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Student has to cancel lecture in Westerbork because of threats

Always looking over your shoulder, never staying in one place for too long and getting anonymous phone calls from people wishing you dead. Master’s student in Political Science Wahhab Hassoo (28) has been receiving threats for quite some time, but since the flare-up of the war between Israel and Palestine, the floodgates have been opened.  

Last Sunday, Hassoo, who is of Yazidi origin, was supposed to give a lecture in Westerbork together with Emmy Drop, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor. They had to cancel that lecture because of threats. “For myself, I would have preferred to go”, says Hassoo. “I have already been through so much that I am not easily scared. But by mutual agreement, we decided not to do it after all. Westerbork Memorial does not have the resources to secure our safety and I did not want to put Emmy or the audience in danger”, Hassoo says.  

No position taken 

The lecture would be about the Holocaust and the genocide against the Yazidis by ISIS in 2014 and 2015, in which thousands of Yazidis were murdered and many Yazidi women were abused as sex slaves by ISIS fighters. Hassoo and Drop frequently give lectures together, including at secondary schools. Westerbork Memorial published an earlier lecture by Hassoo and Drop online last Sunday. 

Why Hassoo as a Yazidi is facing a sharp increase in threats since the war between Israel and Palestine is unclear. “I speak out against violence against civilians in general, I am an ambassador for the National Committee for 4 and 5 May, but I have never taken a position in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and I am not going to do so”, Hassoo said. 

Police is investigating

Another lecture by Hassoo at a library in Bergen op Zoom at the end of this week is still scheduled to happen. “That one is about how I found my way in the Dutch education system over the past eight years, so it really has nothing to do with politics”, he says.  

Hassoo will receive his master’s degree in Political Science this month. At VU Amsterdam, he has not yet experienced any direct threats, but in recent weeks he has had the impression that he is being followed.  

Since early October, he has been receiving dozens of phone calls from people scolding, threatening and wishing him dead. He also receives threats via email and social media. They are so serious that Hassoo has not stayed in one place for long periods of time these recent weeks. He has been sleeping at different addresses.  

“The threats come from different places. I cannot say anything else about them. Fortunately, the police have now started an investigation.” 

Won’t be silenced 

Hassoo, who is number 40 on the candidate list for Nieuw Sociaal Contract, Pieter Omtzigt’s political party, realises that it is a small group of people that is threatening him. He grew up in Iraq among Muslims and has many friends who are Muslim.   

“My Muslim friends also find it incomprehensible and against their faith that I am threatened by other Muslims, but there is a small group that interprets the Quran in such a way that it allows them to commit violence against others.” He does find it a problem that mainstream Muslim organisations such as the Council of Mosques have yet to condemn ISIS’ crimes, such as the genocide of the Yazidis. “Mosques play a crucial role in promoting peace, reconciliation and tolerance. I expect the Council of Mosques to take this responsibility seriously and actively distance itself from any hatred and violence against the Yazidi community.”  

These are uncertain times for Hassoo. He does not know whether his candidature for Nieuw Sociaal Contract can go ahead because of the threats. At the same time, he is laconic: “I survived Iraq, Al-Qaeda and ISIS. I am now in the Netherlands. I have no intention of being silenced.” 


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