Joris Luyendijk writes: Once a beacon of progressive politics, the Netherlands today is a traumatised, angry and deeply confused nation. Support for immigration and the European project are at all-time lows. Synagogues and Jewish schools need police protection from homegrown jihadists, and freedom of expression is under serious pressure. Leading pundits and comedians incite hatred against Muslims in much the same way that antisemites rage against “the Jews”.
It seems a long time since “Dutch” was synonymous with tolerance. A founding member of the European Union, the Netherlands developed from the 1970s onwards into a laboratory for social and cultural change, boldly pioneering the legalisation of prostitution, soft drugs, euthanasia and gay marriage.
Those were the days when Dutch politicians and opinion-makers would refer to the Netherlands, without any apparent irony, as a “gidsland”, or “guide country”: a small nation leading by example. Its proudest moment probably came in June 1988 when an ethnically mixed team of Dutch footballers won the European Championships, beating the all-white teams of arch-rival Germany and then Russia. It felt like the ultimate vindication of multiculturalism.
Fast-forward 28 years, and heading the polls today is Geert Wilders’ PVV or Freedom party. Elected “politician of the year 2015”, Wilders is the sole member of the party he founded, ruling over it as undemocratically as the Arab dictators he so despises. He wants the Netherlands to drop the euro and leave the EU. Like Donald Trump he demands an end to all immigration from Islamic countries. A typical Wilders tweet: “As long as we have ‘leaders’ such as [Dutch prime minister] Rutte, Merkel, Obama and Cameron denying Islam and terror are one and the same, there will be more terrorist attacks.”
Of course there was racism and intolerance in the Netherlands during the 70s, 80s and 90s, too, and the country of old has not entirely disappeared. A slim majority continues to vote for pro-EU parties that abhor discrimination against Muslims. The popular mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, is openly and proudly Muslim. The speaker of parliament, Khadija Arib, is of Moroccan descent; and in 2007 Dutch readers voted the book The House of the Mosque by Iranian-born Kader Abdolah to be the second “best Dutch book ever”.
Yet the influence of the PVV is widely felt, particularly because the steadily growing far-left Socialist party shares many of its views on the EU. And with every new terrorist attack, wave of refugees or expensive euro bailout, the forces of regression grow stronger, both on the far right and the far left. [Continue reading…]