Terrorist fear exposes Dutch intolerance


Geert WildersThe Netherlands is widely known for its image of tolerance. Many tourists travel to the capital city, Amsterdam, keen to experience life among people with a famously relaxed attitude towards marijuana, prostitution, euthanasia, abortion and same-sex marriage.

In reality, the popular perception of the Netherlands as a tolerant country is only a half-truth. Legalising controversial issues is emblematic of the Dutch view that what cannot be prevented, may as well be made legal and regulated to maintain order and safety. It is a combination of deep pragmatism and tolerance.

With this in mind, it is easier to understand how beliefs such as Geert Wilders' (pictured) have come to exist within the Netherlands. Wilders made world headlines, and commanded considerable Dutch attention, with the release of his film, Fitna. The ten-minute film juxtaposes verses of the Koran with images of Islamic violence from all over the world. Fitna urges Dutch citizens to defend their freedom and stop the penetration of Islam.

Although Wilders claims to be interested in warning the Dutch people of the dangers that their Muslim compatriots pose, these dangers are limited. There has only been a single act of Islamic terrorism in the Netherlands — the murder of film director Theo Van Gogh in 2004.

Yet a Europe-wide poll shows the Dutch have a higher perception of terrorist threat than most of their European neighbours. Fundamental to this is a belief that Muslims intend to force a foreign system upon the Netherlands — that a menacing Islamic way of life will encroach upon the traditional values and hallmarks of Dutch identity.

This sentiment is indicative of a system that has failed to understand and accept its Muslim population.

It results from an historical failure. When immigrants began arriving in the Netherlands in the 1960s, from Morocco, Turkey and other countries, they came as guest-workers and in response to an active invitation by the Dutch government. At the time, political thinking concluded that since these foreigners would not take up permanent residence in the Netherlands, there was no need to nurture their Dutch identity.

In fact, it was seen as a righteous thing to allow guest-workers to maintain their own customs and beliefs; this was, after all, the Dutch way.

As the situation changed and immigrants became residents, the government was slow to recognise the need for formal integration and has been playing catch-up ever since. The children of the original guest-workers are now second and third generation Dutch citizens who are torn between two cultures. These one million Dutch-Muslims, in a country of 16 million, are living largely in isolation from the mainstream culture.

This isolation of communities has historical resonance in the Netherlands. 'Pillarisation' referred to a time when the major religions were effectively segregated from each other. You either belonged to a branch of Protestantism, to the Catholic Church or you were secular.

From birth to death, the Dutch were cocooned in a world of their own — if you were born in a Catholic hospital, you went to a Catholic school, listened to Catholic radio, married a Catholic, and were buried in a Catholic cemetery.

This crucial period in the formation of the modern Dutch nation lasted until the 1960s, when rising secularisation brought the pillars down. It seems this phenomenon has been replaced by a new division along cultural lines.

In a speech late last year calling for the Koran to be banned, Wilders proclaimed that 'a moderate Islam does not exist'. While his statement was rejected by three quarters of Dutch citizens, the same poll illustrated steady growth in support for Wilders' controversial Freedom Party. A further 70 per cent of citizens feel political parties do not discuss Islam often enough and 65 per cent are pessimistic about integrating Islam in the Netherlands.

Most Dutch rarely mix with the Islamic population, begrudgingly tolerating their existence. This is a negative and regressive form of tolerance that harks back to the days of pillarisation.

There is a schism within the nation that can only be reversed if it is recognised that tolerance in the Netherlands has become a burden. The foundations of the myths that form Dutch identity are ungrounded. This needs to be acknowledged.

Positive forms of coexistence should be pursued on the basis of what the Dutch and their Muslim compatriots have in common, not that which separates them. Wilders' frustrations and fears have unearthed a discussion that the Dutch people need to have.

Muslims address film controversy (Prague Post)

Ashlea SciclunaAshlea Scicluna is a freelance writer in her third year of a Bachelor of International Relations at La Trobe University. She recently spent time living in the Netherlands on a study scholarship.

Topic tags: ashlea scicluna, tolerance, netherlands, fitna, geert, wilders, pillarisation, islam



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Existing comments

'This sentiment is indicative of a system that has failed to understand and accept its Muslim population.' - How interesting and has the Islamic population accepted the Dutch way? or is it to be one way only? The article is silent on that point!
Justine Walerowicz | 20 May 2008

I was a 'migrant' in the Netherlands in the 1960s, and I totally disagree with this opinion. The Dutch are tolerant, but as with Australians, they draw the line somewhere. After reading about van Gogh's murder, I can't but sympathise with them.
Nathalie | 20 May 2008

To state "there has only been a single act of Islamic terrorism in the Netherlands" is disingenuous at best. The murder of a prominent film-maker becausue he had made a film critical of Islam was a very threatening act that struck at free speech. The subsequent death threats against Ayaan Hirsi Ali could well be construed as a terrorist act. These attempts at stifling free speech with the background of the previous murder of Pim Fortuyn (not committed by an Islamic terrorist but widely supported by Islamic groups after the event) have had a huge impact on Dutch society. It is no wonder that the Dutch have a higher perception of terrorist threat than most of their European neighbours.

