A Crisis in the Netherlands

The government of the Netherlands is worried.

Leader of the right-wing Freedom Party, Geert Wilders says he will release a ten minute anti-Qur’an film at the end of this month. Mr. Wilders announced his plans last November. He said he was making the film to show that the Qur’an is a fascist book which incites believers to violence and hatred.

While recognizing Wilders' right to freedom of speech, Dutch authorities are concerned about the possible repercussions similar to the violent reprisals by Muslims after the publication of the Danish “Mohammed cartoons.” The Prime Minister, Interior Minister and Justice Minister have been holding secret meetings about the expected consequences for some time. The National Coordinator for Counterterrorism is also involved in the discussions. Security plans are being made and Dutch nationals overseas have been asked to register with their embassies and local mayors in the Netherlands have been put on standby.

In the past, Wilders has said that half the Qur’an should be torn up and compared it with Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf," the only book banned from distribution in the Netherlands. He has claimed the Netherlands is being swamped by a “tsunami” of Islamic immigrants.

Immigrants from Muslim countries number about 1 million of the country’s 16 million people.

Wilders said he is not afraid of reprisals if his film angers Muslims. “I have lived with 24-hour protection for three years,” he said.

“I will make the film and see what reaction it creates.”

Wilders is not alone in his opinion of Islam and the Qur’an. A poll conducted in September of 2007 showed that Wilders’ Freedom Party has become almost as big as the governing PvdA party in the 150-seat Dutch Parliament. If elections were to held today the Freedom Party would get 19 seats (compared to only 9 in the last elections) while the governing party would only get 20 (down from 33).

Wilders is therefore expressing the opinion of a considerable percentage of Dutch citizens.

To a large extent the Dutch government is responsible for the current unrest in that country. From my post of Nov. 4, 2007:

“The roots of the Dutch situation can be traced back to the 1960’s when thousands of unskilled immigrants came to the country as part of a “guest worker” program for jobs in the textile, ship building and mining industries. Initially from Italy and Spain and later from Turkey and Morocco, they were expected to stay a few years and then return home. Many did indeed leave, but many more did not. Government policy at the time was essentially one of liberal multiculturalism and encouraged people to be educated in their own language and culture. Continuing to turn a blind eye to reality, it was assumed that these workers would assimilate and seek relationships among the existing Dutch population. They didn’t, and were then allowed to sponsor relatives and potential spouses from their own countries.

As the needs of industry evolved from unskilled labour to a high tech workforce Holland found itself divided into essentially two societies – a highly skilled affluent group and an unskilled, impoverished, mostly Muslim underclass with little motive to assimilate.

The 1990’s saw a further influx of immigrants as refugees from countries such as Somalia. Today, Muslims constitute 5.5% of the total population of the Netherlands.”

From her self-imposed exile in Washington, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch parliament, last week criticized the new film as ‘provocation’ and called on the major Dutch political parties to restart a debate on immigration that has split Dutch society in recent years, rather than leave the field to extremists.

The Dutch government must reconsider its immigration, cultural and education policies not only with regard to Muslims but with the object of changing the attitude of much of its non-Muslim citizenry as well - sooner rather than later.

Although, as noted in the above mentioned post, immigrants to Canada are better educated and have marketable skills and therefore pose few problems, Dutch officials could do worse than study the Canadian model.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a year end interview with The Canadian Press on Dec 23, 2007:

“I first of all think immigrants come to this country to belong to this country. I also think that the Canadian approach to this, which is a mixture of integration and accommodation, for lack of a better term, is the right approach.

I know there's a popularly expressed view that immigrants come here and they should change to suit the country. I think they overwhelmingly do. But I think the fact is our country also consciously changes somewhat for new immigrants and new cultures, and I think that's a successful model. I think if you look around the world for issues of immigration and cultural integration, Canada is as successful as any other country in this regard.

In Ontario, there's been some concern about radical elements in the Muslim community, but these are at the margins. The fact of the matter is there aren't cultural tensions in the country, there generally is a healthy process of integration along with accommodation and if you focus on the Islamic community, yes there are extremist elements but they are small and marginal and the problems we face in this country compared with other countries are tiny.”

Harper said his cabinet has been discussing issues of Canadian identity and how to foster a sense of Canadian values.

"We probably need to have some thought about what the shared values really are, and how we strengthen those, but that said I don't see a cultural fragmentation in this country, I just don't see it."

Bruce Anderson, president of Harris-Decima Research, said Harper's approach seems to mirror how Canadians feel about the issue of racial harmony.

"Voters in Canada have tended pretty routinely in the past to saying, 'Look, we know we have a fragile consensus. On balance, rather than blow that consensus up because we have strong opinions, we'd rather bury our strong opinions and make the fragile consensus continue to hold.’

It’s time the governing party of the Netherlands and its coalition partners address the problem realistically.

Wilders' provocative film, if indeed he does release it, will not make that process any easier.

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