Saturday, May 27, 2006

Weekly roundup: Week 21

  • “Als Verdonk wint, is de VVD zichzelf niet meer” [If Verdonk wins, the VVD is not itself any more]
    Thijs Broer, pp14-17, Vrij Nederland, 27 mei 2006

Rita Verdonk’s mannerisms and way of talking is more and more being likened to the populist tradition that Pim Fortuyn used. It was that way that he managed to turn heads in his direction, and also gain a lot of support from the people. But it also split the country and public opinion, in a country that has historically been be ordered and governed based on the ‘holy’ principle of consentialism.

Americanisation of the party elections

“The classical contrast in the VVD—the popular and elite electorate, the small entrepreneurs and landed citizenry—is being exhausted by the behaviour of Rita Verdonk and tactically exploited by her campaign team. It is a classical trick from American election campaigns: first you kick the establishment in the sheens [liter: purposely harm them], then you get your right with ‘the people’/ this is how the New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, with Verdonk’s current campaign leader Kay van de Linde […], also came to power”

[Note: Kay van de Linde was also the campaign manager of Pim Fortuyn, and who according to another article[1] taught Forturn to “Provoke, hope that the leftist media will reprimand you, and then mobilise the average man against the leftist media”. And that worked.]

And if Verdonk does come to power, what will she face then?

“If Verdonk wins, then the VVD will have a party-faction leader who in the past months [has spread] a complete lack of political insight and leadership of unity, and who is also on the brink of war with the vice-prime minister [and party comrade Gerrit Zalm], with almost the entire parliamentary faction, and a large part of the party list.”

  • “Het laffe land” [The cowardly country],
    Max van Weezel, pg25 Vrij Nederland, 27 mei 2006

One of the reasons why Ayaan Hirsi Ali decided to leave the country was because her neighbours had complained that (ironically) the stringent security measures in the neighborhood made them feel less secure. They took her to court and won. And even received compensation for their claim that because of AHA the value of their apartments would depreciate (this despite the fact that the neighbourhood, Archipel, is already one of the most valuable in Den Haag).

So what’s the verdict, according to this commentator?

“No wonder that the world press—from the rightist Wall Street Journal to the leftist Tageszeitung—raised the less heroic and gracious past of the Netherlands: the trains in the war that ran on time [alluding to the Nazi deportation of Jews from the Netherlands], the speed with which Dutchbat [the Dutch NATO battalion responsible for safeguarding Serbernica] looked the other way when Mladic came to get the Bosnian Muslims.

A too harsh judgement about the Netherlands? No. This country to have the antenna to make out the difference between primary issues (someone being threatened with death by fundamentalists) and the secondary issues (that she had informed the Immigration Service IND wrongly, that her presence brings the purchase value of our flat in danger).

The most astounding is that Rita Verdonl seems to be [winning electorally] also."

· Integration goes both ways. All this talk about the duty of immigrants to integrate and adopt to the local culture and customs, but that can only be successful if locals do the same. Here is an example of how it’s happening in Amsterdam. Some ‘white’ parents are sending their children to ‘black’ schools (where the student population is predominantly of foreign origin). And they’re doing so in the hope of raising open-minded and tolerant children. Way to go!

· Now the US wants Taiwan to ease trade barriers with China… a closer step toward peace, or unification?

· On the problem of missile proliferation in Asia. Let’s not worry about North Korea for now, but its giant neighbour: China!

North Korea has relatively small offensive missile capability, but has
declared by word and deed its willingness to use such weapons. China’s
overwhelming regional superiority in numbers of offensive missiles poses a particularly difficult problem for defenders. Missile production is a pocket of Chinese excellence. Their offensive missiles currently cost less to proliferate than defensive systems, an advantage that can offer operational leverage. This is not true just for an Asian scenario; study participants pointed out that the United States would have difficulty defending itself against a Chinese missile attack under the current US missile defense plan, and asked how smaller countries with fewer resources could possibly expect to successfully mount such a defense.

· And the brand new and GIGANTIC Berlin Hauptbahnhof is finally open! I remember seeing it under construction a few years ago, and the scale of it is unimaginable. It has different levels, with trains coming from all directions: S-Bahn, U-Bahn, regional and intercity express trains—all under a huge glass dome, overshadowed by office buildings and surrounded by a shopping complex. Though that would mean passengers who want to go to the city centre in the old west or old east would have to transfer in this new station located in the old ‘no man’s land’. And on the very first day a mad teenager managed to dampen the celebrations by brandishing his knife around.

UPDATE 29 mei 2006

Great pictures here.

