Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was someone who proved that the actions of one man can often alter the course of history. Tragically, Bouazizi achieved his notoriety through the desperate act of self-immolation; a Tunisian street vendor whose desperate protests again municipal harassment and humiliation ended with his fiery suicide in January 2011. That singular act unleashed the tsunami of change dubbed the Arab Spring. His name and image were carried by demonstrators desperate for a better life and drove out seemingly invincible icons of Arab power, including Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Whether the Arab Spring will ultimately deliver a better tomorrow or prove to be a windfall for Islamist extremists, Bouazizi's martyred place in history is secure.
There is another young Muslim who deserves the world's attention and support. He is not a martyr and not seeking to become one. But as I write these words, he and his family are in hiding because of death threats from in the Netherlands.
Meet Mehmet Sahin, a doctoral student, who volunteers to re-educate street youth in the city of Arnhem. A few weeks ago he interviewed a group of Dutch-Turkish youth on Nederlands TV2 during which several declared their unabashed hatred of Jews and open admiration of Hitler. "What Hitler did to the Jews is fine with me," said one. "Hitler should have killed all the Jews," said another.
While the youngsters were aware of the fate of Anne Frank, it did not deter these teens from expressing their outright hatred of Jews over and over again, insisting that everyone at their school harbored similar views. As you can see, their smirks and body language confirm a deeply-embedded hatred. Watch the video as one boy smiles as he says: "What Hitler said about Jews is that there will be one day when you see that I am right that I killed all the Jews. And that day will come."
Where did all of this come from? Here's a hint. When Mehmet Sahin reprimanded them and indicated that he was committed to debunk the young people's hatred, here is how his neighbors reacted: They collected signatures to demand he leave the area. And when Mehmet began to receive death threats, the Mayor of Arnhem, Pauline Krikke, advised him to go into hiding.
And that is where he and his family are today.
Is this the best solution that democratic Netherlands can come up with? A witness protection program for a man guilty of fighting bigotry and standing up for the truth? Are there no consequences for the hate and threats emanating from adults?
At least one MP, Ahmed Marcouch said that he will raise the scandal in Parliament. "It is horrible that someone has to be afraid because he has done something that we all should do -- teach children not to hate."
Against the backdrop of Anne Frank's legacy, how the Netherlands deals with the challenge of such deeply embedded anti-Semitism will impact not only on Dutch Jewry but also on the future of the democratic values of Dutch society. As the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who was much revered by the post WWII generation in the Netherlands, warned: "History shows over and aver again that hate often begins with Jews, it never ends with the Jews."
Finally, these words from the accidental hero-in-hiding, who wrote this in a recent email --
Within a couple of days, I will move to another city of the Netherlands. My personal situation/story is a shame of the European civilization because it is inconceivable that such barbarism can occur in this country. After what happened in the last three weeks, I understood the eternal loneliness and pain of the Jewish population. In the rest of my life, I will tell the whole world that we all must resist this aggression...
There may not be much we can do to help Mehmet Sahin right now, except to let him know that he is not forgotten. Send a message of solidarity c/o firstname.lastname@example.org and together we will let him know he is not alone.