The Dutch and their liberal minds
There was a time that the Dutch were praised and admired because of their liberal minds and the evolving of a multicultural society. We have so many different nationalities living in the Netherlands, we have freedom of speech, we have gay marriage and we tell everybody who wants to listen exactly how open minded we are. But are we really that open minded as we think? Isn’t that something that once was but has been gone for few years now? Or is it just the privilege of populist politicians to say what they think?
Ever since 9/11 and the right-wing politicians such as Pim Fortuyn, Rita Verdonk and Geert Wilders, it seems that a lot of Dutch people have lost their mind and their ability to think for their own. I was about the age of 15/16 when the 9/11 attacks took place and when the rise of Pim Fortuyn began. However, despite my age, I always wondered what really happened that suddenly all foreigners (Muslims in this case) were stigmatized (in the Netherlands). Before 9/11 there were mosques in the Netherlands, before 9/11 there were so called ‘black’ schools, there were a lot of different nationalities living here and suddenly everything changed. Populist politicians created fear for everything they found was not Dutch, they created intolerance to one another and changed the Dutch society forever.
In Limburg, the most southern province of the Netherlands, people began to speak about the ‘problems’ with ‘those’ foreigners. I wonder, which foreigners? Of course we have some refugee centres here but none which lay in the middle of a town. Of course we sometimes see someone with a coloured skin, someone who doesn’t speak perfect Dutch. But why are we afraid of someone we never get in touch with?
In the last few years in the provinces with the lowest percentage of foreigners, people voted for Wilders. Because ‘he says what everybody thinks’. I find this thought rather worrying. First of all, can he read ‘everybody’s mind? Come on. Secondly, because even higher educated people seem not to be able to think clearly anymore. The Party of Freedom of Wilders lacks, since its founding in 2004, any real plans or solutions and has never taken responsibility when it had the chance. And was Wilders first focused on Muslims, he now turns his back to Eastern Europeans as well. He is slowly moving himself up from a populist to a right-extremist. And in Limburg one thinks it’s normal because all problems we have derive out of the presence of foreigners in our country.
And don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there aren’t any problems at all in our integration process. But we have to see people as people. And we have to see them for who they are and not for who we think they are because of religion, skin colour or ethnic background.
However fear of the unknown in combination with populist politicians who use their speeches as weapon is a dangerous combination. Political (populist) language focuses on emotions. So part of the support for, for instance Wilders, is not related to any logic. It is emotional.
I think we have to take a good look in the mirror because how can we represent ourselves as open minded when people are stigmatized, shut out, abused and seen as less because of their ethnic background? Why can our country only be united when something terrible happens?
In the 1980’s anti-racism was the norm. Maybe we have to go back to that. At least in Limburg, the province where no one has to fear anything or anyone.