The Dutch defense ministry is facing criticism over an advisory it issued late last month telling soldiers not to wear their uniforms in public in their own country following online Islamist threats. Now, some soldiers are refusing to comply with the decision which has drawn scorn from those saying it conveys weakness to the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
Reports conflict as to whether it was an order or just advice that military personnel shed their uniforms before heading outside their workplaces, but it prompted Lieutenant Colonel Willem Schoonebeek to note, "It would be strange to participate in a mission in Iraq, while being too scared to advertise your profession in The Netherlands."
The decision came after a Dutch jihadist fighting with the Nusra Front in Syria calling himself Muhajiri Shaam posted threats online calling for a “strong, firm” attack against the Netherlands due to its support for U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, Agence France-Presse reported.
Having military personnel travel in civilian clothing "will stop drawing the attention of people who think 'that's someone I can attack,'" Dutch counter-terrorism chief Dick Schoof told the Dutch broadcaster NOS, calling the decision "a precautionary measure."
Soldier climbing out through the hatch of a military fighting vehicle on display during the first National Security Day held in the city of Almere, Netherlands, April 12, 2014 (Photo: Shutterstock/hipproductions)
Timon Dias of the Gatestone Institute examined the reactions in the Dutch media and wrote on Sunday: “By ordering Dutch soldiers to become ‘invisible’ in The Netherlands, what message is the government sending to its enemies, let alone its own citizens?” Dias wrote:
Dutch-Iranian law professor Afshin Ellian rightfully asks: if Dutch soldiers aren't safe anymore, than who is? Jihadists now know that a few tweets from a single Dutch jihadist can fundamentally alter Dutch defense policy. Dutch citizens now know that a few tweets from a single Dutch jihadist will send shivers down their government's spine and that -- instead of making sure all threats are neutralized -- it will order the personnel tasked with keeping them safe, to hide.
The Dutch-Israeli psychotherapist and author Martin van Vliet voices his concern: "Are we supposed to be protected by a military that orders its soldiers to start wearing the invisibility cloak as soon as they find out combating Jihad is not a video game without risks? The Dutch would be right not to place their trust in their military."
Dias wrote, “Such an operational transformation -- due to a tweet -- can only embolden Islamists to become more audacious and violent.”
Quoting Dutch news outlets, Dias reported that some soldiers have refused the order, including Lieutenant Colonel Willem Schoonebeek who said, "I will not be led by the dictatorship of a loud minority. This uniform represents the organization that our Defense Department is. We provide safety in The Netherlands and beyond. It would be strange to participate in a mission in Iraq, while being too scared to advertise your profession in The Netherlands."
“Just when you thought the West could not be more craven in the face of threats from Islamist terrorists,” Lori Lowenthal Marcus of The Jewish Press wrote Sunday of the defense ministry’s decision.
“Ah yes, better the bad guys should just attack Dutch civilians, that’s the ticket!” she quipped, adding “would it not make more sense for the military to double down and scare the living daylights out of the bad guys, rather than show their yellow streak to enemies and friends alike?”
One unusual side note about the defense ministry’s decision: Because customs agents in the Netherlands wear uniforms resembling those of the military, employees of that agency were also told to shed their uniforms before heading home for the day, Gatestone Institute reported, citing the news site De Telegraaf.