How the Netherlands made Geert Wilders possible

The Atlantic reports: In the 17th century, Dutch settlers flocked to the southern half of what is now Manhattan to establish New Amsterdam, a fur-trading post that would welcome Lutherans and Catholics from Europe; Anglicans, Puritans, and Quakers from New England; and Sephardic Jews who were, at the time, discouraged from settling in America’s other nascent regions. Though its English conquerors would rename the city New York, the values of diversity and tolerance that the Dutch introduced would remain the region’s hallmarks for centuries to come.

In the modern-day Netherlands, however, the Dutch Republic’s founding pledge that “everyone shall remain free in religion” will soon collide with the ambitions of one of the country’s most popular politicians.

“Islam and freedom are not compatible,” claims Geert Wilders, the Party for Freedom (PVV) leader who campaigns on banning the Quran, closing Dutch mosques, and ending immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. “Stop Islam,” the phrase that sits atop Wilders’s Twitter page, aptly summarizes his party’s platform. In December, Dutch courts found Wilders guilty of carrying his rhetoric too far, convicting him of discriminatory speech for rallying supporters in an anti-Moroccan call-and-response. Nonetheless, Wilders is a leading contender to receive the plurality of votes in the country’s parliamentary elections on March 15.

The nation’s peculiar path from “live and let live” to “Make the Netherlands Ours Again” (as Wilders recently said) has as its guideposts a changing definition of tolerance, some instances of political opportunism—and a pair of grisly assassinations.

From the mix of faith groups that inhabited New Amsterdam to the peaceful coexistence of Protestants, Catholics, and socialists throughout the Netherlands in the 20th century, the Dutch brand of multiculturalism has often been more “salad bowl” than “melting pot.” Each sect of society had its own schools, media outlets, and social groups; tolerance was the act of respecting those boundaries.

“Historically, Dutch tolerance has been more of a pragmatic strategy,” said Jan Rath, a professor of urban sociology at the University of Amsterdam. “Tolerance has been a way to contain oppositions or complications.” [Continue reading…]

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3 thoughts on “How the Netherlands made Geert Wilders possible

  1. Dieter Heymann

    Beneath the Dutch brand of tolerance there has always also existed the Stuyvesant-brand of moral and religious intolerance. It is known that Stuyvesant wrote to his employers soon after he was installed in New Amsterdam that he intended to close all pubs and brothels in NA. The managers of the West Indies Company answered in essence “if you want troubles go ahead”. Stuyvesant did not close pubs or brothels.
    Furthermore there is also a strong streak of anarchy in Dutch society which encourages ugly acts of attacking gay couples and destruction of public property after soccer games.
    Nevertheless there exists also a very genuine non-pragmatic but fundamental tolerance among the Dutch. It may have been born by the revulsion generated by the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century.

  2. Paul Woodward

    Tolerance and egalitarianism work hand in hand while promoting a disdain for pretension, but this also creates an antagonism with piety. People who are overtly religious tend to present themselves, or at least be seen by others, as placing themselves above their irreligious neighbors. For that reason, tolerance has to operate as a two-way street.

    At the same time, it strikes me that tolerance is a weak value — it essentially says: we can get along so long as we maintain a safe distance.

    We live in a world where it’s increasingly difficult to sustain that distance and thus those who see each other as different either have to actively engage or alternatively clash.

    What those who claim they are guardians of their respective civilizations miss, is that civilizations have always thrived through engagement. Isolation, on the other hand, produces stagnation.

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