To attribute Dutch attitudes to the previous division between Catholic and Protestant communities (very similar to Australia) is a nonsense; those events taught the Dutch the value of tolerance.
chris gow | 20 May 2008

The writer asks how Muslims might "fit in" with a majority Dutch culture. We have an interesting, even identical, comparison here in Australia - namely, how can aborigines "fit in" with the majority, essentially western, culture and lifestyle.

In both cases the essential first step must be in the imagination - no-one can plan for the future unless they can first imagine it.
John R. Sabine | 20 May 2008

I am with your respondents on this one. Many Dutch are disquieted by the penetration of Islam precisely because of the threat posed to Dutch identity, traditions and values. Given low birth rates among the Dutch and most other European countries and the demographic power of the Muslim immigrant communities, it is only a matter of time before these societies are seriously compromised if things continue the way they are now. If 16 million Dutch are now playing host to 1 million Muslims then I would say that is enough and it can't go on. As Pym Fortuyn commented, the Netherlands is full.

The isolation of Muslims from the majority community is not just a function of so-called Dutch intolerance. Many Muslims are kept sealed off in religious and cultural ghettos by their own leaders who are terrified of their people being infected by Western liberalism and "decadence".

In any case, it is very likely the case that the Dutch and the Muslims do not have much in common. The Netherlands and countries like it - Britain, the Scandinavian lands, North America and Australia (all derived, incidentally, from Christian roots) - are pluralistic societies with wide (but not endless) boundaries of acceptance, whereas many Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Pakistan and Taliban Afghanistan are intolerant of any other religious or cultural expression. Think about the plight of the Christians in these countries.

The pessimism that most Dutch feel is fully warranted. They are unnerved by the sudden appearance of violence in their internal politico-social affairs, something not seen for many generations. The don't like what they see and they are worried. If ever there were to be a Muslim majority in the Netherlands - a not entirely fanciful prospect - that would be the end of tolerance. Islam is well practised in demanding tolerance when it is a minority but not so good at giving it to others when it is the majority.
Sylvester | 20 May 2008

1. The Dutch have had over 400 years of living with Islam.

2. Read history of the aftermath of Dutch withdrawal from Indonesia.

3. Read the history of withdrawal of Mohammad from Mecca and the early history of him in Medina. He was at first welcomed by a Jewish tribe there but when they did not go along with his demands he accused them of being against him and gave the green light to attack them.
E.N. Olsen | 20 May 2008

I am Catholic and my best friend is a Turkish born Muslim living in Holland. Our faith is important to both of us, and yet we both manage to remain friends. Both of us are disgusted by Fitna.

The comments here suggest that the Dutch are right to fear the Muslims. I can only assume these respondents managed to skip all the sections in the New Testament that said we should love one another and not judge.

Funny, I thought that was a key message in Christ's teaching. The whole point is that we forgive others, we're not perfect ourselves.

Yes there is a fear of terrorism, and yes the terrorists at the moment claim to be Muslim. But my heritage is Irish Catholic. I'm not in the IRA and I hated being treated like I was.

If we treat people like criminals, why should they not act like them? If we were expected to be rotten, how many of us could honestly say that we would constantly rise above it?

The only way we will defeat terrorism is through loving everybody, and not being afraid. That's it. Simple. Now stop saying 'we should be afraid' and just love!
Anne-Maree | 20 May 2008

Touche, and away on a tangent. The main point of Fitna is that Islamic texts inspire violence, supremacy and world conquest.

This article is yet another that ignores the main point of the film. Wilders is begging the world to debate the true nature of Islam. It is a quest Robert Spencer has been on for years. But still ignorance and censorship win out.

How many words, how many pages, how many megabytes wasted talking AROUND the subject that Wilders and Spencer raise. Robert Spencer:

"The Qur'an, on the other hand, quite clearly does teach believers to commit acts of violence against unbelievers -- see 2:190-193, 9:5, 9:29, 47:4, etc. There are no equivalents to such open-ended and universal commands, addressed to all believers to fight unbelievers, in the Bible.

... all of the schools that are considered orthodox teach, as part of the obligation of the Muslim community, warfare against and the subjugation of unbelievers ..." read more
Michelle | 21 May 2008

I liked the author’s start to her article: ‘tourists travel to the capital city, Amsterdam, keen to experience life among people with a famously relaxed attitude towards... euthanasia.’

I personally have never used as a recommendation by which I travel that the people in the city I visit must embrace voluntary suicide, but there you go. Although I have been to Israel, in which there are some parts of the country where people embrace voluntary suicide, but I guess voluntary suicide of the Palestinian brand differs somewhat from the Dutch brand.