  • “Ik ben de bruid van een nieuw huwelijk” [I am the bride of a new marriage]
    Nazmiye Oral, het Betoog pg 1, De Volkskrant, 27 mei 2006

An excellent article about the wedding of a Muslim woman; a wedding that straddles the traditional and the modern, that tries to bridge different cultures and generations. The wedding can be viewed here

Here’s a remarkable comment about the whole problematic of the integration debate:

“The dominant conception that you must take up Dutch values and norms in order to integrate completely is based on fear and indolence. Everything that reeks to a retention of the eastern origins is cause for distrust. If we want the best for these children, who are also our children, then we will figure out something completely different: it is of essential importance for their self-confidence and self-respect to accept all aspects of their identity.

The overwhelming majority of the Dutch population seems to know nothing else besides a ‘horror-Islam’. There is an enormous shortage of images that show the beauty of the Islamic culture. One must [remove from their perspectives and review] the images and rituals that are associated with fundamentalism, violence and terror. [It is up to the] Netherlanders to investigate what these rituals and customs really mean, because the coming generation will use them as well.”

  • “De Chinezen bieden Afrika nieuwe kansen” [The Chinese offer Africa new chances]
    Kees Broere, pg5 Het Betoog, de Volkskrant, 27 mei 2006

Just last weekend I had a discussion with a friend who is conducting research in Angola about the phenomenon of China’s increasing influence in the African continent. She said millions of highly-skilled Chinese workers are pouring into the country together with billions of investments in the oil and other natural resource extraction industries. To what extent does it benefit the local population? Not much she said. And instead of benefiting the locals what is happening is the development of a middle class of ‘Africans’ who have higher standards of living, education and professional privileges—only they are yellow skinned.

This article takes up the issue and raises many points about how Africa’s new Asian friend is hurting—and to be fair, also helping—the impoverished continent.

“[…] Africa is being threatened in becoming the terrain for a new Cold War. Not ideological this time, last in the period in which the US and the Soviet Union fought for their political sphere of influence, but an economic one. The keywords in the current ‘scramble for Africa’ are this time: ‘energy’, ‘natural resources’ and ‘sales markets’. The question in this struggle of titans is whether Africa will again become the bigger loser.”

On the presence of the Chinese:

“From Angola to the Sudan, from Kenia to Chad, from Zimbabwe to Nigeria: China is everywhere, as the importer of numerous wanted and less wanted products, but also on the other hand as an investor of billion, in especially the oil exploitation.

The big difference with the United States is that China often does not [make a fuss] about issues like human rights and democratisation. On the contrary, this time it is the government in Beijing, just like Washington in the previous century, to maintain African regimes ranging from the ‘less enlightened’ to the bluntly corrupt in their seats, as long as new energy concessions and market guarantees are [on offer as trade off]."

It is worrying thus that the developing world has found one another as partners in development, but at the expense of further progress in the field of human rights and freedoms. But then the question to ask is whether the hard stance of western countries in its trade agreements which are often conditioned on fulfilling certain promises to comply by ‘western/universal’ values are doing the trick. They’ve been tried and tested for well almost half a century since the decolonisation period, but regimes in Africa are often just as corrupt, just as vulnerable. It begs the question whether the so-called trade agreements are really beneficial to Africa, or whether they are sustaining the interests of the rich and powerful west, only in a more civilised and less subtle tone.

The arrival of the Chinese may not all be bad in this light:

“The continent will do well for the time being to take the hand that the Chinese are extending [to them], but that does not immediately also mean that the other, western hand should be completely left alone. For its economic as well political development Africa cam still benefit from the west. For issues like ‘fair trade’ and ‘democracy’ it does not need to knock on the Chinese, even though to the Africans there exists less of a need for this than with the westerners.

But Africa can also use the Chinese friendship to put the west under extra pressure to now finally fulfil its development promises. For this it will also need to show that it is able to take charge of the economy into its own hands, and to [syphon] knowledge from the rich countries in order to finally transform its natural resources into sellable products.”

  • “Wie denkt aan de slaven van Afrikanen en Arabieren?” [Who thinks about the slaves of Africans and Arabs?]
    Wim Bossema, pg 5 Het Betoog, de Volkskrant, 27 mei 2006

A controversial perspective on the African slave trade. French Historian Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau claims that slaves were not just traded by Europeans, but also by Africans themselves and Arabs as well. He theory has been backed up by a number of African historians, one of whom claims that as late as the seventies the phenomenon of African slavery within the continent itself still existed. Of course, the revelation in no way justifies or tries to brush aside the seriousness and atrocities of the slave trade. But I guess from it you could draw similarities with what is happening now, in terms of human trafficking. It isn’t happening en masse, but it happens.

One thing in his description of the slave trade that was striking:

“Indeed, the African traders and rulers profited and did not contribute to economic development, but it remains that the sale of slaves was a lucrative business, otherwise the dealers would not have done it."

Was he talking about the slave trade then…or perhaps what he said could be alluding to what is happening now too? Instead of slaves, those traders and rulers have seized upon diamonds and oil as the driving force behind their ‘lucrative business’.

