On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


Identity Crisis

Adding to my melancholy, this story hit Dutch press yesterday: Verdonk wants to require everyone to speak Dutch in public.

Rita Verdonk is a controversial figure in Dutch politics. Not an elected official, she oversees the Dutch immigration department. She represents the backlash against the multiculturalism and acceptance that the Dutch are famous for. Since Vincent Van Gogh's grandson, Theo, was shot by a Muslim two years ago, the tide has been changing. It seems that lovely Rita "Verdonkey," as she's sometimes called, is leading the surge.

Her ideas are a bit schizophrenic, however. On the one hand, she institutes policies that sweeten the deal for highly-skilled workers considering job opportunities in the Netherlands. Her most recent random act of kindness was to offer the trailing spouses and partners of "knowledge workers" (that's me!) instant access to the Dutch labor market. That's bureaucrat-speak for "work permits."

Then again, she comes out with the racist, xenophobic crap found in the above article.

The back story is that the Dutch, like many Europeans these days, are growing more and more uneasy about their Muslim immigrant populations. After a few bombings, assassinations and riots, it's hard to blame them. Whereas the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by outsiders on temporary visas, European terrorists tend to strike from within. Who wouldn't feel betrayed?

The Dutch approach has been to devise ways of making their new countrymen feel more a part of Dutch society. On paper, this seems a laudable gesture. In practice, it goes a little more like this:

Some among the Muslim population find Dutch tolerance, particularly of drugs, sex and gay marriage, to be a bit offensive. In return, many Dutch find it offensive that Muslims would move to a new country, not embrace their new Western freedoms, and criticize the host country's values. In retaliation, they legislate Dutch-style tolerance upon the populace.

They offer (require) integration courses for newcomers to help orient them to Dutch culture. About 90 percent language instruction and 10 percent "how to use a strippen kaart," the dirty little secret is that the course may have been instituted as a way of getting Muslim women out of the house... you know because their domineering husbands prefer to keep them locked up at home.

A more overt act of discrimination appeared in the news a week ago. Even the BBC reported that Dutch lawmakers approved a burqa ban citing two reasons: 1) because it's not what Dutch people wear and 2) because we don't know what they're hiding under there. Apparently already a law in Belgium, police there say it is making race relations worse.

Verdonkey has since softened the tone of her language idea, but the notion is still out there. In trying not to appear racist (too late!), the policy would be universally applied to all immigrants, even me. Because there would be no way to enforce the rules, some believe that Dutch citizens would instead confront foreigners themselves. Hard to see how this would make you feel part of one big, Dutch family.

To play devil's advocate, there's something to the notion that if you choose to move to another country, the responsibility to get along lies with you. As an American, I'm not unfamiliar with this concept. Those who left the shores of the old world to start anew changed their names, refused to speak their mother tongue, and raised their children as Americans. Though, there are some who occasionally complain about Spanish speakers, they are quickly reminded that there is no official language in the U.S.

Above all else, we Americans prize our freedom of speech. A close second is our religious freedom. EVEN after 9/11, EVEN when Muslim leaders call for jihad against Americans, and EVEN as nuts as he is, George Bush, GEORGE W. BUSH, counsels religious tolerance.

B-, ever the rule-breaking Aussie, has referred to our new home as a police state. Me, I can't believe I was given an opportunity to highlight Bush in a positive light. I may have to go back to bed.



Blogger soo doh nim said...

This is a tangential comment to a very well-written, insightful post, but I can't remember something that may have a bearing on this discussion ---

The populist politician Pim Fortuyn was one of the assassination victims you mentioned. I recall that he was a homosexual, pro-gay rights but tough-on-immigration guy.

I wonder what political mix produced that particular situation and whether Verdonk finds herself arguing a separate platform, immigration-wise, from Verdonk.

Also, I cannot remember whether who killed Fortuyn and what the motive was.

Could have some bearing, as I said, on this discussion.

I think Verdonk's proposal will not gain traction in the Netherlands, and even if it does, no one will enforce it. However, it will be interesting to see how it plays in the press there and what people say about it.

3:24 PM GMT+1

Blogger akaijen said...

Thanks for you nice words about my post. :)

I edited Pym Fortuyn out of my post b/c I don't know a whole lot. What I understand is that he was assassinated sometime before Theo Van Gogh. And yeah, his main platform was anti-immigration. I don't know how popular he actually was, or whether he was a devisive force.

In spite of his death, I believe his party enjoyed one term of significant representation in parliament, mainly running as the Dutch equivalent to 'beltway outsiders.' I think they made a good mess of things and were promptly voted back out.

Fortuyn was assassinated by a Dutch person, ostensibly to protect Muslims and other 'vulnerable' members of society, so reported the BBC upon his sentencing:

I don't know much about the current ruling party's political leanings, but I would assume that Verdonk was appointed for her like-mindedness. It's hard to get a good read on her, but she's a major lighening rod for disgruntled expats. She made some kind of hasty process reforms last year which screwed up everyone's immigration applactions and extensions.

Some think she's misguided and stupid. Others think she's an out and out racist. The burqa thing wasn't her, though.

4:06 PM GMT+1

Blogger El Cap-e-tan said...

I gotta say this is very very difficult to pick a side. Because you're right. There's a plausible explanation on both sides. But in the end, religious tolerance does win out. Now, the only reason they wear the burqas in public is so they are not legally killed by their Muslim husbands who strictly adhere to The Koran, correct? So shouldn't the Dutch government "encourage" the lifting of the burqas. Because then there would be no penalty of death. Except for the murdering husband, of course. That's where I would favor the death penalty. Obviously a ban is over the line. No question. But, just a thought. Like I said, it's a fine line.

4:30 AM GMT+1


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