— De Telegraaf (@telegraaf) 14 september 2017
The mayor of Amsterdam, social-democrat Eberhard van der Laan is widely loved and praised in Dutch media for being a good mayor. Since it was discovered earlier this year, that the cancer he suffers from is terminal, the way the media have treated him has suggested an attitude of him being ‘beyond reproach’. An interview with ‘Zomergasten’ (Summer Guest) which is considered to be one of the ‘high brow’ events in Dutch television, was widely publicised and plans were even made to show it in public.
In the interview, he was asked by the presenter what inheritance he wanted to bestow on Amsterdam and its inhabitants. The conversation between Van der Laand and interviewer Janine Abbring went like this:
“‘That it remains the kind city it is,’ he said. ‘And you have made it kinder,’ Abbring says. It could have been one of the most human moments ever to take place at the Zomergasten table. ‘I hope so,’ Van der Laan says. ‘I know so for sure.’ Abbring nearly loses it, but takes a hold of herself in a creative way. You just know that Van der Laan and Abbring will see more of each other.“
But this understandable wish to go easy on a dying man has not been good for critical journalism. There are reasons to be a little more critical of the mayor and his wish to have his city remain ‘kind’ and if he really ‘made it kinder’.
On 14 September, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that Van der Laan was personally responsible for making sure a man called Bilal L. could start work as a social worker. This is remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, Bilal has a criminal record. As such, he should have been excluded from working as a social worker by municipal rules. But according to the spokesperson Geke Uninge, or youth’s social work organisation Dynamo:
“‘The mayor has asked Lieke Thesing, who was chairman of the municipal district at the time, to give Bilal a dispensation. We have that in writing.’“
Thesingh confirms this happened:
“‘You could consider it a request from the mayor, because he wanted him [Bilal] to get involved in these activities.“
In and of itself, the fact that the mayor directly intervenes in getting someone a job is noteworthy enough. But what makes the case truly remarkable, is the fact that Bilal is not just a criminal, but seen as a member of the ‘Hofstad-group’ of terrorists, and convicted for recruiting Jihadists. In 2014, Amsterdam based newspaper Het Parool wrote about Bilal, noting that he:
“tried to seduce youths into visiting a trainingcamp for Jihadists in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Now he tries to keep youngsters on the straight and narrow in Amsterdam. The municipality helped deradicalise Bilal after his prison sentence. But according to those in the know, he doesn’t hold high hopes for the Amsterdam approach to extremists youths. His sister (18) chose to go on jihad in Syria earlier this year, even though the municipality had her in its scope for being a potential ‘traveler’. (…) The director chose to employ him deliberately. ‘Bilal is a good youth worker. He gives guys the idea that they can participate again.’“
It is not clear what exactly the deliberations where that lead to Bilal being hired. After the article in Het Parool, Bilal’s brother travelled to Syria as well. One of the clients Bilal worked with, Abderrazak A. O. threw a firebomb at a house, because it had a Charlie Hebdo-poster in the window. Bilal hasn’t worked for the municipality since April 2015, after investigations by De Telegraaf found that he advertised Jihad. In the Amsterdam Cityhall an email is doing the rounds with people’s experiences with Bilal. He travelled to Jordan for a fundraiser, afterwards telling youths how ‘blessed a country Syria is’ en how wicked Iran, Shiite Muslims and the Americans are. Complaints that Bilal ‘absolutely can’t be trusted’ and that he wasn’t deradicalised at all, were ignored.
Van der Laan has said he feels responsible for what has happened, a day before the debate that awaits him after the revelations with regard to the deradicalisation policy of the municipality.
According to De Telegraaf Van der Laan recognises that mistakes were made in implementing the policy, which lead to what has been called ‘a Muslim-cartel‘ of social-democratic Moroccan Muslims running and profiting from attempts at deradicalisation, which almost inevitably all failed. An investigation into proceedings has been announced, but chances of any firm conclusions being reached remain slim.