UPDATE 4 juni 2006

China’s defence of its policies in Africa.

  • PC paranoia

The US State Department is worried that computers produced by Lenovo, a branch of IBM that was sold off to a Chinese company last year, would pose a security risk.

  • Aung San Suu Kyi’s extended house arrest

On the life and struggle of the Nobel Laureate

  • Reviewing the Salman Rushdie affair

This author claims that the capital of the UK has become “Londonistan”…it’s pretty his sensitive and thought provoking too:

Here in microcosm were the key features of what would only much later be recognised as a major and systematic threat to the state and its values. There was the murderous incitement; the flagrant defiance of both the rule of law and free speech; the religious fanaticism; the emergence of British Muslims as a distinct and hostile political entity; and the supine response by the British establishment. What was also on conspicuous display was the mind-twisting, back-to-front reasoning that is routinely used by many Muslims to turn their own violent aggression into victimhood.

The heated exchange of opinions at the end is also worth looking at

  • Fundamentalist backlash

How much is freedom of expression being restricted by militant religious fanatics?

What we are seeing is rival fundamentalists egging each other on in a politics of competitive grievance. Every time one secures a victory, the others realise they can't be left behind. If satirists are frightened of having a go at Islam because they believe they may be killed - and they are - why shouldn't Christian fundamentalists decide to become more menacing?

A comedian who takes a pop at the Pope sends the subliminal message: 'We can deride your religion as despicable because we know you are not so despicable you will resort to violence.' There is a limit to how long the ultras for any religion will put up with that before they change the ground rules.

[1] “Het laffe land” [The cowardly country], Max van Weezel, pg25 Vrij Nederland, 27 mei 2006


Oh no, another earthquake in Indonesia today! This time in Yogyakarta, where I was last summer. Close to two thousand people have been confirmed dead, but in these kind of disasters the actual number of victims will tend to soar as the true extent of the damage is known.

Two hours later, and the death toll has already risen to 3000.
In disasters like this it's like looking at the stock market index on a bullish day...
only this is lives we are talking about. And figures on a newspaper front page, or a screen seem so cold.

Oh, the monument of Borobudur was damaged in the quake! I hope not too seriously...that place is just sooo beautiful.

UPDATE 28 mei 2006
Death toll continues to rise as the real extent of the damage is slowly being uncovered.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Amnesty International 2006 Report

Just out, the Amnesty International report for this year,
including in depth country reports, useful facts and figures and analysis.

As expected, the war on terror triggered many concerns as countries around the world, including the 'western' democracies have enacted draconian anti-terrorism measures that are at times at odds with individual freedoms. Grave attrocities continue in Sudan, and the notorious offenders like China, Saudi Arabia etc are still 'at large'.

Summary for this year's report:
2005 was defined by hope wrestling against the duplicity, double speak and failed promises of governments.

Governments and armed groups attacked civilians and perpetuated grave human rights abuses. Powerful nations showed a sinister willingness to manipulate international institutions or apply double standards, and the “war on terror” swept on, gathering more victims of torture and unlawful detention in its wake.

But these acts were countered by successes in the struggle against impunity, the development of a new UN Human Rights Council, and growing public resistance to assaults on human rights. There is a real moment of opportunity. Activists, governments and institutions must grab it.

Rita Verdonk on the Hall of Shame 2006!!!

Human Rights Watch recently published a list of people who have "actively promoted prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their countries".

And ho! Rita Verdonk, the Minister for Immigration and Integration was number 2 on the list of 2006!

For closing borders and closet doors: Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, the Netherlands

In February 2006, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk announced a plan to end a six-month moratorium on the deportation of LGBT asylum-seekers back to Iran. Minister Verdonk said that in Iran, “For homosexual men and women it is not totally impossible to function in society, although they should be wary of coming out of the closet too openly.” Iran imposes the death penalty on men and women convicted of homosexual conduct.

The freeze on deportations had initially been imposed in 2005, after reports of executions in Iran for homosexual conduct. Iran’s criminal code states that lavat – sexual intercourse between men – “is punishable by death.” The punishment for sexual intercourse between women is 100 lashes; if the offence is repeated three times, the punishment is execution.

Human Rights Watch has documented brutal floggings imposed by courts as punishment for homosexual acts, and torture and ill-treatment, including sexual abuse, in police custody. International human rights law, including treaties by which the Netherlands is legally bound, prohibits the deportation of anyone to a destination where they may be at risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Under parliamentary pressure, Verdonk reinstated a freeze on deportations for a further six months, pending an investigation into conditions in Iran. Verdonk’s statement that staying in the closet is an acceptable price for staying alive was deeply ominous. Silencing an essential part of the human personality is not a way of avoiding persecution: it is the essence of persecution.

Way to go "Iron Rita"!

Two faced liberalism

“Een dubbelhartige partij” [A two-hearted party]
Marcel ten Hooven, pp28-31, Vrij Nederland, 20 mei 2006

The race for party ‘list-puller’ (lijsttrekker; parliament faction leader) of the VVD is about to come to an end. Though there are three candidates, it looks as if the real race is between Mark Rutte (minister for Education) and Rita Verdonk (minister for Immigration). Seeing that the VVD is doing so well (or better in comparison with other parties) whoever wins the race may very well be the next prime minister in 2007.

There’s been much talk and debates between the two candidates, so much so that there is a fear that the party is split. One the one hand, Mark takes politics with a cool and rational approach, while Rita has a very confrontational and straight-talking stance. While the majority of the party elders seem to have thrown the weight behind Mark, Rita seems to be popular and understood among the ‘average Jan’ (Dutch version of ‘average Joe’). The split raises interesting questions about this so-proclaimed ‘liberal’ party, and the meaning of the term ‘liberalism’.

VN has a good summary of the difference between Mark Rutte and Rita Verdonk:

“Rutte is of the opinion that the belief in progress is the motor of our society and also one of the driving forces behind liberalism. ‘Politics cannot [exist] with the idea that somewhere out there is a green grassy field, something that is more beautiful than the present, and that you as an individual can bring that beautiful future closer if you take the best out of yourself’, is a typical opinion from him. Verdonk on the other hand talks about threats, especially from the part of immigrants with another culture and religion, against which strong leadership and well guarded borders are [necessary]. Muslims are welcome only if they acclimatize to ‘our’ values and customs.”

Why is there such a split in opinion and outlook? The article explains that the liberalism developed in the 19th Century out of a firm belief in individualism and an end to suffrage based bonded to the condition of property ownership. The split comes from the difference perception of what the role of the state can play in the ‘liberation’ of the ordinary individual/worker from his condition of subjugation to traditional class organisation and order.

“In liberal circles [the spirits] are divided between the advocates and opponents of mass-democracy and social legislation. The advocates were of the opinion that progress demanded […] breakthrough [in] political and social emancipation. The [maintainers of the status quo] were afraid that the granting of rights to the ‘crowd’ would only deliver disorder and bad government.”

In 2002, Dutch politics experienced an earthquake with the rise (and eventually sudden fall) of Pim Fortuyn. He was able to galvonise public opinion by openly raising issues about the building tensions in the eight years of neo-liberal government under the Purple coalition. National utilities and companies were told to ‘liberalise’ and ‘commercialise’, but with rising prices, the quality of services and reliability fell. Of course, Fortuyn’s open criticism against Muslims in particular, and immigrants in general, delivered many political points as he championed for a very restrictive immigration policy. He could be the one that could be accredited with putting issues about the contradictions in the Netherlands’ policy of integration and the tensions of a ‘multi-cultural society’ on the agenda.

“The advent of Muslim with their different moral perspectives proved the optimistic expectations that with the triumph of the western, liberal market-economy western values such as personal freedom and autonomy, scientific and religious freedom and the equality of man and woman would also be shared worldwide after the fall of the Wall wrong.”

Liberalism, I always thought, connotates a world-view that all man and woman are equal, and that all diversities are to be embraced in a celebration of universal tolerance and the idea of ‘unity in diversity’. But this new brand of ‘popular liberalism’ seems to show that this is not the case. Elsewhere I wrote, in the context of the ‘triumph of Liberalism’ in the world after the Cold War, that ‘Liberalism is not so liberal after all’:

(From “Critically assess the democratic ‘liberal peace’ thesis with reference to at least two other traditions of International Relations theory”: International Politics course, done at SOAS, 2004.)

“Liberal theory emphasises much on the disease of minority tyranny and closed systems of government and markets, but says little about how non-liberal polities function in the liberal-minded world, except that they are rivals[1].

Just as in the territorial state there is a distinction between citizens and foreigners, in the Liberal world the existence of an inclusive/exclusive dichotomy of states exists between those in ‘peace’ and ‘war’ zones. This demarcation invites trouble, because it immediately slaps on labels of those who either deserve or do not deserve to be members of the identity-bound community, and impliedly, creates a division between superiority and inferiority[2].

[the whole liberal concept] is continually enforced by [channeling political power] to create false ideas and existences of threats, belonging, alienation and liberation, and therefore constantly goading individuals and states to have certain desires and aversions.”

And so we see this kind of what I like to call ‘sham liberalism’ occurring at the national level. Debate and discussion of the immigration is perhaps the easiest way to manipulate public opinion, because it is the most divisive, and the easiest to create and emphasise the feeling of ‘us’ against ‘them’. Populism latches onto that because according the VN article:

“[the] pupolist turns himself away from the party establishment, places the people on the stand, strives toward charismatic leadership, and makes a rallying call based on unity and patriotism.“

Verdonk has publicly admitted that there is nothing wrong with ‘populism’, and wonders why the term has such a bad reputation. She claims as the ‘People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy’ (VVD), we need to listen to the people, appeal to their desires.

The question is who is doing the leading, and who is doing the listening.

[1] Ibid. pg 223. See also Gary Simpson, ‘Two Liberalisms’, 12/3 European Journal of International Law 537 (2001), pg 559

[2] Alexander Wendt, ‘Why a World State is inevitable’, 9/4 European Journal of International Relations 491 (2003), 516

I did it!

It's 2am, and I'm back home already.

I did it! I managed to walk +25km and also managed to come 6th! : ) Really a big improvement from last time when I was with a friend (you know who you are!). This time I did it in just under four and a half hours. I guess when you're walking alone there's not much to distract you, so you just keep on walking. Left, right, left, right, left, right, in meditative harmony... music in my ears, the cool evening breeze, smell of fresh manure, the touch of your own footsteps on the asphalt, and the quack and waddling sounds of new-born ducklings.

Started from Leiden Hogeschool, through Leiden Zuid (actually past my friend's place where I spent the night last Friday), towards De Vink, Voorschoten, along the Vliet (river), onto Wassenaar (THE bourgeois neighbourhood of the Netherlands), through the Haagse Bos, then to Centrum in Den Haag, where the journey ended. It was a pleasant route, through polders, along canals and rivers, green farmland, past luxurious mansions, through various woods and forests. The only thing that was really frightening was walking through Haagse Bos (Hague Forest). That piece of wooded area is notorious for 'unusual activities in the night (use your imagination). A friend of mine cycled through it once and was 'exposed' to some 'indecent sight', and made him vow never to go through the forest again. So imagine me (and others) walking through the pitch dark forest, in the middle of the night, completely alone. Worrying.

And then came the rain. For half the time it was raining, and freezing. I'm sipping hot tea as I'm writing this just to keep warm. I think the temperature dropped to around 10C tonight, and with the wind and cold rain it felt so much colder. And I had to cycle home because I left my bike at the station....even more exposure to the wind and rain. When I came home I realised just how wet I was. When I say wet to the bone, I mean it. I had to take everything off-- jacket, sweater, trousers, socks, undergarments: all-- because everything was just soaked!

But there were things to be learnt too. Every five km or so there were 'pitstops'--information stands about activities of NGOs, and the main theme of the event: the 8 Millennium Development Goals that the UN set out to achieve in 2000. There were flyers to be taken away, and freebies to be grabbed. All in the name of raising awareness and becoming involved in something idealistic and visionary. For the sake of the poor, the undernourished, the ones suffering great injustice, the ones denied proper medical care, the ones barred from simple necessities that can sustain their right to life, the ones living under terror and oppression. Why walk at night? Because a lot of people around the world flee from place to place at night, so the walk was supposed to give that effect. For a few hours we were 'refugees'. Despite the cold, the wetness, the tiredness, we at the end of the trip can count on a home to go back to, can indulge in clean water and snacks when we feel like it. Those are privileges not many share.

Dry again now, and happy. I'm suprised I'm not tired at all. And feeling actually strangely energetic. I didn't take a break at all, just kept on walking from start to finish (except for the short toilet breaks in the woods). And my feet don't really hurt that bad either...or perhaps when I wake up tomorrow-- no, today morning I'll know the real strain to my body.

A little personal achievement in a not-so-eventful period of my life is really something.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

more Kitty

Sweet sleepy head

Waiting outside the kitchen Posted by Picasa

Zembla’s defence

After a week of heated debates and media coverage (read hype), the Hirsi Ali affair seems to have subsided… for now. Manage to come across a statement published by the producers of Zembla (the current-affairs programme that unleashed the storm).

To be fair, I think this is relevant to put the whole issue into perspective.

Why Hirsi Ali?

“Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not just any refugee. She was the spokesperson for integration of a political party that is the architect and executor of a strict and restrtive immigation policy. The VVD is a ruling party which gave a strict minister for Immigration Affairs to the Balkenended Cabinet II [current cabinet]”


Did it not occur to anyone that the Dutch government allowed an example of [class] tiered-justice to walk around in its own parliament? Hirsi Ali can count on influential friends. The thousands of asylum seekers that are being deported from our country cannot. That means that [there is a case] of hypocrisy and of an unjust situation.”

[NOTE: The makers of ZEMBLA is the public broadcasting network VARA, Vereeniging Arbeiders Radio Amateurs (Association of Radio Amateur of Workers) it comes as no surprise that its viewpoints are often grounded in 'leftist' terminoglogy and ideals]

But this was no news!

