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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Defending Multiculturalism

The notion that fixed national identities are being contaminated by fluid foreign bodies is as fundamentalist and obnoxious as anything you hear out of Riyadh or Utah - Gary Younge

Anthony McIntyre • December 2004

The last thought to cross the mind on seeing a black person running in Amsterdam is that a UVF racist gang from Donegall Pass might be in hot pursuit. The city seems so cosmopolitan with a great mix of peoples. They say that Chinese food in the Dutch capital is, unlike Belfast, authentic otherwise the large Chinese population that lives and works there would not eat it. Ersatz Chinese cuisine is okay for Europeans but for the Chinese only the real thing will suffice. Walking through Amsterdam is an experience comparable to being at an international food fair. Restaurants abound. Succulent Buenos Aires beef and Monte Video steaks caress the palate as readily as Bombay duck or Bangkok chicken. For the unimaginative there is always KFC, and for the politically non-correct, McDonalds. Yet the embrace of those not of Dutch origins shows signs of weakening, particularly so in the wake of the murder last month of Theo Van Gogh at the hands of a theocratic fascist. As a consequence the country's large Muslim community of almost one million people faces a bleak future in which its security is under threat.

The widespread revulsion at the murder has formed a backdrop to a wave of violence directed against Muslims, their sites of learning and their places of worship. The town of Uden lost its only Islamic school, torched by arsonists. It provided for 120 under-12s. The resentment that will surely flow from that is hardly something the Dutch Ku Klux Klan factored into their Neanderthal considerations.

Persecutionist zeal has raged through parts of the country. No longer high on dope some Dutch are high on hate. White Power and Nazi graffiti have been daubed on the walls of mosques. Many more white Dutch, 47% according to one television opinion poll, admitted harbouring sentiments of greater intolerance toward Muslims since the slaying of van Gogh. Left of centre politicians have taken to speaking of 'harsh truths' that need to be faced regarding the country's growing Muslim population. One of their claims has been that 'foreigners' are responsible for most of the country's crime. The governing bloc, having declared 'war' on Islamic extremism, has promised to deport 25,000 illegal immigrants and make language classes compulsory. Prayer leaders in mosques will be compelled to undergo tuition in Dutch culture.

These measures suggest that some in policy-making arenas think the best way to extinguish a fire is by dousing it with petrol. The fascist murderer of van Gogh lived on a drab Amsterdam housing estate. The community he hails from hardly stands at the ready, mobilised to rush off, Koran in one hand and a butcher's knife in the other. But it does face greater levels of poverty and unemployment than white Dutch communities. Draconian measures specifically designed to hound Muslims in a country where it is anticipated that 15% of the population will soon be Muslim seems a recipe for civil war, and Muslim housing estates poor in social amenities and opportunities may suddenly become the source of rich pickings for the theocratic fascists. 'These fires and attacks are revenge for the murder of Van Gogh ... ordinary people are looking for revenge. Educated people are saying that's not the way we do things here. We prefer to make deals. But times are changing. It's a kind of war.'(1) These aggressive thoughts of Stefaan, an 18 year old Dutch student, find eerie resonance in the defensive posture of, Samir, a non-practicing Muslim teenager: 'we are hated now. Whatever we do will be wrong, everything we say will be wrong, everywhere we go will be wrong.'(2)

Those disappointed at a seeming collapse of the legendary 400-year-old Dutch culture of tolerance would do well to remember that it was from Holland that some of the world's worst racists in living memory could trace their ancestry. The Dutch had a certain pernicious talent for withholding their tolerance from the majority black population of South Africa. Is apartheid ready to go back to the land of its forefathers?

A sign at the site of van Gogh's death which merely says, 'Theo rests his case', while possessed of much truth should inspire others to make an even stronger case, one that seeks to show that multiculturalism is not a failed experiment. Islam did not kill van Gogh, theocratic fascism did. But without a vigorous debate on multiculturalism accompanied by a willingness to listen to the concerns it generates more than just multiculturalism will fail. Sections of Dutch society accused of being racist are not such per se, but do harbour serious concerns about the intolerance displayed towards gay, humanist and feminist culture; a hostility they believe flourishes within Muslim communities. They must be free to vent their apprehensions. Of what possible use is a multiculturalism that can only be sustained by what Anthony Browne calls 'curbs on free speech and democracy'? How multicultural is any perspective that marginalises the all-important culture of dissent, including the right to dissent from multiculturalism?

In an era of growing intolerance in the Netherlands the Independent injects words of wisdom into an otherwise frenzied debate and has urged the Dutch to 'do everything in their power to preserve their traditions of free speech' and 'not allow institutionalised Islamophobia to be the price they pay.' Holland can never really claim to have held the line against theocratic fascism if it submits to the urge to become a cold house for Muslims.

(1) Dutch liberalism stares into a troubled future as anti-Muslim backlash grows

(2) The murder that shattered Holland's liberal dream





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
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Index: Current Articles

27 September 2005

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Analysis: Seconds Out — Round 2005
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Reflections: British Victory at Culloden
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Decommissioning Will Reveal Real Problem
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Inclusive Republicanism
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Wish List for Unionist Leadership
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Sunday World vs. Thugs
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Real and Relative Poverty
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How the Poor Live and Die
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Poverty — Do You Get It?
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Defending Multiculturalism
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15 September 2005

Treating the Symptoms Will Not Cure the Disease
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Riots for 'Recognition'
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Dr John Coulter

Ireland: Nationalists Resist Loyalist Intimidation
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Facing the Truth About the North
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Mowlam and the Status Quo
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Exports for the North Mean Exploitation for the South
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Snapshots from Occupied Bil'in
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'Send in the Clowns!'
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Times Are A-Changing, Part II
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Along Baltimore City's Peace Path
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The Critic and the Clown
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