The murder of Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh on Tuesday, November 2 has proven the catalyst for an epidemic of violence that has deeply damaged the image of the Dutch, both domestically and abroad, as a tolerant people.
In the almost three weeks since the murder, on a daylight street in Amsterdam, mosques and churches have been bombed and a 15 hour shoot-out took place between Islamists and the police in The Hague, which resulted in the wounding of one suspect and two police officers.
But Van Gogh’s murder is only the latest in a series of violent actions by Islamists in this small country. When S. and I visited Amsterdam this summer, our friend, C., an American graphic designer who had lived in the city for five years, commented that the country’s tradition of tolerance had produced unforeseen results. Namely, Islamic religious leaders, who had gained entrance to Holland due to that country’s liberal immigration laws, were preaching violence against the unrighteous, that is, against those whose culture and laws had allowed them to be there in the first place. The Dutch.
The enormous amount of immigrants, many from Islamic countries, have been welcomed into Holland over the past decades. Holland’s tradition of asylum extends back at least to the 16th century when many thousands of Sephardic Jews were welcomed into the country after they had been expelled from first Spain and then Portugal.
The problem is that these latest immigrants were provided with the necessities for life but were not required to become a part of the Dutch society that they felt alienated from and, with the encouragement of some imams, grew to hate. There were no economic forces driving them into the mainstream, they were frequently physically isolated in ghettos, and there were no languages requirements, resulting in second generation Dutch of Islamic heritage who speak no Dutch.
The earlier (May 6, 2002) murder of the anti-immigrant demagogic politician Pim Fortuyn was the first high-profile shot fired in this conflict. Although Fortuyn’s murderer was not a Muslim, many believed his strident condemnation of Holland’s immigration policy was a factor in creating the atmosphere in which he was killed.
In her September, 2002 paper, “The Netherlands: Tolerance Under Pressure,” Joanne Van Selm of the Migration Policy Institute said, “The atmosphere seems increasingly unwelcoming. Tolerance is clearly showing its limits.” It seems she was on to something.
Holland has the highest population density in the European Union: 388 people per square kilometer according to a 2000 United Nations estimate. As of 2003, 18.4 % of Dutch, almost 3,000,000, were foreign born. By 2002, according to the Dutch Central Office for Statistics, the population of the Netherlands was growing by 329 people per day. (Admittedly, it is always difficult to wade purposefully through the mass of data each government and organization provides, much of which is contradictory.)
At any rate, Holland has a great many immigrants, virtually no breaks on the process; they are coming at an increasing rate and are becoming a higher percentage of the country’s inhabitants and they seem increasingly to be at odds with Dutch society as a whole.
I wrote C., asking him simply, “What in the hell is going on over there?”
“It would take quite some time for me to respond properly, and you probably know as much as I do.
“While the hubbub over the last weeks’ events — first van Gogh’s murder, then the appalling ‘revenge’ attacks on a mosque and a school, and finally an unrelated but terrifying siege by the police of an apartment block in the center of the Hague which turned out to be housing a group of grenade-tossing terrorists (yup, they were Muslims, too), and which was accompanied by a disturbance on the street by a group of very white teenagers — has died down for the time being (we haven’t started an war in a show of righteous indignation), everyone is saying that the Dutch tradition of enlightened tolerance is deeply wounded.
“Whether this is the case or not, is yet to be seen. Most people would say that van Gogh was not a beloved figure, and few actually saw his films or read his other work. The clips of Submission which I saw were indeed outrageously insensitive, and I would imagine that many would find the film highly insulting. Not nearly as insulting, however, as the work of the fool who killed van Gogh, or the work of the imam who urged him to action.
“There’s a growing trifold split between the radical Muslims in one corner, the reactionary Dutch in another corner, and the ‘enlightened’ Dutch, many of whom represent the government, but many more just normal people, in the other corner.
“I have a feeling that a logical, legal solution will be found for the imams who incite their associates to violence. And that reconciliation with the rest of Islamic Holland is possible. But at the same time, the reactionary segment of the population is a sort of powder keg. They were the one’s who elected the Pim Fortuyn party into a minority government.