“Is that was so, then we had in any case the scoop of a ‘programme without news’ that nevertheless managed to control the new completely for a number of days. But new concrete facts that were revealed in ‘The Holy Ayaan’ [name of the episode about AHA]. It was for the first time that the past of Ayaan on the whole was laid down bare. Furthermore the episode created the topical interest in that it unleashed a discussion about the consistency of the points of view maintained by the VVD with regards to the asylum policy.”

Responsible journalism?

“[But] the question of what we wanted is journalistically not relevant. We are journalists and not lobbyists. But then ‘tall trees catch a lot of wind’. Tall trees should catch a lot of wind. Journalists should check authority, wherever that authority may be. And ZEMBLA will continue to do that."

"Rond de wereld in een N8"

Time to get out those hiking shoes, 'cause tonight I'm 'going around the world in one night'!

It's an annual event night organised by a number of NGOs (eg COS, Oxfam-Novib) to raise money and awareness on issues of international of development cooperation. The hike is from Leiden to Den Haag, a distance of about 25km, and the best part is...we walk in pitch darkness! I took part last year and it was really good fun!!! So I'm doing it again.

The down side is the weather is not really cooperating....still raining and still really windy and cold, almost like winter again...

But that shouldn't drown the spirt, right?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Immigration debate

“Recept vooor geslaagde immigratie: Verscheidenheid binnen eenheid” [Receipe for successful immigration: Diversity within unity]
Amitai Etzioni, Opinie en Debat pg 15, NRC Handelsblad, 20 May 2006

The professor accredited for starting the whole ‘values and virtues’ (normen en waarden) debate—a personal favourite of Prime Minister Balkenende— adds his opinion on the immigration and integration issue.

“To be granted entry to a country is a privilege that a person can earn—and that someone should be able to earn that [privilege] under reasonable prerequisites [that are] postulated by the new community to which he wants to be a part of—but not a right that all foreigners can claim to.”

And what of asylum seekers? Does international law grant asylum seekers, whether based on a moral or humanitarian right, the right to seek refuge in another country?

“ Asylum seekers can—on the basis of international law and fundamental justice—make a claim on a safe haven of refuge, and on protection whenever their lives are being hreatened or whenever they are really fleeing, because they are under the threat to be tortured or molested in someway.”

Etzioni argues that different countries place different values and emphasis on fulfilling the ‘privilege’ to be granted entry.

“A country should tune its humanitarian immigration based on its degree of compassion, but there will ultimately always be more people asking for entry than can be allowed to enter, and therefore a selection criteria for immigration must be established and complied with. These vary strongly: some countries look to professional expertise, other look to investment input; others put the emphasis on family reunion, and some on affinity: Spain in this sense give preference to immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries.”

And once an immigrant is granted entry, the process of ‘citizenisation’ has only just begun. It is a two-way process, one that the immigrant must attempt to adapt as much as possible to the host country so that the host country becomes ‘home country’:

“Just as we take tests in school, the civic examination tests should be used to determine if a person has internalised the language, ethics and especially fundamental respect for the law and [principle of] mutual tolerance [of his host country] as his own.
If the immigrants do not adapt to the local culture in such limited ways, they, as well as the society which adopts them, will [suffer from] an economic, social and political disadvantage.”

“It should be clear in all cases that immigrants must accept the fundamental values of the society, adhere to the law, must learn the language or languages of the country, and not only share in the wealth that the country has inherited from its pas, but also the burdens, and in the demands that the future demands.”

So does this mean total assimilation, or is there room for ‘diversity’?

“At the same time each group in the society can maintain its own subculture.”

As an example, Etzioni talks about the culture of cooking, and how with increasing immigration and globalization, ‘national cuisines’ which were once stereotypical of the host countries have in recent times been replaced by the mix of culinary traditions brought over by the new comers. Such acceptance is the way forward. But acceptance should not stop in the kitchen, but should be broadened to general acceptance of immigrants, as well as their right to voice their opinions and discontentments about the society they have come to adapt as their own. So the Danish cartoon fiasco should not be seen as a fundamentalist reactionary drive, but should instead be seen as immigrants using their ‘freedom of expression’.

“The best way to react to insulting free opinions is then: objection. It is completely unacceptable if anyone uses violence or threatens the speakers, regardless of what they say. The fatwa for the execution of Salman Rushdie, the price on the head of culture editor Flemming Rose, who allowed the controversial cartoons to be printed, and not to forget the murder of Dutch director Theo van Gogh—that all transcends boundaries in a way that no civilized society can tolerate.”

Sunday, May 21, 2006

reflections on Ayaan Hirsi Ali


“Hirsi Ali is alles waar Nederland niet van houdt” [Hirsi Ali is everything the Netherlands does not like]
Corine Vloet, Opinie & Debat pg17, NRC Handelsbald 20 May 2006

The events and treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali has led to a lot of people, including me, questioning where the Netherlands – once known as a bastion of liberalism and tolerance— is heading. This columnist believes, however objectionable one may take the opinions and actions of Hirsi Ali to be, even more objectionable is the way Dutch culture and society seems to thrive on a recalcitrant attitude of ‘don’t rock the boat’—even when the boat is sinking.

