Tuesday, September 05, 2006

'Murder in Amsterdam'

Geert van Istendael, ‘Geschonden koninkrijk’ [Disfigured kingdom], p68-70, 2 September 2006, Vrij Nederland

That the political and social landscape has dramatically changed in recent years cannot be under emphasised. Whereas this country has for a long time been recognised as a safe haven against oppression, as a bastion of freedoms of expression and tolerance, the murders of Pim Fortuyn (2002), Theo van Gogh (2004), and the debacle surrounding Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2006) have together begun to unravel the country’s darker face. Ian Buruma, a professor at Leiden, recently wrote Murder in Amsterdam, which “attempts to explain to foreigners the Dutch sores of the past few years, who are often watching in disbelief how tolerance [here] is increasingly sinking below the sea level.”

“Suddenly the Netherlands had its political murder, like the suspect, remote areas of Sicily or Wallonia had political murders. Suddenly cabinets stumbled one after another in the Netherlands, like before in the French Third Republic. Suddenly an artist [was cut in the throat] on the street, just like in Iraq or Pakistan. Suddenly Netherlands set mosques on fire, just that it occasionally happens in eastern Germany. Suddenly ministers said disgraceful things which only the servants of the Vlaams Belang [a far-right party of Belgium] would dare to put in their mouths, suddenly the Netherlands was not a shining example for the dark world, suddenly the Netherlands was no longer a guiding country. Many Netherlanders asked themselves whether it is still a country.”

Buruma goes to analyse the past, as a lens to see the present. He goes to decipher ‘the illusion of the Netherlands “as the fairest, freest, most civilized, perfect multi-culti paradise” in the West’. It is no secret that more Jews were deport from the Netherlands than any where else in Europe. He calls this “a collective history of indifference, cowardice and sometimes active cooperation”, one which is a trauma that has been undealt with for decades, as a result of which the nation seems to have lost its bearings on what is right and wrong. This tattered state of a national morality feeds can easily feed off manipulation by shrewd opportunistic politicians and attention-seekers. Which may explain the increasing number of right-wing populist parties which are trying to emulate the electoral success of Pim Fortuyn, and all trying to take the no-nonsense and confrontational approach to politics and tackling social problems, but actually do more harm in polarising an already fragile polity than good.

“And then Fortuyn appeared. Not sober, but baroque. Not discreet, but nagging like a queer. Shouted what could not be whispered. Wore visibly expensive suits. Pink ties. In Italy no body would have turned to look at him. In the Netherlands he was shot dead. “Fortuyn’s virulence comes more from the fact that he, and millions of others, not only in the Netherlands but also in the whole of Europe, had only just shaken off the restrictions of their own religion with difficulty. And then came the ‘newbies’, who drenched the society again with their religion. That many Europeans, among who Fortuyn, were [in fact] less free from the religious yearning than they themselves probably thought, made the confrontation with Islam even more painful for them.” [Buruma]

The likes of Pim Fortuyn, Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali broke decades of silence. They were responsible for talking about the taboos, for raising national debate and attention toward problems that had for too long been swept under the carpet of multi-culturalism. And the great(est) irony of it all: they were silenced because they spoke in a way that the Dutch have traditionally been proud of—direct, offensive and crude.

“The demand of total honesty, the thought that tact is a form of hypocrisy and that everything, regardless of how sensitive it is, in all openness and without any restriction could be said, the raising of insolence to a sort of moral ideal, that cultured lack of sensitivity is something that we often come across in Dutch behaviour.” [Buruma]
Certainly in other countries statements about Muslims being ‘goat-f*uckers’ (geitenneukers), or the Prophet as a ‘rapist’, or Islam as a ‘backward’ religion would probably be whitewashed. But here, as van Gogh, Fortuyn, and Hirsi Ali have proven, it seems to barely raise an eyebrow. But despite their outspoken(-ly offensive) opinions, they wanted to be heard, and all had a large audience willing to listen.

“Irony can be a healthy antitoxin against dogmatism, but also a blank page for irresponsibility. Extreme and aggressive statements are triviliased after the poisonous arrows have reached their target with the assertion that it was only meant to be facetious.Theo van Gogh called himself a village fool, as if it allowed him thereby to say what he wanted. Then again, at the same time he wanted to be taken seriously.” [Buruma]

As a result of the breaking of taboos, the Pandora’s Box was opened. We have seen in recent years a strong reaction to years of non-action in the immigration and social integration issue. And the people hurt most by the stringent measures taken after this sudden ‘awakening’ by the political elites to the muddled state of the multi-culti society are the minorities.

There are countless stories of the disgraceful treatment of asylum seekers, calls for restricted immigration policies, demands for immigrants to forcibly integrate, as well as problems of unemployment and discrimination amongst minority groups, especially with the Muslim population. They seem to have to bear the burden of everything that is wrong with the country, from crime to unemployment, from violence on the streets to fraudulent welfare benefit claims. They have to make the effort to integrate, whereas the ‘indigenous’ population need not undertake any such action, when in fact social integration, dialogue and interaction is very much a two-way street.

No comments: