Abufazel is one of my students at the training my husband and I made for newcomers in the Netherlands, so they get some insight into the why of Dutch values and thought patterns.

I get to know Abufazel in Leiden. He is a quiet, thoughtful Palestinian Muslim who at one point had fled to Syria. Since Syria was not safe anymore, he took his wife and two sons and went on to the Netherlands, looking for safety and freedom.

Even though Abufazel is not very talkative, I see he intently listens to the lessons. One of those lessons is about freedom: about the background and the meaning of freedom for Dutch society. During that lesson, I tell about World War II and about the suffering of people, especially the Jewish people. Some students are skeptical about the Holocaust, others do not feel like talking about war.

Then I show a movie clip about the concentration camps. There is a deep silence in the room. That day, Abufazel says nothing.

A few weeks later, they are ready to receive their ‘Participation Statement’. During the last lesson I review the lessons we had before, and I ask which lesson they will not easily forget. Then I see Abufazel hesitatingly raise his hand for the first time. He clearly is nervous. With a small cough he opens up his voice and says: ‘That lesson about the Second World War and the images you showed us, I will never forget those. For the first time in my life as a Palestinian, I felt sympathy and compassion for Jews.’

Then he turns silent. After a few seconds he looks at me and says: ‘During that lesson, God softened my heart.’ I spontaneously get a lump in my throat. We look at each other, tears in our eyes. And I think: is this not the true meaning of freedom?

Sara van der Toorn (1976) is a trainer and speaker and regularly writes a blog in Visie, the magazine of EO broadcasting corporation. This blog is used with permission.

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