CURTIS & JAERO
Beyond stigmas, HIPSTER/MUSLIM aims to start a conversation. Through personal interviews about identity, prejudices, faith – it’s a new playground given to speech. In conversation with Curtis and Jaero, communication student and spatial planning.
Curtis Drunen (1983), Communications student and employee at a supermarket, lives in Rotterdam West, worked for Ettaouhid
Many say integration has failed, but I beg to differ. If I look at how Moroccan, Surinamese, Cape-Verdean and Turkish boys in my surroundings live and relate to society then I think they can be regarded super-Dutch. This all happened within fifty to sixty years, which I think is pretty fast. In the United States, for example, the differences are much bigger. Although unlike the mainstream or the bigger picture, differences have always been present within the Netherlands. Catholics, Protestants, and Calvinists all had very disparate cultures. Still, I think there most certainly is an overarching culture altogether. A collective identity, a flexible identity able to adjust to various situations. The Moroccans wear a Moroccan flag when Morocco is elected for the World Cup, but will wear the Dutch flag whenever the Dutch team needs to play. And in Kralingen I need to argument why West is better than East. Like a Russian Matroejska doll it unfolds itself.
Lately, there is a strong focus on ethnicity. You are considered Dutch when having blonde hair, blue eyes and a certain last name. When looking at myself: I have a Dutch father and a Surinamese mother who was born before 1975 (when Surinam still was Dutch territory). And I am a Muslim. I still consider myself a Dutchman: I am as autochthonous as it can be. It really is nonsense to think that there is one monoculture. Just because a group is all white, it does not mean they all share the same culture.
Sometimes I think to myself: is it really true that you do not have any opportunities here? There clearly are certain privileges among a certain group, but it is also a mentality issue. You need to address these things per individual and be careful with addressing it in general. It is a combination of things. My mother always used to say: you are black, so you will need to work harder. On one hand this should be an encouragement and motivation. On the other hand it gives you the feeling of being behind already: why run harder when you already are two steps behind?
When I converted I thought: I will now enter a community that shares everything with each other. Two weeks later I fully cured from this thought. I mean there is a community, but not a close one. There has been a time in which what being a Muslim meant was clearly defined. Now, the way of praying alone can start a discussion. There are certain values, but how many of these values come from the Arabic, Northern-African or Indonesian culture? The Muslim’s identity is being pulled apart.
Hip-hop inspired me to turn to the Islam. It started with Mos Def, who always started with ‘Bismillah’ at the beginning of his tracks. I wanted to know what that meant. Q-tip, A Tribe Called Quest and Ghostface-Killah (Wutang) are all Muslim. You run into more and more people who are Muslim and start asking questions. After interactions comes interest, from interest comes research, and from research comes conclusion. My decision to become a Muslim has a lot to do with my own logic. I have thought about it a lot: the existence of God. To me, that is the truth. However, I am always open to discuss the truth. That is also important. Eventually it has given me a great deal of peace, knowing that there is a god. It is the Islam that serves as the religion that belongs to that feeling and that belongs to me.
In the beginning I experienced difficulties in dealing with the emerging populism against Muslims. Now I experience it as shrieking, as a crying wolf as they would say in English. They name things without providing for possible solutions. I tend to focus on the rise of scepticism, rationalism and objectivism: the movements that arose during the age of Ayn Rand and that feed America’s conservatism. This is of high influence and is turning to Europe mainly due to the Internet. In America there is more of a racial than religious problem. In Europe we speak of a ‘religious conflict’, but the way I see it is that it is a culture clash in which Islam culture differs from Western culture in many ways.
Jaero (1995), spatial planning student, lives in Rotterdam West
I think it is great that there are so many different cultures in Rotterdam West. In Rotterdam North, where I also lived for some time, this is not as present. Over here, people respect each other on the streets. You walk on by and greet each other. It is a way of showing respect, like: ‘Hey, I saw you and I respect you’. This is very different from the ways in which people deal with each other in Rotterdam North. There, the people are much more distant, they do not look you in the eye. It is quite strange these differences can occur within the same city.
I study spatial planning. Urban planning is what people call it these days. An urban planner never designs for the individual, but always for the group. What you design is meant to last for a long period of time and, eventually, you want to contribute to the society at large. In my opinion the square or the piazza is where people can meet, relax and get to know each other. These squares are still very scarce in Rotterdam and if they are present, their purpose is to be functional and not to stimulate encounters and connections.
Lately, the discussions revolving around the topic of the Dutchman or the Dutch norm astonish me. Why do we not talk about the Dutch society? I perceive society as a ‘we’ and I am a part of that ‘we’. So why do we not approach it in a ‘we’ manner? Together we can achieve something.
Typical of Dutch culture is to think that everyone minds his or her own business. There is a strong sense of an ‘I’-culture. In a group setting everyone pays attention to each other. In a ‘we’-culture you get more retained, whereas in an ‘I’-culture you get motivated to develop your strengths and qualities.
What has gotten to my attention recently is that people are getting more and more distant from each other. There is a lot happening in the world around us. At the same time, the Netherlands is a relatively small and safe country so why do we keep such distance from the unknown? Why do we not approach one another in order to respect and understand each other better? At times like these you must find a way to transform this threat into strength for the better.
Our generation is much more open-minded. This comes to the fore on the streets, but also within education and nightlife. Eventually, everything will merge with each other. I really do hope we are headed that way and that we really start to look at a person instead or despite of their appearance, first name, last name, or their religion.
I was raised with two religions. My mother’s side was Islamic, my father’s Roman Catholic. I experienced birthdays, celebrations, baptisms, and the process of mourning through the eyes of both religions. I have been read two books that, in the end, describe and depict stories that share the same morality. Lessons like ‘live wisely’, and ‘act right’. I think it is quite funny that eventually both religions share the same meaning.
My parents endowed me with this knowledge and these experiences but told me I have to do what I want with it. Every now and then I drink, but I do not eat pork. You may find that hypocrite, but to me religion can serve as a guideline through life on which you can hold onto or step away from. It is not a fixed road that needs to be travelled.