Thursday 20 March 2014

Dutch racism

Geert Wilders, the popular leader of the Dutch PVV (Freedom) Party, is well known for his anti-Islam and anti-immigrant viewpoints. Dutch Moroccans are his favourite target, who are systematically put down by Wilders as criminal, extremist, terrorist, and benefit scrounging untermenschen.

The Dutch have now been debating for years whether Wilders' public statements are racist or not (see here). To me, this is somehow puzzling, as what else can you call the stereotyping and scapegoating of entire population groups?

Why this hesitance? Part of the explanation is that most mainstream Dutch politicians have become terrified of Wilders.They have even been taking over many of his viewpoints on immigration in  attempts to win back votes. The right-wing liberal VVD party, in particular, has done its best to copy PVV's anti-immigration, anti-diversity (see here) and 'law and order' viewpoints.These strategies have failed, but have made Wilders' viewpoints respectable.

They also avoid very harsh attacks against Wilders because they may need his party to form the next coalition government. After all, the PVV is now the biggest or second biggest party in national polls.

In other words, politicians are afraid to call Wilders a racist because he has become too powerful. Yesterday, he went one step further during a speech to celebrate his party's victory in local elections in The Hague (see video)

- Wilders: "I ask you. Do you want, in this city, and in the Netherlands, more or fewer Moroccans"
- Audience: "Fewer, fewer, fewer.... " (shouting)
- Wilders:  "Then we will fix this" (audience and Wilders laugh)

Innocent: no. Deliberate:yes. Racist: yes.

Yet once again, PM Rutte of the VVD party stated this week that he does not rule out the possibility of forming a next government with Geert Wilders, who already gave vital support to Rutte's previous government.

To be honest, this makes me angry and scares the hell out of me. Not so much because of what Wilders says (racism is of all ages after all), but because he gets away with it (not in the legal, but in the moral sense), because mainstream politicians lack the moral compass, courage and self-confidence to go in the counter-attack, show solidarity and identify with fellow Dutch citizens of Moroccan origin or Islamic faith.

What we need is a Prime Minister who has the guts to say: "I am a Moroccan". That would be real leadership. What we get is cowardice.

As my colleague Ann Singleton said on Twitter yesterday: "Shocking times across Europe - racist parties are again becoming respectable power brokers". Cynical power politics apparently justify sacrificing any principle.  It is a dangerous slippery slope.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

In Rotterdam we speak Dutch

Tomorrow, the Dutch will vote in municipal elections. In Rotterdam, the VVD (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy), the right-wing liberal party of Prime Minister Rutte, is campaigning with an election poster featuring the text In Rotterdam we speak Dutch ("In Rotterdam spreken we Nederlands"). 

This official expression of intolerance in one of Europe's most diverse cities is part of the general backlash against multiculturalism that has swept over the Netherlands since the early 2000s. The new political correctness is that diversity is bad and that immigrants have problems because they refuse to integrate. In the recent past, some Dutch politicians have even proposed to outlaw speaking foreign languages in public spaces. 

However, is it really about speaking foreign languages? Or only particular languages with even more guttural sounds than Dutch, which most Dutch do not understand and which may therefore sound scary in their ears, such as Arabic or Berber? 

This seems indeed to be the case, if we consider another election poster used in the Amsterdam local campaign by the same party, which proudly states, in English!, Why do expats living in Amsterdam vote VVD? 

This poster targets resident foreigners who have the right to vote in local elections. The answer to the question seems easy: So-called 'expats' (which is really a euphemism for wealthy immigrants who do not like to see themselves as 'immigrants', a term rather associated to foreigners doing unattractive, low-skilled jobs) tend to support the VVD's political agenda of lower taxation, less regulation and a smaller welfare state. The poster even tries to conveys the message to the native Dutch that 'expats' possess some sort of special political wisdom. They are the super-immigrants.

This reveals the double standards that apply to different kind of immigrants. British, Americans and other immigrants from English-speaking countries are never expected to 'integrate'. Those who wish learn Dutch are often even discouraged to do so by the Dutch who are eager to speak English.

Indeed, some languages - as well as the immigrants speaking them - are more equal than others.