Sunday, November 14, 2004


Anti-Muslim violence in the Netherlands

A few posts on matters to which I will return a few times probably. First, things are going down pretty badly in the Netherlands, with another mosque having been set on fire yesterday - the twentieth or so so far? Mind you, most arson attempts remained attempts - we're not talking about the sharpest knives in the kitchen here. Additionally though, an islamic primary school in Uden was totally destroyed. Some five protestant churches seem to have been attacked as well. All part of the backlash after Theo Van Gogh's murder.

I'm not optimistic. The problem in the Netherlands, I believe, is that it tried to be multicultural without a single unifying basis for those cultures, that it tried to nurture a reputation of tolerance without an underlying ideology of tolerance - basically, various cultures living alongside each other without interacting much - until now, that is. There's a pattern here. In the 17th century, the Netherlands were a Republic without an idea of Republicanism - with large swaths of the country controlled by nominally elected stewards, in practice, however, hereditary princes. There's nothing in the Netherlands like the French idea of the republic arisen from the revolution, or the American idea of the constitution as a central underlying document defining what an American is. Our national anthem, even, is a ditty from the 16th century about fighting the Spanish - nothing like the German "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit".

So, "tolerance" in the Netherlands was entirely pragmatic: based on the peaceful co-existence of first a host of religious factions, then, after secularization in the 1960s, a host of ethnic groups, various lifestyles, etc. without ever defining "Dutchness" in terms of this tolerance. There's a recent article in International Herald Tribune which gets some things right.

Anyway, it's too late now. Ever since the meteoric rise of Pim Fortuyn threw Dutch politics in a turmoil, the established parties are way too afraid to lose ground to a next populist or far-right challenger. One such challenger, Geert Wilders, has already rising up and is soaring in the polls. That's real hair, by the way.

As an answer to this, I suppose the Dutch government will tighten up security even more and probably drift to the right to take the wind out of Wilders' sails if he continues to do well in public opinion. Meanwhile, the extremists on both sides will carry the day.

- Merlijn

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