“And speaking of Fortuyn, an annual survey (conducted by one of the newspapers? I’m not sure, really) to select the Greatest Nederlander of All Time, revealed the bald-headed nincompoop Fortuyn to be the winner this year. Never mind Rembrandt, Erasmus, William of Orange, Admiral de Ruyter, etc….”
“That’s a good point, that you have stabby-stabbies on one side, meatheads on the other and the regular Dutch in the middle and, arguably, enabling the meatheads to whack on the stabbies and vice versa. Hopefully, unfashionable as it is, and in some way counter to Dutch sensibility, you’ll take the imams to task and require a little come-along as opposed to really dropping the hammer. One of the things I took away from my safe European home this summer was a weird feeling about the change in culture and the potential for civil strife due to immigration. This situation and dynamic bei euch is a good example of this.
“I think this will be Europe’s number one challenge in the coming years. All-in-all, the whole world’s freaking me out. And as for self-righteous wars, don’t count your chickens before they’re ethnically cleansed.”
C. wrote back:
“The police and the government have been busy for years now trying to figure out how to ‘deal’ with certain religious leaders who not only preach revolution, but who urge their congregation to react violently toward sinners, which of course includes all of the infidel West. (Instructions given recently by one sage for dealing with homosexuality — something which they surely claim only occurs outside the Islamic world — are simple: hunt them down and push them off a building.) That they simplify matters by describing the citizens of their host country as “firewood for hell” only makes this business of tidying up Allah’s world easier.
”It seems to me that the simple laws prohibiting incitement to violence would be sufficient grounds for prosecution. Sure some people will decry this as undermining the right to free speech. But surely freedom of speech does not include directly urging organized groups of people to attack and kill others. As far as I’m concerned, once one crazy acts on this speech, then the speaker is liable. At any rate, I’d rather see simple measures to maintain the peace used, than for everyone to get so alarmed that they start setting up death camps.
“Yeah, Europe’s been dealing with this stuff for a while now, and will continue at an accelerated rate, now that our borders are open. The reason France and Germany are so quiet about it all these days is not, I think, out of anti-American spite, but because for them Islamic revolutionary violence is a real yawner. Been there done that, and still being there.”
“I wonder re. the free speech limitations. I wonder that is, if structural laws, that don’t impinge those rights, might be as effective and less morally dicey. I mean things like language requirements, limitation of social services (or hinging them on certain actions, like language acquisition, etc.), employment requirements, immigration limitations and so on. But I am the first to admit, I am not a policy pro. Very complex. And may require someone with vision. Unfortunately, most Men of Vision envision themselves as heroic statues. “
“The question of structural limitations is what the Netherlands is currently working through. Minister of Immigration Verdonk has, over the last few years, rolled out a policy of integration, which is the focus of a great deal of discussion and anger.
“Under her policies, those who wish to immigrate must take a language test, and a cultural test to prove that they are integrated into Dutch society. There are several problems with this approach. First, the cost of the imburgerings classes are high, and must be paid by the immigrant/refugee. Second, the criteria for knowledge of the Dutch culture are hard to pin down, to put it mildly. Can you imagine an American Cultural Test which would be equally applicable to someone from the Lower East Side in New York as someone from, say, rural Red State America?
“Verdonk’s moves are essentially an effort to discourage immigration. And they have worked. The rate of immigration has actually slowed substantially from its peak in 2000, largely due to her policies. But the liberal majority still finds this sort of tactic repugnant. The First Public Mock-Imburgerings Test was held in October in the Paradiso, and received a large turnout. The idea is that Dutch people gather en masse at a nightclub and attempt to pass the test. Most expressing shock and bewilderment at the bizarre questions. I’ll have a look and see if I can find any record of the questions/answers and reactions from the public.
“For some reason, I have neither been asked to take the real test, nor ordered to attend the integration classes. I was told that these are for people from other cultures and not for me. Perhaps it only applies to those who are classified as refugees? Maybe this gap in my own knowledge is proof that I’m not well-enough integrated. I have read the literature on how to obtain Dutch citizenship, and it does say that ‘a sufficient knowledge of the Dutch language and culture are required,’ so I’m diligently taking Dutch classes at night, and hoping that I understand enough of the culture to squeak by.”