The chairman of Amsterdam borough Slotervaart, which has made headlines in recent years for its residents’ homophobia, is to introduce a raft of controversial new measures to ease tensions between the Islamic and gay communities.
Ahmed Marcouch hopes his proposals, which include a gay pride parade, will increase tolerance for gays in the area.
Among the plans are the opening of a gay bar, education programmes for the neighbourhood’s primary schools and football tournaments between gay and immigrant teams, many of whom originally come from Morocco.
Mr Marcouch told Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad: “The freedom of gay people is my freedom and my freedom is the freedom of gay people.”
Slotervaart is also home to a large recreational ground often used as a cruising zone for gay men.
The area made the news in 2004 when Islamic extremist Mohammad Bouyeri murdered film director Theo Van Gogh for his film in which he criticised Islam.
In 2008, a report was commissioned by the University of Amsterdam found low tolerance of homosexuality among young men in Slotervaart.
One resident stated: “They are not people. Dogs, monkeys, animals are better than those people.”
Marcouch believes his deep end strategy for integrating both communities will take time. As a Muslim of Moroccan decent, he has already made an appearance at a gay celebration of the end of the Muslim festival of Ramadan known as the ‘Pink Eid Al-Fitr’.
He would also like to see the Amsterdam gay pride event, one of the world’s largest gay pride events to start in Slotervaart.
As the event has traditionally taken place on the city’s canals, this idea has been deemed impractical by the organisers, and have instead suggested that Slotervaart lead the way by giving them space on the leading boat.
Organiser Frank van Dalen said: “If Gay Pride can’t come to Slotervaart, Slotervaart can come to Gay Pride,”
Marcouch was unhappy with the compromise, stating: “It’s about the change that should take place here, not in the centre.
“We’re going to take the confrontational approach and it will be painful at times.”