EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the January 30, 2006, issue of National Review.
Before the assassination of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, the Dutch were apt to give you the impression that they had cracked the secret of life and knew without doubt how it ought to be lived. They viewed other, less enlightened societies–which meant all the rest–with a kind of complacent pity, tempered by the certainty that eventually even the most benighted of them would follow where the Netherlands led.
All that has changed. Whatever other effects the two murders have had, they have rendered the Dutch and their society much more interesting than when Holland was merely the land that permitted everything. The era of complacency is over; that of anxiety and doubt has well and truly begun. For the first time in several decades, liberal consensus is not enough; real thought has become necessary in Holland. In the not-distant past, Holland’s less-than-glorious performance during its occupation of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia)–and its violent attempt to reestablish its power there after the Second World War was over–acted as a reproach to any Dutch conservatism or sense of national pride. But far from remaining a liberal paradise in which it is heresy to question the tenets of multiculturalism, Holland has become a country in which fear of inter-ethnic and religious strife is never far from the surface.
Several questions now haunt the country. Was its previous tolerance mere indifference, blindness, or, even worse, cowardice? How tolerant ought it to be towards those who want to destroy the institutional basis of the tolerance that they themselves have enjoyed but think mere weakness and decadence? Are there incompatible cultures, and if so was it wise to have encouraged mass immigration from a deeply alien land merely to ease a temporary labor shortage? In short, will the Netherlands reap the whirlwind it has sown?
These questions are uppermost in all Dutchmen’s minds, and provoke furious debates over small matters that quickly become emblematic. Salomon Kalou, a gifted soccer player from the Ivory Coast who plays for the famous Dutch club Feyenoord, applied for immediate Dutch citizenship in the hope of being included in the Dutch national team for the World Cup championships to take place later this year in Germany. The minister of immigration, Rita Verdonk, who has presided over a toughening stance towards immigrants and asylum-seekers, has steadfastly opposed granting him citizenship, arguing that Kalou should fulfill the conditions laid down for everyone else, including a five-year residence. This has led to howls of protest from liberals, hitherto used to having everything their way.
Events in Holland are now–for the first time in many years–of interest to its neighbors and near-neighbors, many of whose problems with immigration and multiculturalism are similar . . .
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