A Dutch Muslim politician has called for a ban on dogs in The Hague, the third-largest city in the Netherlands.
Islamic legal tradition holds that dogs are "unclean" animals, and some say the call to ban them in Holland and elsewhere represents an attempted encroachment of Islamic Sharia law in Europe.
This latest canine controversy -- which the Dutch public has greeted with a mix of amusement and outrage -- follows dozens of other Muslim-vs-dog-related incidents in Europe. Critics say it reflects the growing assertiveness of Muslims in Europe as they attempt to impose Islamic legal and religious norms on European society.
The Dutch dustup erupted after Hasan Küçük, a Turkish-Dutch representative on The Hague city council for the Islam Democrats, vehemently opposed a proposal by the Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren) to make the city more dog friendly.
According to a January 28 report in the Amsterdam-based newspaper De Telegraaf, Küçük counter-argued that keeping dogs as pets is tantamount to animal abuse and he then called for the possession of dogs in The Hague to be criminalized.
According to its website, the Islam Democrats [ID] party is "founded on the Islamic principles of justice, equality and solidarity. ID is a bottom-up response to the large gap between the Muslim and immigrant communities and local politics…ID focuses on the political awareness within the Muslim and immigrant communities. Awareness about the need to organize, but also the need for mutual support."
Paul ter Linden, who represents the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) on The Hague city council, responded to Küçük by saying: "In this country pet ownership is legal. Whoever disagrees with this should move to another country."
Dutch political commentators believe Küçük's declarations are a provocation designed to stir up the Muslim population in The Hague. Muslims -- who now make up more than 12% of the city's population of 500,000 -- view dogs as ritually unclean animals and Küçük's call for a ban on them is a sure vote-getter, they say.
The incident in Holland follows dog-related controversies in other European countries.
In Spain, two Islamic groups based in Lérida -- a city in the northeastern region of Catalonia where 29,000 Muslims now make up around 20% of the city's total population -- asked local officials to regulate the presence of dogs in public spaces so they do not "offend Muslims."
Muslims demanded that dogs be banned from all forms of public transportation including all city buses as well as from all areas frequented by Muslim immigrants. Muslims said the presence of dogs in Lérida violates their religious freedom and their right to live according to Islamic principles.
After the municipality refused to acquiesce to Muslim demands, the city experienced a wave of dog poisonings. More than a dozen dogs were poisoned in September 2011 (local media reports here, here, here, here and here) in Lérida's working class neighborhoods of Cappont and La Bordeta, districts that are heavily populated by Muslim immigrants and where many dogs have been killed over the past several years.
Local residents taking their dogs for walks say they have been harassed by Muslim immigrants who are opposed to seeing the animals in public. Muslims have also launched a number of anti-dog campaigns on Islamic websites and blogs based in Spain.
In Britain, which has become "ground zero" for Europe's canine controversies, blind passengers are being ordered off buses or refused taxi rides because Muslim drivers or passengers object to their "unclean" guide dogs.
In Reading, for example, one pensioner, a cancer sufferer, was repeatedly confronted by drivers and asked to get off the bus because of his guide dog. He also faced hostility at a hospital and in a supermarket over the animal.
In Nottingham, a Muslim taxi driver refused to carry a blind man because he was accompanied by his guide dog. The taxi driver was later fined £300 ($470).
In Stafford, a Muslim taxi driver refused to carry an elderly blind couple from a grocery store because they were accompanied by their seeing-eye dog.
In Tunbridge Wells, Kent, a blind man was turned away from an Indian restaurant because the owner said it was against his Muslim beliefs to allow dogs into his establishment.
In London, a bus driver prevented a woman from boarding a bus with her dog because there was a Muslim lady on the bus who "might be upset by the dog." As the woman attempted to complain, the doors closed and the bus drove away. When a second bus arrived, she again tried to embark, but was stopped again, this time because the driver said he was Muslim.
Also in Britain, police sniffer dogs trained to spot terrorists at train stations may no longer come into contact with Muslim passengers, following complaints that it was offensive to their religion.
A report for the Transport Department advised that the animals should only touch passengers' luggage because it is considered "more acceptable." British Transport Police still use sniffer dogs -- which are trained to detect explosives -- with any passengers regardless of faith, but handlers are now more aware of "cultural sensitivities."
Sniffer dogs used by police to search mosques and Muslim homes are now being fitted with leather bootees to cover their paws so that they do not cause offense.
Critics say the complaints are just another example of Muslims trying to force their rules and morals on British society. Tory MP Philip Davies said: "As far as I am concerned, everyone should be treated equally in the face of the law and we cannot have people of different religious groups laying the law down. I hope the police will go about their business as they would do normally."
Meanwhile, Muslim prisoners in Britain are being given fresh clothes and bedding after sniffer dogs search their cells.
The inmates say their bedclothes and prison uniforms must be changed according to Islamic law if they have come anywhere near dog saliva. Government rules mean prison wardens must hand out replacement sets after random drug searches to avoid religious discrimination claims.
The dogs have also been banned from touching copies of the Islamic holy book the Koran and other religious items. Prisoners are handed special bags to protect the articles.
In Scotland, the Tayside Police Department apologized for featuring a German shepherd puppy as part of a campaign to publicize its new non-emergency telephone number. The postcards are potentially offensive to the city's 3,000-strong Muslim community.
In Norway, Gry Berg, a blind woman, was denied entry into four taxis in the center of Oslo because she was accompanied by her guide dog.
In France, Marie Laforêt, one of the country's most well-known singers and actresses, appeared in a Paris courtroom in December to defend herself against charges that a job advertisement she placed discriminated against Muslims.
The 72-year-old Laforêt had placed an ad on an Internet website looking for someone to do some work on her terrace in 2009. She specified in the ad that "people with allergies or orthodox Muslims" should not apply "due to a small Chihuahua."
Laforêt claimed that she made the stipulation because she believed the Muslim faith saw dogs as unclean.
The case was taken up by an anti-discrimination group called the Movement against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP), which lodged a complaint against Laforêt.
Laforêt's lawyer said his client "knew that the presence of a dog could conflict with the religious convictions of orthodox Muslims. It was a sign of respect." But Muslims rejected her defense.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.