October 6, 2006

Post-Game: Netherlands: Is the Canary a Canard?

Post-Game: Netherlands: Is the Canary a Canard?

One of the questions from last night’s show was whether the situation in the Netherlands holds lessons for the US. The consensus from the comment thread and the show seemed to be that the two countries are quite different, and that it may be hard to predict future events in the US based on what’s happening now in the Netherlands. But here are two more subtle analyses of the situation — one that suggests the US should indeed take a lesson from the Netherlands, and one that suggests it should be the other way around.

The first is from Dutch blogger Martin Wisse, whose junk-mail filter ate my initial email, but who sent us this dispatch late last night. The second is from Aart Hotslag, a Dutch professor of political science at U Mass Lowell.

What’s been happening in the Netherlands is that, unlike the United States, we’ve only been an immigration country since roughly the sixties and are only now encountering the problems with integrating a large minority culture into our own. The US has had experience with this since at least the mid-nineteenth century. In many ways we have not yet evolved the mechanisms approriate for a multicultural society and as a result our tolerance is broad, but often only skindeep.

The situation in the Netherlands is a warning that no country can afford to neglect its recent immigrants. It has a duty to adapt itself to these newcomers just like these newcomers have a duty to adjust themselves to their new country. This is a process which, as the US’ experiences show, takes two to three generations and occurs naturally, but which can explode if the right spark is provided. In the Netherlands this spark was provided by the September 11 attacks and the following War on Terror, which made out all Muslims as terrorists: some Muslims then choose to confirm this view.

Martin Wisse, in an email to Open Source, 10/6/06

The whole issue is different from an immigration issue. This is a population that was invited into the country for a specific period of time – they were called guest workers. It’s very interesting because that term was introduced in this country lately, and it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up because of [the problems we’ve had in the Netherlands as a result of the guest worker program]. These are people who were asked to come to work with the idea they would then return home. So the expectation from both sides was that this was a temporary situation. Both sides do not work towards integration. When it turns out the population is not turning back to their home countries, but are here to stay, it turns out they have formed their own community in the larger society. So you have a double layered society, which doesn’t even want to communicate to each other. The problem of course becomes worse and worse and that’s where we’re at at this point.

Aart Hotslag, in a conversation with Open Source, 10/5/06

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