What does it take to bring two cultures together? When cultures clash, unity can seem impossible, but there is a solution. An example to follow. It can be found in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, in a small city famous for--of all things--its cheese. The city is Gouda, and the example is its Moroccan youth community.
Generations of immigrants from the North African country of Morocco have made the Netherlands their home. Consequently, there is a strong Moroccan presence in Gouda, which includes many males in their teens and early twenties. Technically, they are Dutch, since they've been born and raised in Holland, but their families still lead lives steeped in Moroccan tradition and culture. This creates a vivid contrast between the atmosphere at home, and that at school and in the city.
This contrast has caused problems. In the past, the young Moroccans mainly stayed together, clearly separated from the Dutch. They congregated on the streets of Gouda and created an intimidating presence. Idleness often led to mischief and crime, and the Moroccans earned a bad reputation in the community. The area where they gathered was considered unsafe.
Local shop owner Raschid Tighadouine had experienced his share of trouble with them. Not only had some been kicked out of his shop for stealing, but feelings between Raschid's Dutch employees and the Moroccans were at best, tense, and at worst, explosive. Raschid, also a Dutch-Moroccan, felt he must do something about the situation.
His desire was to improve his neighbourhood and provide a service to the young Moroccans who were headed in the wrong direction. `I wanted to make the two cultures understand each other better and more. This would improve the young peoples' chances of achieving a good place in society.' So, with the help of a man named Melgior, Raschid established a youth centre. The idea of the centre--called R and M for Raschid and Melchior--was to provide a place other than the streets for both Moroccan and Dutch young people to go after work or school.
Unlike school, the centre has few restrictions. `We make the least rules possible, and those we do make come from the kids themselves,' states an R and M social worker. The idea is that people will attend because they want to and not feel they are going from one restrictive environment to another. The centre is a place to relax, socialise and have fun without spending money. Games such as billiards and pinball, and some planned activities, are offered. Here people can escape from outside problems, but at the same time discuss these problems and look for solutions. According to Mostapha Elhatri, a Moroccan who attends the centre, `Its importance is that it brings people together.'
At present, there are approximately sixty people involved with R and M whose ages range from sixteen to twenty-six. Since the centre's foremost purpose is to unite cultures, it is open to everyone. Non-Moroccan Dutch are welcome to attend, and do. For the time being however, it is predominantly Moroccan males who belong.
Twenty-two year old Social Worker Omar Elhatri admits that the centre caters to `a hard group of kids.' Yet one of the favourite topics of conversation for these hard kids is religion. Islam is the faith shared by almost all R and M members. Questions about traditional Islamic beliefs and how they conflict with day to day life in Holland are common. The boys understand that religion can create rifts between cultures, and they are looking for answers. Mostapha Elhatri maintains that, `One can't change religion. People should change, not religion.'
And since the establishment of the centre, people have changed, and both the Moroccan and Dutch communities have benefited. On New Year's Eve, when the city of Gouda was about to ring in 1999, members of the R and M centre voluntarily helped Gouda police with crowd control and keeping the streets free of crime and vandalism. This was in stark contrast to past years when the Moroccan youths were seen more as troublemakers than peacemakers. Then, they were the ones to watch out for. Now, they watch out for others. The Moroccans made headlines in the local papers for their New Year's Eve help, and they were praised by both police and citizens.
The youths are becoming positive members of the community, and the Dutch are noticing. It has come to a point where both can sit down together, discuss issues of the past and future, and enjoy each others' company without the static of fear or resentment from either side. A level of cultural harmony is being reached in Gouda. As stated by Raschid, `It gives a lot of satisfaction to see a district which was badly recommended growing again, and to see people walking around and children playing while feeling safe.' It is the start of two cultures being brought together.
Christine Kenny, USA
The clash of Eastern and Western cultures is often talked about on a global scale. Many people around the world are trying to build bridges, understanding, and communication between the two. After meeting the aforementioned Moroccans, I can see that there are people trying to build similar bridges within themselves.
I was born in England; many of the Moroccans I met in Holland were born there. On the one hand I was brought up in the Western culture that surrounds me, on the other hand I was brought up in an Eastern (Indian) family culture. I happily accepted both, but at the same time was challenged to balance both. You cannot simply disregard your parents' traditions and their forefathers' before them, and you cannot live a traditional Indian life in a Western world. The two cultures can often clash leaving you lost, unhappy, and unable to find your individual identity. I feel this is a common problem in the West among young ethnic people who are born here.
I think it is a privilege to be part of two cultures; they give you more of an opportunity to learn who you really are. This you is much deeper than culture or religion. I believe that if you know yourself, learn about your own uniqueness and inner being, this is where your true identity lies. It is not just the balance of cultural ideas that is necessary, it is the balance of your inner life and outer reality--this for me is the real struggle in life.
Bhavesh Patel, UK
Author : Mr. X
Creation date: 2000-2-12-19-34
Modification date: 2000-2-12-19-34