Sunday, May 07, 2006

Weekly roundup: Week 18

Interesting things I read this week:

On Israel’s reliance on US superpower
The announced American ambition is to make the Arab states into democracies and install a liberal order in the region. Israelis, being realists, understand that this is a fantasy.
Israel's personal superpower, William Pfaff

On Iraq today
Two constitutions, two elections and a referendum later, Iraq is reeling toward more chaos, not less.
Votes counted. Deals made. Chaos wins., Dexter Filkins

On reinventing and reforming Islam
[the controversy over the cartoons was] a practical test for Arab countries: a clash between my ideology of dialogue and the ideology of a clash of civilizations”, Amr Khaled
The telegenic face of conservative Islam, Samantha M. Shapiro

Got an idea? Pirates of the Far East will steal it
Google’s self-censorship akin to Germany’s ban on Nazi propaganda website?! You’ve got to be joking!


News from the weekend edition of de Volkskrant

  • A concerned article in the Volkskrant this weekend about the dismantling of the Dutch social-economic system…“Het poldermodel is hard op weg zichzelf overbodig te maken” [The poldermodel is increasingly making itself obselete], Gijs Herderschee, de Volkskrant, het Betoog pg 1, 6 mei 2006

The “poldermodel”, named after the ingenious system of canals and waterworks which keeps this low-lying country dry and safe, has often been praised as the Dutch economic miracle. It has for many years been the foundation of relatively high growth rates and social stability. Labour organisations that represent both employees and employers reach a consensus about eg income growth, employment benefits, social benefits etc, which in turn is put into action by the government. In theory all actors on the social, and economic fronts give an input and are representated, which is supposed to keep everyone happy.

The main body in charge of negotiating and reaching these social and economic agreements is the Sociaal Economische Raad (SER, Social Economic Council). Representatives from labour unions, of employers as well as the cabinet meet together with independent experts from academic world and elder statespeople to discuss and offer advice about the social-economic and financial policies of the government. For many years, certainly in the decade or so of the previous Purple governments (paarse kabinetten, made up of left-of-the-centre parties) the poldermodel functioned smoothly.

Everyone got what they wanted, and everyone was happy.

But it seems the poldermodel is increasingly becoming impossible to maintain. Instead of social and economic actors driving the socio-economic course of the country, in seems the political wing has taken over control, despite strong criticism and resistance. In October 2004, huge demonstrations broke out when the current cabinet almost completely dismantled the state pension plan. In the name of ‘smoothening’ modernization and achieving higher competitiveness, they argued. Further reasoning is that the population is ‘graying’, so there is a need to make the labour market more flexible to adapt. Hence calls from employers easier hire-and-fire, which has met strong opposition from unions. The fear now, which seems to be increasingly realized, is that the cabinet will have the say in raising the retirement age, in lengthening the number of working hours per week, and the making the eligibility for unemployment benefits more difficult. Whether the previous voices and roles of social and economic actors will be adhered to remains uncertain.

  • Marjolijn Februari (“Vandaag schrijf ik over dingen die ik liever niet had willen weten” [Today I write about things that I would rather not have wanted to know about], de Volkskrant, het Betoog pg 3, 6 mei 2006) writes how hypocritical it is that many in the Netherlands point to Rumfeld’s famous hand-shake with Saddam at the end of the eighties, when in fact the Netherlands, as host of the International Court of Justice, was fully aware and fully complicit in selling chemicals necessary for the production of Saddam’s murderous gases.

  • In a debate about the West and the Muslim world (“De fundamentalisten zijn op hun retour”, Wim Bosema, de Volkskrant, het Betoog pg 5.) Prof. An-Na’im describes the difference in the attitude toward immigration issues. In the US, different cultures grew together to form a culture of difference. Everyone is different, in terms of background and motivation, but everyone is an American. In Europe however immigrants were simply tolerated, and the majority of people were indifferent towards them. This was possible and acceptable when those immigrants did not form a threat to the European way of life and culture. But this tone has completely changed because of dramatic events in world affairs in recent years.

“Before cultural relativism dominated in Europe, but now it appears that even that culture is relative


In Europe the position that is dominant is: we are here already, our values are the universal values, become like us. But human rights [is] a project, more than a reality. The differences between peoples and cultures are permanent and deep, and despite this we can build a consensus on universal norms. We are by nature relativistic, but cherish the ideal of universalism. We share those values, but not the reasons why we elevate them.”

  • “Beschaving moet vrij zijn en weerbaar” [Civilisation must be free and resilent], Mabel van Oranje, de Volkskrant, Forum pg17 6 mei 2006

About the increasing scepticism in Europe towards freedom and society, H.R.H. Princess Mabel writes:

“This decreasing belief in freedom expresses itself in the western world in an increasing anxiety, uncertainty, fear of change and intolerance. We no longer defend ourselves, we harden. We are no longer inspired by a vision of improvement and progress; an attempt to meticulously maintain what we have achieved seems at the moment to drive many.

The complexity of the world and national interests serve as [the] excuse for our conformism. [In the way] the faith in freedom and self-esteem is being affected, we must not be surprised by the current European identity crisis. Foreigners seem no longer welcome, whereas the figures show that we probably would desperately need them in the future due to the graying population. Despite [the fact] that we claim to believe in the free market economy, we have become scared for free movement of goods, persons and services.”

Disclaimer: Translations of the texts above are mine. Translations were done to convey the original message as well as is possible, according to my understanding of the original articles. Please take typing and translation errors into account when reading.

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