Utrecht vows neutral approach to controversial imams

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The municipality of Utrecht has decided on a neutral approach to controversial imams. If controversial imams preaching in Utrecht creates unrest in the media, the municipality will react neutrally to prevent polarization.

This is according to the action plan "We are Utrecht together" - the city government's new approach to tackling radicalization, AD reports. "We try to avoid social unrest by neutral reactions", the document says. The action plan, designed under Mayor Jan van Zanen and alderman of welfare Margriet Jongerius, contains a broad approach to radicalization, focusing mainly on preventive action.

Concerning controversial imams, municipality spokesperson Sjoukje Volten stresses that freedom of speech and right to assembly applies. "By reacting neutrally in the media, we try to prevent unrest." According to Volten, if there are reports of a controversial imam in the media, the municipality makes contact with the organizers, the police and the National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism and Security to see whether there are grounds to act. "A radical viewpoint is not punishable, incitement to discrimination and incitement to violence are." Volten said. The municipality keeps a close eye on what the imam says during the assembly.

Other measures in the action plan include addressing discrimination, strengthening youth work, workshops on radicalization for organizations working with young people and a more positive media coverage on young people. The Utrecht city council believes that a comprehensive approach is necessary because of the wide variety of people that are sensitive to radicalization.

The City Council will discuss this plan after the summer. But the plan already faces some opposition. The CDA finds the media neutrality strategy incomprehensible. "People who come to preach terrorism go against the law. You have to have an opinion about that." CDA Councillor Marloes Metaal said according to the AD. The VVD also does not have a lot of confidence in the repressive measures. "Recruiters and hate imams should be hit hard. Drinking a cup of tea will not work." said VVD Councillor Queeny Raijkowski.

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