Breakdown By Numbers: Moroccan crime in the Netherlands

March 21, 2014  Vincent Ten Cate

Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands, has provoked widespread domestic outrage by making a series of anti-Moroccan statements during his campaign for the Dutch municipal elections of March 19. In an unprecedently candid street interview in The Hague, Wilders summed up his party’s agenda for the political capital as follows: “[we want] (…)fewer taxes and, if possible, fewer Moroccans”. Although the PVV’s official line had hitherto primarily been anti-Islamic, Wilders further consolidated his newly minted position of wholesale demonization of Netherlands-based Moroccans at a PVV rally the next day, by having a crowd of people chant “fewer, fewer!”, in reference to the ethnic group. In response to these chants, a smiling Wilders told the crowd that his party would “take care of that”. Wilders has since attempted to nuance his statement to only apply to criminals of Moroccan descent, citing the rationale that Moroccans are over-represented in Dutch crime statistics, but this has done little to assuage the public’s outrage: today alone, over 100 people pressed hate speech charges against Wilders. Moreover, one of the PVV’s own MPs, Roland van Vliet, decided to part ways with the party as a direct consequence of Wilders’ statements, which he deemed discriminatory. Another MP, PVV hopeful Joram van Klaveren, similarly left the party in the wake of Wilders’ remarks, stating that the party’s focus on generating media attention rather than finding solutions to problems was no longer in line with his own political goals. Judging from these various accounts, it seems like Wilders’ anti-Moroccan remarks were little more than spontaneous gaffes that may end up costing him and his party dearly.

However, local exit polls that asked voters what their vote would be if the national elections were held this year indicated just the opposite: according to these polls, the coalition parties VVD and PvdA would cede a combined total of 39 parliamentary seats, most of which would be swept up by the PVV, which the polls projected to grow by approximately 80% (12 seats).

Source: http://nos.nl/artikel/606390-peilingwijzer-oppositie-op-winst.html

Although these projections are based on weighted averages, and the PVV was locally represented in only two municipalities (introducing a major bias), at any rate, it does not seem like the PVV lost electoral support over Wilders’ anti-Moroccan remarks. Quite to the contrary — Wilders’ new position appears to have struck a chord with the large majority of his constituency: in an opinion poll (n=8000) conducted yesterday, 89% of PVV voters indicated that they did not take offense to Wilders’ anti-Moroccan statements. Unless we are to conclude that all of these people are simply racist, it is perhaps best to investigate whether Wilders’ statements are based in some kind of empirical truth, as he himself insists: are Netherlands-based Moroccans indeed over-represented in Dutch crime statistics?

The Breakdown

Wilders has frequently stated that 65% of all Moroccan youths have at one point or another been detained by the police on suspicion of criminal activity. He seems to have based this statistic on a cohort study conducted by the CBS from 1999-2009, in which it was found that 65% of all Moroccan boys (not youths in general) in the followed group were at one point suspected of a crime by the police. Note that the report did not state whether or not these suspicions turned out to be legitimate, but that is, for now, besides the point. In the study, 25% of the ‘native’ Dutch boys in the cohort were also at some point suspected of a crime. Based on this study alone, boys of Moroccan descent thus do indeed seem to have a higher likelihood of being suspected of a crime than their ‘native’ Dutch counterparts. Although there is likely a degree of ethnic profiling-induced bias going on here, the difference between the groups is undeniably quite big.

Now let’s have a look at some more general statistics.

As the Dutch bureau of statistics (CBS) has records going up to 2012, all the calculations below are based on a fairly recent subset of demographic and crime-related statistics: 2010-2012. Over this period of time, I compared the number of criminal suspects of Moroccan descent to the total number of criminal suspects, as well as to the total number of ethnically Moroccan inhabitants of the Netherlands per annum. The reason I used statistics pertaining to criminal suspects rather than convicts is simply because the latter data are not available on the CBS’s public website (statline.cbs.nl).

Over the period 2010-2012, there was an average number of 355,947 registered ethnic Moroccans residing in the Netherlands, representing roughly 2% of all people living in the Netherlands during this period. Of these Moroccans, a yearly average of 18,387, or 5.2% (figure A), were registered as suspected criminals. Clearly, from a purely statistical point of view, ethnic Moroccans in general aren’t particularly criminally inclined. So, onto the next question: are Moroccans over-represented in crime statistics?

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From 2010-2012, there was a yearly total average of 257,623 criminal suspects, of whom a yearly average of 18,387 were of Moroccan descent. This means that an average of 7.1% (figure B) of all criminal suspects in this period were ethnic Moroccans – still not a very impressive portion of the overall number of suspects. Now, granted, it is a higher proportion than might be expected based off the fact that the ethnic Moroccan segment of the Dutch population comprises only 2%, which means that they are in fact statistically over-represented. That said, the ethnic Moroccan share of all ‘crime’ (and remember: these figures refer to criminal suspects) in the Netherlands is not nearly as much as Wilders might have you believe.

