Criminologist Abdessamad Bouabid (36) grew up in a traditional Moroccan family in Utrecht. At home he experienced being Moroccan as positive, but on the street and on television he saw the downside of his dual nationality. “Moroccans in the Netherlands are associated with criminality, nuisance and radicalisation. How is it that when I walk around a supermarket, security end up in the same aisle as me four times? This raises questions.” Questions that he struggled with as a teenager and eventually found the answers to in criminology.

Abdessamad Bouabid is assistant professor at the Erasmus School of Law. He conducts research into the stigma of Moroccans in the Netherlands and the impact of this on Moroccans themselves. He also teaches criminology students. His dissertation has been published as a book: De Marokkanenpaniek.

Following two unsuccessful degree studies, Bouabid decided to study something that really interested him. Without any plans for the future. After searching on the internet he ended up with psychology, for which he needed to take a maths test before being admitted. “They sent some test papers and I thought: shit, this is just maths. Let’s not bother.” Then he read about Criminology and he was certain immediately: this is it. He passed the mandatory SPSS course by the skin of his teeth.

New is scary

Bouabid started reading criminological literature during his study. The book Folk Devils and Moral Panics by Stanley Cohen made a real impression. Cohen describes 1960s England, in which the British culture of gentility, prudishness and order were confronted by a new youth culture. British adults couldn’t stand those young people with long hair and free sexual morals. A minor disagreement between sections of the population was made into a major problem by the media. Politicians also intervened in the most minor of incidents to make clear that debauchery, rebellion and hedonism had no place England. According to Cohen, the overreaction of the British was a result of their concerns about losing their own culture.

Bouabid read the book by accident when he was searching for a thesis topic and wondered whether the response of British adults was similar to the response to Muslims and Moroccans in the Netherlands. “If a Moroccan commits a criminal act, the papers also write about other crimes previously committed by Moroccans. They throw everything at it to show that the problem of Moroccans in the Netherlands is a big one.” Bouabid wanted to understand the negative responses to Muslims and Moroccans, so the book Folk Devils and Moral Panics formed the starting point for his thesis about the social responses to Muslims in the Netherlands.

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And he didn’t stop there. He received a nine for his thesis, and his supervisor asked whether he wanted to obtain a doctorate. “I didn’t even know what a doctorate was.” But Bouabid was quickly convinced and arranged two hundred thousand in funding. “On the day that it was announced that I was going to do funded research into the stigma of Moroccans in the Netherlands, the media got involved. Theodor Holman suggested in a column in Het Parool newspaper that two hundred thousand for research into the image of Moroccans was a waste of money.

Most important motivation: “Interest in social reality, which is why I only read non-fiction.”

Number of books per year: 20

Favourite genre: Criminology literature

Most recent book: Jonathan Ilan, 2015, Understanding Street Culture: Poverty, Crime, Youth and Cool

What impact did the negative image have on Moroccans themselves? It was a question that Bouabid had already struggled with as a teenager. In his thesis, he was able to formulate a scientific answer to this. And one thing is certain: Moroccans are well aware of their poor image. That’s why they may decide not to run for that train that’s about to set off or why they make a point of chatting to store staff every day so that they don’t come across as suspicious. Bouabid grew a beard last year. “I’m constantly worrying about it. Are people really more wary of me than when I didn’t have a beard, or am I imagining it?”

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