The children of Moroccan and Turkish migrants feel more at home in the Netherlands than they would feel if they moved to their country of origin. Many of them are frustrated by the way that public opinion links their identity to their faith. These conclusions are drawn from an analysis of a series of 29 narratives documented by Femke Stock from the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. She will be awarded a PhD for her research by the University of Groningen on 11 September. The life stories revolve around the theme ‘home’, and create a chequered picture of the people interviewed. Stock: ‘I wanted to speak to the Turkish and Moroccan-born Dutch citizens who usually remain in the background. Not the religious fanatics or the successful stand-up comedians, but the ‘ordinary’ men and women who have lived in the Netherlands for all (or most) of their lives.’
These days, increasingly more adults of Moroccan or Turkish descent have lived in the Netherlands practically all their lives and established firm roots here. This group has been the subject of numerous statistical studies into their incomes, religious inclinations, civic integration and patriotism – parameters that are being given more and more weight when it comes to formulating policy and forming public opinion. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) also compiles figures showing how many of these people feel ‘at home’ in the Netherlands; in 2012, this was 60%. But figures do not give the whole picture, says Stock: ‘I zoomed in on the personal narratives, which show that it is possible to have different, sometimes conflicting, feelings about the Netherlands and that these feelings evolve and change during a person’s lifetime. The narratives put the statistical snapshots into perspective. I have nothing against statistics, but on their own, they do not reveal the full story.’
For her research, Stock interviewed a group of Dutch citizens of Moroccan and Turkish descent. According to her, we tend to talk about these people rather than to them. ‘They are constantly being measured to see whether they feel ‘at home’ enough, as if feeling at home is a criterion for being properly integrated. But in the accounts that I heard, this kind of scepticism makes people feel less at home. They care about how people in the Netherlands think about them – many of them hoped that my book would explain “what we’re really like”.’ As ‘feeling at home’ is also an interesting anthropological and psychological phenomenon, Stock targeted the descendants of migrants for her research: people from urban and rural areas, highly and poorly qualified, employed and unemployed, men and women. The way the interviewees talked about the complex term ‘home’ provided her with insight into their identity. Her thesis explores topics such as social relationships and individual character, countries and houses, discrimination, family and Islam, and shows how these topics come together in people’s personal narratives.
One of the more striking results of the research is that the conclusions are far from unanimous. The thesis shows that Stock’s discussion partners do not feel ‘just Muslim’, and that defining them purely in terms of their religious identity is doing them an injustice. ‘Public debate often overemphasizes the role of Islam in the everyday life of ordinary Muslims. The fact that many Muslims consider their faith to be important does not mean that it dictates their life choices and behaviour. Religion is often important, but their entire lives do not revolve around worship.’
Stock shows that ‘feeling at home’, ‘integration’ and ‘loyalty to the Netherlands’ are commonly (and incorrectly) lumped into one. ‘I spoke to people who at first sight appeared to be completely integrated, but who did not feel at home because they were excluded, and people who made decisions that we would perhaps label non-integrated, but whose loyalty to the Netherlands was beyond doubt. Having said this, one must feel at home before one can feel loyalty.’
Femke Stock (Berlin, 1981) studied Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. She completed a research Master’s in Religious Symbols and Traditions, and conducted her research at the Graduate School of Theology and Religious Studies, in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. Stock now works as a pastoral carer. She will defend her thesis entitled Speaking of home. Home and Identity in the multivoiced narratives of descendants of Moroccan and Turkish migrants in the Netherlands on 11 September. Prof. Hetty Zock is her supervisor, and Dr Marjo Buitelaar her second supervisor. Stock was awarded a Top Talent grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to conduct this research.
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