Something's Rotten in Rotterdam

Getting jumped by six Moroccans after I left a gay bar in Rotterdam a few weeks ago brought home -- with brutal clarity -- my feeling that this Dutch port city is a nervous place on the verge of breakdown.

Having studied in two European countries, lived and worked in three, and visited about two dozen over a 20-year period, I usually feel extremely safe meandering around the "old countries" of our Western civilization. But there's something rotten in Rot-town.

The city has been hard hit by the economic crisis. Unemployment is already twice the national average and over the next year could match the 20 percent rate of the 90s downturn.

But economics only partially explains why Rotterdam may see blood in the streets this summer.

Rotterdam's demographics make it the unofficial capital of Eurabia. Its population is half non-Western or of non-Western descent. Muslims make up close to 25 percent of its population. Unskilled, undereducated, and increasingly unemployed workers abound. And segregation -- ubiquitous in all large European cities -- is extremely acute here. Rotterdam's ghettos would make Hitler smile.

In the last few weeks, I've witnessed two violent incidents in downtown Rotterdam between whites and non-whites. Each started over absolutely nothing, but flared up like lighter fluid on hot coals. All sorts of racial and religious tensions -- which were only intensified by the 2002 murder of city leader Pim Fortuyn and the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh -- fog the streets of this working-class shipping town.

Everyone here walks around with a hair trigger. On a recent Sunday, a Moroccan man and his girlfriend walked past a group -- including myself -- that was smoking outside a gay bar. One Dutch gay man was briefly in the way of the girlfriend. The Moroccan spat on him. A brawl ensued. I kept my distance. Some of us, and the Moroccan, ran around the corner. I heard awful screams.

An hour later, one of the gay men returned with a torn shirt and a stab wound. The Moroccan had run into a kebab shop yelling, and about a dozen Moroccans came out and attacked the gays with knives. The stab victim also had a long knife cut along his neck -- slightly more pressure would have severed a major artery. The barman was nervous, fearing the Moroccans would return looking for trouble.

This was, in fact, the bar where I was attacked a week later by about six Moroccan youths:

"Are you British?"

"No, American."

"We hate America!"

"So?" One of the Moroccans pushed me. "Look man, I'm a Puerto Rican from New York."

"You are American. We hate America, Bush. Are you gay?"

"None of your f***ing business." I was then kicked and pushed to the floor. Kicked again. I grabbed the attacker's foot and managed to pull him to the ground before another blow.

Then someone from the second floor of the building yelled and threw something at them. They scattered.