“In the Netherlands [there is no merit] in someone starting a discussion where before there was no discussion; [instead] it is a threat. It seems to be a stubborn old-Dutch superstition: if something is not talked about, it does not exist either. Debate causes polarization, where there once only harmony and unanimity existed.”

Where did this attitude come from? Perhaps it is the well-respected and valued attitude toward individualism, and the protection against any threat to that individualism unleashed by discrimination.

“One of the things that is undisputed in the Netherlands is that you cannot discriminate—it is perhaps one of the biggest Dutch taboos. From a just and necessary ban on racism and discrimination—fed by feelings of guilt about the Second World War—there developed a deep-rooted, cultural-relativistic aversion toward every form of diversity. Everything and everyone is exactly as good as the rest, and not a bit better.”

So why has Hirsi Ali become the target of attacks and hatred, or perhaps even ridicule in the eyes of so many in the Netherlands? Why is the Netherlands’ own version of Salman Rushdie not revered and respected, but feared and ‘chased away’?

“ [worse] than all her controversial opinions together was her uniqueness…She is something that we in the Netherlands do not like to see: a self-assured, intelligent, attractive, cosmopolitan, inspired, obstinate, strong, internationally successful and independent woman. And then also as black as soot!

[…] The Netherlands would have found Hirsi Ali to be a bit more acceptable if she were somewhat uglier, somewhat more stupid and somewhat more unfortunate […]"

And how much does the fact that she is a woman play in the repeated attempts to disgrace and discredit her? And what does that attitude say about Dutch society and culture in general?

“[She] focused on the improvement of the position of women. But—and this is one of the reasons that her ideas did not find more echoes— in the Netherlands we do not consider women to be that important. How else can you explain the great gaps, compared to other western countries, in the realm of labour participation, child care, income disparity, and the percentage of women in leadership positions? Year after year it is reported in reports and research, without the government ever drawing any links to those consequences. Women are not an issue to score points in the Netherlands. ”

And this betrayal of the very values that the Netherlands prides itself on does not stop there. The ideals, norms and values that have been repeatedly propogandised by the current government have all been embraced by Hirsi Ali, yet never been recognized.

“More crucially, it appears that all the pretence about the role of ideals and values in our society has been modestly underestimated by the idealistic new-comer as Hirsi Ali. From her first publication she has written with the passion of a convert about democratic principles, western values and the ideals of the Enlightenment. In this she was consistent to the bone. Who else would, in the name of freedom of expression, have pleaded for Mohamed Fahmi B., member of the Hofstad-group (terrorist cell), who she believes is unjustly sitting in jail. ‘Application of the law should not lead to the hollowing of [the] open society’, Hirsi Ali said about his case. That he would probably rather see her, together with that open society, burn in hell, does not matter.

“It is a shame that […] Dutch ideals and principles have fared badly. Dutch values follow the road with the leas resistance. They can be maintained as long as nothing is at risk. As soon as someone makes a noisy protest, they melt like snow in the sun. We would rather like to keep ourselves to ad hominem arguments[1].”

And it is these ad hominem arguments, the labeling and singling out of people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali as ‘provocative’, ‘discriminatory’, or even ‘racist’, that silence debate, and thereby sweep problems under the rug. Disappointing yet insightful conclusion.

DIXIT Hirsi Ali
Opinie & Debat pg17, NRC Handelsbald 20 May 2006

Some things that Hirsi Ali have said or written in the past.

  • On joining the VVD party (Opinie, NRC Handelsbald, 31 October 2002)

"I realised that I will hereby get the chance to move issues [about abused allochtonous women, their subjugation due to social-cultural factors] from the circles of the social work and debate-houses and place them on the political agenda--where they always should be. And in fact it is about the fundamentals of our state according to the rule of law, and therefore about the question in what country we want to live in and about the quality of all of our existences. [...] I have of course considered whether the VVD is able to deal with these issues and offer room to mention these issues by name--however sensitive that may be--with conviction. THe answer is: yes."

  • After the murder of director Theo van Gogh (Opinie, NRC Handelsbald, 3 November 2004)

"I feel guilty that I went to Theo with the script of 'Submission'. And that as a result he is dead. Rationally I know that only the perpetrator is guilty of his death. Emotionally that is very confusing. Theo and I have talked about the possible consequences for us both in depth. He said: "The moment that these considerations prevent you from expressing your opinion, then there is no freedom of expression, right? That is [lit. precisely what the Islamists want.]"