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Now that that’s settled, it might be interesting to take a quick look at the composition of Wilders’ own party. For a party so committed to the upholding of the law, we should expect the PVV to be fully comprised of law abiding citizens. It might be surprising, then, that five of the PVV’s MPs who were incumbent during the same time period (2010-2012) are reported to have a criminal record. Across this period, the PVV had a yearly average of 26 MPs, which means that approximately 19% of the PVV had a criminal record during this period (figure C). Although this is still lower than the 25% of suspected criminals among native Dutch boys that came out of the CBS cohort study, it is a much more conclusive number given the fact that it refers to criminal records as opposed to mere suspicion of criminal activity.

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As far as is publicly known, only 7 Dutch MPs (out of the parliament’s 150 seats) had criminal records during this time period. This means that, even though the PVV only represented a yearly average of 17% of all seats in parliament, they accounted for 71% of all criminal record-holders in parliament. (How is that for statistical over-representation?)

Edit (March 22):

On the basis of the figures presented above, the assertion that ethnic Moroccans are statistically over-represented in Dutch crime figures is indeed correct, and this problem by all means should be addressed. That said, the annual contribution of ethnic Moroccans to the overall crime figures is much smaller than Wilders’ aggressive posturing might suggest, and his blanket statements targeting all Dutch Moroccans can safely be dismissed as gross exaggerations. Additionally, there are a number of important caveats to make if one is to engage in sensible comparative analysis between autochtonous Dutch and ethnic Moroccans in the first place. Just as claiming that being a member of the PVV will increase your proclivity to crime makes no sense, it would be a logical fallacy to infer from these statistics that ethnicity is an explanatory variable for crime. More likely origins of this increased correlation include — but aren’t necessarily limited to — the higher rates of unemployment and poverty and the relative lack of post-secondary education among ethnic Moroccans as compared to the autochtonous Dutch (source: CBS). This inequality between ethnic groups is hardly surprising when considered in light of the history of Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands: the majority of Moroccans in the Netherlands are recent descendants of, or are themselves, low-skilled ‘guest laborers’ invited to fill undesirable vacancies in the 1960s. Consequently, it stands to reason that this ethnic group on the whole is less socioeconomically developed than the native Dutch population, which renders one-to-one comparisons between these ethnic groups rather senseless.

Another important fact to take into consideration is that an exceptionally large proportion of suspected criminals of Moroccan descent are repeat offenders. In the same cohort study as mentioned above, the authors note that a “relatively small group of (…) Moroccan perpetrators is (…) responsible for a relatively big part of the criminal activity registered for the (…) Moroccans in this cohort” (page 16). This may well skew the annual representation of ethnic Moroccans among suspected criminals considerably upward.

The conclusion to all this — if anything — should be that statistics should never be taken at face value, and that context is important. Still, if the numbers are anything to go by, crime figures in the Netherlands would suffer a small dent at best if all ethnic Moroccans were to leave the Netherlands tomorrow, and so Wilders would be wise to start diversifying his political scapegoats.

China and the Crimea Conundrum

March 11, 2014  Vincent Ten Cate

With the EU-US alliance’s imposition of heavy sanctions on Russia over its de facto annexation of Crimea, the world is now looking to Russia’s perceived long-term strategic ally China to deliver a breakthrough in the diplomatic deadlock that has emerged between Putin and the West. While many analysts were expecting China to side with Russia on account of their track record of UN Security Council veto alignment, or even because Russian expansion might set a precedent for an eventual Taiwan takeover, so far Beijing has issued a series of statements that can perhaps most aptly be described as non-committal.

Above all else, China has urged the involved parties to refrain from escalating the situation with violence, stating that “the situation in Ukraine is extremely complex” and that “an open attitude” is key to resolving the conflict. Indeed, Beijing’s diplomatic rhetoric in this unfolding crisis has been rather opaque, hinting perhaps more than anything at a desire to ‘stay out of it’ – which would altogether be an understandable wish considering the already generous amount of political turmoil on Beijing’s plate (e.g. last week’s North Korean missile launches, the Uighur knife attack, territorial tensions in SE Asia). Meanwhile, Chinese newspapers, known for their jingoist language and widely considered to be mouthpieces of the CCP, have been less subtle: according to them, the West is stuck in a “Cold War mentality”, exacerbating the situation with their threats of sanctions and overly bellicose language. Still, all things considered, China has generally kept a low profile throughout this crisis, and doesn’t seem particularly eager to abandon its position of neutrality anytime soon.

Even so, China did allegedly publicly speak out against the Russian incursion into Crimea last week, citing the necessity to respect Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” as the reason for doing so. This statement is concordant with Beijing’s long-term pattern of categorically opposing any political measure that oversteps national boundaries, recent examples of which are China’s UNSC vetoes against military action in the Libya and Syria crises. What the language of the Chinese statements also closely mimics, however (and what many analysts tend to overlook), is the Chinese response to the Russia-Georgia conflict of 2008, which ended in Russia declaring the pro-Russia territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia independent. In 2008, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang stated:

We have a knowledge of the complicated history and reality of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia issues. In accordance with China’s consistent and principled stance on issues of this kind, we hope the relevant parties can resolve the issue through dialogue and consultation.