As for the rest of the article, I found it thoughtful at times, though I think it highlights the dangers implicit in multiculturalism, which I don’t think was intended.

The truth is, politics can only do so much to alleviate social tensions and problems which exist between segments of the community; it’s absurd to think that a government policy has the ability to fundamentally change value systems and beliefs and the way people relate to each other.

Also, governments can aggravate and exacerbate in a negative way because people tend to respond to demagoguery easier than they do to reconciliation and cohesion. Still, good article.
Action: verb? | 21 May 2008

It is unfortunate that societies that pride themselves on their liberalism and tolerance can be so intolerant towards some groups.

The question of Muslims in the Netherlands should make us pause and think. Integration is a two way process. The onus is on both Muslims and non-Muslims. In the past the debate has often focused on migrants and the host society. But, more and more, Muslim residents/citizens in Europe, and of course Australia, are born and bred in the ‘host’ country.

So what we are facing now is not a question of integration in the conventional sense that relates to language acquisition, networking and gaining access to educational and employment opportunities, but a more subtle question of mutual acknowledgment that Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and atheists all belong to the same nation, and have equal entitlement to respect.
Shahram Akbarzadeh | 21 May 2008

The foundational doctrines of Islam reject the equality of human beings, claim Muslim supremacy, teach the inferiority of women, deny the concept of human rights, reject freedom of speech and freedom of enquiry, implement barbaric mutilations as punishment, murder critics and apostates and 'disobedient' women where possible, and mandate endless persecution of non-believers until the world submits to Allah and his messenger.

Pretending respect for such retrograde beliefs is harmful to human freedom and dignity and does no favours to non-Muslims nor those Muslims who value the sanctuary of the secular state.

These doctrines, found in the Qur'an, the hadith and the Sira must be continually exposed until they are repudiated and reformed. Until then, liberal democracies must continue to resist them.
Gabrielle Lord | 21 May 2008

Anne-Maree: The gospel injunctions to love and refrain from judging cannot be used simplistically when it comes to the civil life of societies and states, especially in the area of national security.

What does it mean to love or to withhold judgment at this level? Was it unloving and judgmental of the Allied powers to take action to stop the Nazi nightmare in Europe?

Love does not exclude taking firm action which some people might not like.

Shahram: What you say doesn't seem to apply in majority-Muslim societies. In those countries, the onus for harmony, integration and mutual respect is rarely shouldered by Muslims.

I look forward to the day when Saudi Arabia legalises the Christian faith and allows the thousands of Filipino and other Christians who live there the freedom to practice their faith.

A positive move has recently been made in Qatar but even that is hedged in by all sorts of restrictions and qualifications.

Meanwhile, Christians continue to die in Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, the northern states of Nigeria, and so on.
Sylvester | 21 May 2008

It is dangerous to mix the aims of multicultural countries, e.g. Australia, with those of mono-cultural European countries, as it confuses issues. To view the latter from the perspective of the former results in misguided conclusions.
john stuyfbergen | 22 May 2008

What a joy it is to read these comments! People reading alternate views, reflecting, disagreeing, challenging,holding a dialogue through the wonders of the internet. I hated giving up my paper Eureka Street - but I love this, now!
John | 22 May 2008

John, you are so right. These conversations, arguments and dialogues are not only very important, but great fun.
Sylvester | 23 May 2008

While I agree that tolerance is important, that tolerance extends both ways. I have been told by friends living in the Netherlands that one of the reasons many Dutch people feel uneasy about Islam is because of the prejudice that many (not all) Muslim people demonstrate, particularly towards the homosexual community.
tessa | 23 May 2008

For the first time in centuries the Dutch had to employ security police to protect the politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali who was besieged with death threats.

Ayaan's only "crime" had been to speak out for Muslim women. Muslim men could not tolerate this liberty on her part.

Obstructing feminine freedom and freedom of speech is encroaching upon traditional Dutch beliefs and values? I would think so.
Marjo Chambers | 27 May 2008

The author has clearly instigated fascinating discussion. Scicluna addresses many facets of this controversy-riddled debate within a limited word-quota. Therefore to criticise the author's exploration of only the issues pertinent to her argument is ridiculous.

Government Policies are in fact capable of fundamentally altering value systems and beliefs. The Australian Government's reforms with regards to homosexuals serving in the military, and post AIDS safe sex campaigning are fine examples.

The lack of integration between Muslim and many traditional European communities suffers from the absence of a viable solution. The influx of Turks to Germany has resulted in an increasing number of isolated Islamic communities – much like the case in the Netherlands.

In an attempt to address the issue, several German Primary schools are employing a new educational model. This system, in simple terms, brings together children of all backgrounds (allowing each to learn about others' culture, religion, and language), and, crucially, incorporates a similar approach with the parents who partake in activities similar to that of their children.

This model does require active pursuit of integration by all parties. Nonetheless it remains a solid first step towards integration.
Oliver | 02 June 2008

There's only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures and the Dutch.
Nigel Powers | 15 October 2009


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