  • On the urgent need to combat extremism. (Opinie, NRC Handelsbald, 9 March 2006)

In the first instance are us women in no way organised or united. Women in wealthy countries, that have forced the equality before the law, are obligated to themselves to seize arms and come to the aid of our [comrades in gender].

Only our indignation and political pressure can lead to changes.
In the second instance there are forces of reaction.
Radical Islamites are busy with the rennaisonace and propogation of a cruel and reactionary set of laws [...]
In the third instance cultural-relativism undermines our moral indignation by defending the position that human rights is a western invention [...]

“De Meesterproef van Rita Verdonk” [The principal test of Rita Verdonk]
Marc Chavannes, Opinie& Debat pg16, NRC Handelsblad, 20 May 2006

The failings of Minister for Immigration Rita Verdonk as a minister in the past week are all too obvious. Not only did she turn back on her statements concerning the Hirsi Ali affair, she supposedly also lied to the public and in parliament about her knowledge of the fact that Hirsi Ali’s name were false. In a matter of days the fate of a respected, though controversial, politician was decided—and Verdonk was the one responsible for breaking the news that Hirsi Ali never received Dutch citizenship.

“An overview: a minister who behaved and reasoned like a headless chicken, a Parliament that drowned in a full-day of emotion-driven TV, a Prime Minister and a Vice Prime Minister who ‘after the great calamity’ were busy with what in Hirsi Ali’s future place of residence is called ‘covering their asses’, this all covered with a sauce of amateuristic lawyer-ism.”

No-nonsense, no deliberations with other ministers or members of the cabinet. Just did it. And the results of her actions dropped a bomb on her own political career, as well as shattered the reputation of the Netherlands worldwide.

“As a jurist Verdonk failed, due to the fact that she read the verdict of the Supreme Court like a computer translation programme: word in, word out. In no way did she seem to realise that the application of the law strives toward reasonableness and fairness. Even the decision that she repeated [to the extent that it drove one insane], offers the room [for discretion], some say: the duty.” There was no doubt about the identity of the woman that was known as Hirsi Ali in reality. Her place of origin was known, her family was contactable. If Hirsi Ali could prove that she had called her self in this way, or that using the name of her mother was normal for her, then there is no big deal. There was also little motive to suspect that she was an agent of an enemy state—another reason for the identification request.

As minister and jurist Verdonk behaved like an intern by swaying that decision around without giving consideration tot the fact that she knows that the final say rests not on the judge, but on the lawmaker. If she decides that [she is not persuaded] by a recent verdict of the Supreme Court, she can present an amendment to the law and ask the Parliament to handle them with urgency. The lawmaker has the final say.”

UPDATE 1 juni 2006

“Na Ayaan” [After Ayaan]
Stephan Sanders, pg96 Vrij Nederland, 27 mei 2006

Poor Ayaan, chased out of the Netherlands because she belonged in the “minority of the minorities”:

”The xenophobe right [wing] don’t want anything to do with her because she so explicitly was not from here; with the ‘allochthone Netherlands’ because she behaved […] as if she were from here; and the greater part of the Netherlands left [wing] didn’t want her, because she actually should belong in the left, but didn’t happen. In this way the different parties [factions], which had little in common, could find one another in their rejection of Hirsi Ali. With this unholy undertaking I have also felt an element of resentment that shall not be missed—[also] one of the most dangerous grounds to base politics on.”

Was Ayaan misunderstood, even though her opinions and the way she expressed them sounded distasteful in many people’s ears?

“[…] Hirsi Ali was herself exceptionally free from holding grudges. No, she never did talk about ‘Muslims as retarded people […]m she caked Islam retarded, never the Islamites. Whoever does not understand that difference should think about Communism as a criminal system, without thereby saying that all Communists are criminals.”

[1] This is said when you reply to an argument by attacking the person presenting the argument rather than the argument itself.

Leiden at dusk...canal, windmill, boats. Posted by Picasa
Now there's a scary picture...saw it during a walk in Clingendael Posted by Picasa


It's the distance, the language, the years of misunderstanding.
There are barriers between people in this family, and deep rooted mistrust and inability to communicate too. I guess all families have that.

Just spoke to dad on the phone. Most of the conversation about money, mortgage and all these other 'cold' issues. Every time. And it make me so sad to talk about them when the chance to talk, to have a bit of connection is so scarce already. Is there nothing else between us? Nothing more 'human', more indicative of the fact that there is more that binds us together as family?

I need a break... away from the noise, dust and undecided plans and expectations.

Monsters Inc.

OK, woke up this morning to the news that Finland's entry to the Eurovision song contest won!
Sorry...but a rock band dressed up as monsters that could even scare the shit out of orcs in Lord of the Rings actually winning?!

I thought Eurovision is all about celebrating the culture, music, dance of the different countries in and around Europe.

Really...where is this all leading to?