Replace ‘South Ossetia and Abkhazia’ with ‘Crimea’, and this statement could have been issued just yesterday. Given their history, China’s current stance thus really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Still, China’s insistence that territorial integrity should be respected appears to be at considerable odds with their own claims to several territories, notably Taiwan and the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the South China Sea. Why then should we consider China’s gratuitous wilsonianisms as anything other than tu quoque fallacies? And why should China even care about what Russia does in the first place, much less imperil their strategic cooperation with the fellow communist country by explicitly voicing their displeasure?

There are any number of discernable reasons as to why China could be irked over the Crimea situation, among them not wanting to sour trade relations with the West, or even the $10 billion nuclear pact Chinese president Xi Jinping signed with Ukraine’s Yanukovich on December 5, 2013, which was part of China’s plan to establish a “nuclear umbrella” of its own. Realistically, though, trade relations with the West would probably not have suffered had China remained silent, and the ousting of Yanukovich — however convenient for Putin — was not instigated by the Kremlin. The most important reason behind China’s subtle denouncement of Putin’s move into Crimea is most likely of a wholly different nature, and can be explained by looking at Russia’s treatment of the Tatars of Crimea.

Last week, big X’s suddenly started appearing on the front doors of many Crimean Tatars, the indigenous muslim inhabitants of Crimea. The marks were left by gangs of Kremlin apologists, and they invoked a particularly nasty episode in Crimean Tatar history: in 1944, Stalin had his police force carve X’s in the doors of Crimean Tatars, after which they were promptly deported from the peninsula. This time around, the marks were left as a warning, dissuading Tatars — who, post-Stalin, constitute only a small minority on the peninsula—from voting pro-Ukraine in the upcoming referendum. The Tatars have responded in varying ways, some fleeing Crimea, while others have banded together in groups to patrol their neighborhoods. Although it is not clear whether Russian troops or rather civilians were the ones to mark the doors, Putin has done nothing to mitigate the resulting unrest among the Tatars. Instead, he has reiterated his line of protecting the ethnically Russian majority of Crimea on several occasions, exacerbating ethnic tensions and indicating that the minorities simply aren’t of particular importance to him.

But they are to China.

Much like in 2008, Putin has fashioned the narrative underlying his expansionist maneuver into Crimea on the basis of ethnicity, rather than territory. The reason why China objected to South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence then, and is objecting to Crimean independence now, is not because it doesn’t set a precedent for uncontested expansion into historical territory – it is because it sets the wrong kind of precedent. Rather than paving the way for a Chinese incursion into Taiwan, a territory to which China argues to have a historical claim, it underlines and legitimates the political cleavages between ethnicities. This runs directly counter to the CCP’s domestic policy, which has historically been to nip all claims to independence made by ethnic minorities (of which over 55 exist in China) firmly in the bud – lest China go down the same road as the Soviet Union. Beijing has been very crafty in carrying out this policy, using sanctions and even arranging mass immigrations of Han Chinese to minority-dominated areas to gradually dilute manifestations of minority culture, but the administration nonetheless regularly meets with passionate resistance. The most famous example of resistance to this policy of establishing a Chinese monoculture is perhaps Tibet, but the Uighurs – who reside in the Xinjiang area – have been even more prolific in voicing their disgruntlement, and the recent knife attack certainly shouldn’t be considered an isolated incident.

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i Map of China by ethnic distribution

A look at the above ethnic map of China immediately explains why the CCP is so determined about curbing ethnic tensions and keeping China unified: even though the ethnic minorities only make up about 9% of the Chinese population, they inhabit a large land mass of China – the most important parts of which, Tibet and Xinjiang, coincidentally have important strategic value. The Chinese are famously strapped for resources, and as it turns out, Xinjiang is home to particularly large oil, gas and mineral deposits. Xinjiang also has pipelines running through it that supply China with valuable oil, and the region provides direct access to many resource-rich neighboring countries. Tibet, on the other hand, has valuable forest and fresh water resources to supplement their mineral deposits, on which China as a whole is heavily dependent. Control of the Tibetan plateau additionally represents political leverage in South East Asia, simply because of the fact that many of the rivers that run through neighboring countries originate there.

Besides these resources, the Tibet and Xinjiang regions also represent huge geopolitical benefits. The two regions fence off China from India and the Central Asian countries, and their rugged mountain ranges provide an additional layer of protection against potential military invasions from the outside. From a trade perspective, having control over Tibet and Xinjiang means having land routes to the Persian Gulf states, which are among China’s main oil suppliers. Absent these, China would be forced to open up more circuitous avenues of sea trade, which are both more vulnerable and more costly. All in all, then, China would suffer huge losses strategically, financially and from a natural resources-POV if the Tibetans and Uighurs were to secure their independence, and it is from this perspective that we should understand China’s domestic policy: the Chinese have no option but to downplay the importance of ethnicity.

In Crimea, the Chinese recognize yet another example of a state breaking down because of a dominant ethnicity claiming independence in one of its constituent regions, and this is exactly the kind of precedent China is not willing to help set.