Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Netherlands - Difficult Decisions

In response to a recent comment from a reader, I am going to provide a brief discussion of this Northwestern European country. Before I get into the main issue I want to discuss, I feel compelled to clarify something that I am sure has confused many geography students over the years (it confused the heck out of me!): The name of this country. The correct name is The Netherlands NOT Holland. Holland consists of two of this country's provinces (out of 12!), called North Holland and South Holland. The provinces of Holland encompass the Country's three major cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. This may be why the whole country is attributed that name, but I am sure the other 10 provincial residents do not appreciate that.

Now that I have that off my chest, I will move on. Although this country has a long and rich history, I have chosen to focus my discussion on a tough choice this country is facing.

The Netherlands has long been known for its social tolerance with some of the most liberal policies in the world regarding recreational drugs, prostitution, euthanasia and many others. This tolerance is facing one of its biggest challenges due to demographic changes and a few current events I will outline in the next few paragraphs.

I have selected the following events to provide context to a potentially significant change in the approach of the Dutch Nation:

1. May 6, 2002 - Controversial Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, running on a strong anti-immigration platform, with strong views challenging Islam, was shot dead while campaigning 9 days before the election. To clarify, the murderer was a non-muslim dutch citizen who claimed the murder was, "to protect weaker groups in society".

2. November 2, 2004 - Dutch film director, Theo Van Gogh, was brutally murdered by a Dutch Moroccan citizen. This murder occurred after Van Gogh had produced a film, Submission, which was critical of the treatment of woman within Islam.

3. The right of centre, "Party for Freedom", running on a platform that proposes to ban immigration from non-western countries, won 5.9% of the vote in the Netherland's 2006 parliamentary elections and won 17% of the Dutch vote in the 2009 European parliamentary elections. As this country is usually run by a coalition government, with many parties, these numbers are significant with 2006 being a fifth place finish and 2009 being a second place finish. It should also be noted that this party was formed in 2006, the year of its fifth place finish.

4. There are many other events that have influenced this country's shifting opinion including: The 2004 siege of a government building by terrorists with grenades for one hour; Somali born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a politician and prominent critic of Islam who was involved in Van Gogh's screen play for Submission, was forced to flee to the US due to multiple death threats.

Demographics in the Netherlands began to change a generation ago with a large influx of Turkish and Moroccan immigrants. These immigrants mainly kept to themselves and identified more with their home countries than the Netherlands. The issue of radicalization began when the children of these immigrants did not identify with their parents or home countries but more with Islam and the global Islamic movement. This change in view has resulted in a great pool for radical Islamic groups looking to recruit, and that is the genesis of the radicalization occurring in the Islamic community.

This situation is not unique to the Netherlands, with other western European countries experiencing the same trends and discord. Reactions by governments have included France's ban on "religious symbols (Including the Muslim traditional headscarf, the "Hijab") in public educational institutions and the Swiss government's recent ban on minarets. What is unique is to the Netherlands is their extreme tolerance and tradition of multiculturalism and acceptance.

What we have here is a polarized society facing a few tough questions:

Are they willing to adapt their model of tolerance to accommodate strong laws on immigrant assimilation and immigration, targeted specifically to Muslims? This question goes both ways as it is argued that this is a measure essential to protect their culture of tolerance.

Do the strong laws mentioned above contravene everything they have achieved in terms of personal freedoms and acceptance? Has their openness and tolerance been abused to the point that they are willing to change it?

There are no easy answers to these questions. I am not going to answer them for you but would very much appreciate your opinion on this matter. Please feel free to leave your comments.

NOTE: Although I encourage open & free expression, any comments that contain profanities or aim to incite hate, will be removed.


Wessel said...

Thanks for accepting my request. First off, you're partially right about why our country is often called Holland instead of its official name The Netherlands. Throughout history we've not always been united, in fact, we were a number of citystates with own governments at some point. However, Holland was unified and later united with the other provinces to form The Netherlands.

Then to the questions you address. Personally, I do not like strong laws, regarding most issues, not just immigration. Perhaps that's part of the liberal nature of my country. Instead of strict laws (which are supported by the 'freedom party' and its followers) I would rather see the issues addressed in daily life. Of course I don't have the answers to this complex problem, but instead of banning religious symbols I would like to encourage immigrants to participate in society, learn the language and emancipate. Laws regarding personal freedoms (which religion, above else, remains) creates discontent and will not solve anything. Personal initiatives and a strong voice of the immigrant/muslim community will more likely solve things.

That brings me to one last issue I'l like to address. People in the Netherlands are NOT anti-islam. What we see is a small group of Moroccan children-young adults that are discontent with their lives, find it 'cool' to commit crimes to finance their BMW or Mercedeses and are prominent in daily city life. People are, and rightly so, discontent with them. Intelligent (not per se smart) people recognize this as a problem that needs to be addressed by targeting specifically this group, less intelligent people generalize those problems to the entire Moroccan community and want to ban islam/immigration in order to stop it.

Hope I made myself clear, if not feel free to ask more questions (though I can by no means ensure I have right answers to this complex issue)

World Affairs Guy said...


Thank you for your comment! There is no better source for opinion than a citizen of the nation being discussed who is living the issue. How right you are in that negative ethnic stereotypes are often the result of a few bad apples. My only addition to this thought is that the greater community needs to openly and unequivocally condemn these actions and show unity with the rest of the country. I am not sure whether this has been done in the Netherlands but I believe this type of action does wonders in combating stereotypes and weakening those who exploit these for personal or political gain.

Stephen Kaufman said...

I think there is also a free speech question to this, whether you are dealing with the right to wear Islamic head scarves and build minnarets, as well as to allow films and other material that is critical of Islam. You might be interested in this article I wrote last year where a Dutch minister explains his government's approach to "Fitna."

There is room for, and plenty of need for dialogue between the Dutch communities, he says.

World Affairs Guy said...

Thank you for comment Stephen. I think free speech is a very good point. I am a big advocate of free speech but unfortunately many use it as a guise for promoting hate and prejudice. This is a very ambiguous area as who is to say where the line between free speech and hate should be drawn? Many exploit this ambiguity.

Your article took a great look at how the Dutch government handled an instance of this regarding a film criticizing the Koran. In my opinion this crosses the line as it is an assault on one's religion. A better approach would have been to show followers providing interpretations and refuting or accepting criticisms. When questioning or accusing an ethnic group in a public forum, one should be compelled to publically allow members of that group to refute the accusations.

I will leave it at that although there is far more to this debate.

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