Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Dutch Paradox

The Dutch are thought to be tolerant, open minded, a haven for social experimentation and free living.
In "The Wire"  when a police major decides to confine the drug trade in Baltimore to a safe zone, where drugs can be bought, sold, and  used without police interference, the hoppers and touts who sell the drugs are told this part of town will be like "Amsterdam."  Of course, given the differences in dialects, it becomes known as "Hamsterdam."  

According to the New York Times today and the New Yorker of 2002, the Dutch have been wrestling with the quandary of what to do when you open your country up as a beacon of freedom and tolerance and a group arrives who values neither, and in fact, hates both.
The Dutch responded by endorsing the first coming of Donald Trump, a man named Pim Foruyn.  Reading Elzabeth Kolbert's article about Fortuyn in the New Yorker, written 12 years before the election of Donald Trump, is a decidedly disconcerting experience.  So much of what Trump did was simply a replay of what Fortuyn did, and Fortuyn was dismissed as a "charlatan" in much the same way, before he won the first election he entered.
Pim Fortuyn

Within living memory, the Dutch were parochial--if you were Protestant, you married Protestant, and you were buried in a Protestant cemetery. Same if you were Catholic. This provided a reference point, a sense of identity and self.  But Protestant and Catholic authority crumpled as the world changed around the Netherlands, and industries were lost, immigrants arrived, and new ideas permeated the airwaves. 

For a time, the Dutch were able to accommodate, although the country folk became resentful of the more libertarian city folk,and there were cultural wars rural/urban much as we have in the States today. 

But then the Dutch had to deal with something the United States has not had to face:  Muslims arrived in substantial numbers, from Morocco and from the war torn states and these new arrivals did not want to assimilate, did not accept the idea that women should be regarded as anything more than domestic slaves and property. Women should not be allowed to go to school and homosexuals should be beheaded.

Dutch politicians like Pim Fortuyn and now Geert Wilders pointed to these Muslims and said what is verboten in open, tolerant societies: These people do not belong here, and we do not want more of them arriving. What we do with those already here is another problem, but let's not allow the situation to get worse.

Donald Trump is only the latest to pick up this chant.

The fact is, liberals like myself have no good answer for the question of what you do with an intolerant minority. Pim Fortuyn said, "The house guests have arrived and are determined to take over the house, which the house owner finds objectionable."

Our own Muslim communities in the States, for example Dearborn, Michigan, have not posed such problems here. From most reports, these Muslim Americans want to assimilate and do not find it offensive to see their neighbors' wives walking about with heads uncovered, going to work with men, going to bars unaccompanied, which would result in beheading in some of the countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia) from whence these Muslims came. 

But in the Netherlands, in France, in Germany, in England, the Muslim communities, or at least some members of these communities,  have posed the vexing problem: What does an open, welcoming, polyglot society do when a group says, "No!"  When that group says, "You are infidels. We know the word of God and the word of God says women belong in the kitchen, says women must not venture out of the house without a male relative as a chaperon, says women should be covered head to toe whenever they leave the house, says anyone who does not accept Islam should be killed?
The fact is there are basic values which are, I am told, embraced by at least some substantial number of Muslims,  which strike me just  as bizarre and offensive as eating brains of those you kill.  
That hundreds of people riot over cartoons lampooning the Prophet is disturbing and is, in fact, an expression of a cultural value. 
You are offended, I understand, but killing people over an insult, over a cartoon?  That a woman is stoned to death for adultery or for running away to marry the man she says she loves who is not the man her father bargained for?  Again: stone aged, revolting, unacceptable.  
We cannot change the minds of thousands or millions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, Libya. What the people of those countries decide to do within their own borders is their business. 

But what do we do when those people decide to come here to live? 
Am I sounding like Donald Trump?  
If this disturbs you, as it does me, because I never want to sound like Donald Trump, help me figure out what I say when I'm on stage debating him, to  answer these legitimate concerns.

My only answer, and the answer I suppose President Obama proposed was, "We'll deal with this on an individual basis. Whenever a Muslim acts on these beliefs in a way which violates our laws, we'll prosecute."

One can understand this is less than fully satisfying to the host citizens.

There is less problem when we are confronted with a group which wishes fervently to embrace our values: Work hard, stay out of trouble, raise your family. That may be the perception many of us have about Hispanic immigrants, even, or especially those who are here without legal permission to be here. 

There are two issues with illegal Hispanics:  1/ The fact many have broken the law to be here   2/ Even those who have worked hard and abide by the law have offended some "white" neighbors. 

A man told  me he was looking to sell his house and to buy another.  His wife is being treated with chemotherapy and this seemed like hardly the time to be buying a new house, but he said he just can't live in his  Methuen neighborhood any more and his wife wants out.  
Why is this? He says on a beautiful Spring day, he sits out on his porch and likes to enjoy the day, but now on one side his neighbors have booming Spanish music and on the other side there is a daily fight and the police are called to separate family members.  This may be a class thing as much as a Hispanic/racial thing, but the irony is, this man is Black. Likely he got his house in a neighborhood where Whites fled when he and his Black cohort arrived; now he is fleeing. 

The problem of what to do about the illegal status of the 11 million illegals is likely easier to solve: If this is a question of law, can we not change the law?  Our immigration laws, after all, have reflected political ideas.  When my grandparents came through Ellis Island, the quotas were set by country of origin. White Christian Protestants did not want too many colored people, or Catholics or swarthy people coming in. That got changed eventually so people who had family here could consolidate their families in the United States. Sounded compassionate--reunite families. But that meant that anyone who could get across the border could bring in large numbers.

Now President Trump is talking about making the rule, we'll take you in if you've got something we want--like computer skills.

I don't know the answers to these problems. I do know the typical kumbaya answers I hear from my liberal friends are unpersuasive and sound starry eyed, unconnected to reality and infuriating to the guy trying to sit on his porch and enjoy a sunny day in a neighborhood which has changed under his feet.

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