scandal – all part of daily life at an Islamic high school in Rotterdam. There, according to a recent article in Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, non-Muslim teachers are pressured to pass failing Muslim students, while Muslim teachers hold secretive classes instructing their pupils on the evils of European culture.
And that's only part of the story.
The Ibn Ghaldoun school has a long history of controversy, but returned recently to the spotlight after it was discovered that a group of its students had stolen copies of the national final exam, administered to all Dutch students, and were selling it over the Internet. Dozens were found to have cheated, including at least one young woman who, having researched the answers, spoke them into her smartphone and played the recording during test-taking, hiding the headphones under her hijab. The result: the tests had to be repeated, even by those who had not seen them in advance – and so students around the country whose families had planned to take their summer holidays were, in many cases, forced to forfeit flights and other travel arrangements (often at substantial cost).
Investigations into the theft have revealed deep-rooted corruption and revisited previous dirty dealings at the Islamic school, the only Islamic secondary school in the country. In 2007, for instance, Ibn Ghaldoun's directors were found to have used over €200,000 in government subsidies earmarked for books and local educational school outings to take 200 students and their families not, say, to the Rijksmuseum or Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, but to Mecca. To make matters worse, school administrators then created false receipts and invoices to cover up the misallocation of funds.
Other money also appears to have been paid that same year to local imams not officially affiliated with the school, including the radical Khalil El Moumni, known, among other things, for regularly characterizing homosexuals as being "worse than pigs."
In this latest scandal, the school has come under its most intense scrutiny yet. And the findings suggest that problems with Holland's Muslim population are far more complex – and potentially serious – than has been recognized to date.
It isn't only that several hundred of Rotterdam's Muslim youth attend a school where lying and stealing is evidently the norm for the administration, creating an environment in which the basic values and principles of Western law and social values are dismissed and disregarded; and it isn't only that the role model this establishes for these children is one that not only ignores Dutch law, but defies it. What is worse is that such lessons, according to the NRC Handelsblad, are actually taught directly: in a discussion with seven non-Muslim teachers from the school (all of whom claim to have taken jobs there in the hope of improving chances for underprivileged Muslim youth), reporter Andreas Kouwenhoven discovered that after-school "study groups" prove not to be study groups at all. Rather, one Ibn Ghaldoun teacher told him, "they were classes aimed at indoctrinating the children. The lessons were directed against Dutch culture: Girls should never marry a Dutch boy or a non-believer [non-Muslim]."
Others told the NRC that parents frequently participated in the culture of lies prevalent at the school, regularly pressuring them to raise a child's grade or even to pass a failing student. Equally distressing, however, is the fact that some teachers actually capitulated. Some cited threats (one claimed his car was vandalized when he refused to raise one student's grade). Others who admitted inflating grades and secretly giving pupils second- and third chances felt that Dutch-Muslim children experience particular difficulty navigating Dutch society and so, deserve some latitude – this even when many Ibn Ghaldoun's students were born and raised in the Netherlands. Not only have students who should have failed been allowed to pass, but even those who rightfully should have flunked out completely have received diplomas. (Ibn Ghaldoum's director, Ayhan Tonca, did not respond to requests for comment for this column.)
The consequences of all this are significant. The unemployment rate among the Dutch Muslim population, particularly among Moroccans, is 15 percent, versus 8 percent of non-Muslims. Far more live in poverty. These facts are frequently cited as reasons for the high rate of criminality in the Muslim (and especially Moroccan) community, and as proof that Muslims are discriminated against by non-Muslim employers. But the situation at the school suggests that the problems lie deeper, in a systemic, cultural approach to maneuvering through life and handling an adverse situation: the lying, the cheating, the threats.
(As for allegations of discrimination in the job market, one can't help but wonder: the fact that two kids graduate with a certain grade point average may make them appear equal as job candidates; but if one of them received that diploma despite the fact that he cannot write a coherent job solicitation letter, then there's likely more than just ethnicity involved.)
What's more, failure to assimilate appears to come, then, not from discrimination or difficulties in adapting per se, but as a deliberate strategy promoted not just be radical imams in the mosques, but by the schools.
Granted, Ibn Ghaldoun is but one of many Islamic schools in the country (though it is, significantly, the only Islamic high school). But it is by far not the only one that expressly teaches students to oppose Dutch norms or resist Westernization; in fact, a 2008 report showed that a full 86 percent had defrauded the government of a total of over €2 million, while more recent government reports have shown that 30 percent of Islamic schools in the Netherlands have ties to Hamas and/or the Muslim Brotherhood.
That may explain the rise in extremism in the country in recent years, and the growing flow of Dutch Muslims to join the jihad in Syria – trends that have caused Dutch officials to raise the terror alert to its next-to-highest level.
This is not to argue against the existence of Muslim schools in principle, any more than against the presence of, say, Yeshivas. But if this is the kind of Islam Ibn Ghaldoun and similar such schools are teaching, then not only Holland, but all of Europe – and the West would be far better off without them. The time, in any case, has come to stop mollycoddling these children, and to stop making excuses for their behavior. The West must at last demand that its Muslim children be part of our cultural and moral fabric – starting in the classroom.
Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.