Liberalism under pressure

Quotes from an article by Lisa Jardine at BBC News. She skips a few points about Jewish history in the Netherlands.. such as that Jews were banned from various places, and could not spend the night in Utrecht till late in the 18th century. The Netherlands is also the western country that had the highest percentage of Jews killed in the Holocaust. But, overall, she raises some interesting points.

The removal of an immigrant raising awkward political questions is a warning sign over the future of the tradition of free speech and tolerance in Holland.

There are times when a small event raises an issue of enormous importance. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born politician and women's rights activist, is leaving Holland for good.

You may never have heard of her, I'll tell you more about her in a moment. It's a strange irony that a country which has for centuries welcomed all those fleeing persecution should find it impossible to continue to provide Hirsi Ali with a refuge.

The Dutch have had a reputation for tolerance for almost five hundred years. By the 1500s the Dutch writer and educationalist Erasmus of Rotterdam was already disseminating broadmindedness and inclusion to the whole of the western world through his Latin treatises and textbooks.

In July 1572, the Protestant leader of the northern Netherlands, William I of Orange - still celebrated today as the father of the Dutch nation - publicly proclaimed the right of all individuals to freedom of thought and worship at a political assembly at Dordrecht.
He vowed "to protect and preserve the country from foreign tyrants and oppressors", and he promised the Dutch people that "the free exercise of religion should be allowed as well to Papists as Protestants, without any molestation or impediment".

Immigrants' contribution

Holland's immigrants have played a vital part in her rise to power and wealth - skilled Huguenot artisans were the motor behind Dutch clock- and instrument-making, Jewish commercial acumen helped build the Dutch East India Company.

Artists and musicians from the two communities made rich contributions to the golden age of Dutch culture. Holland became famous for her diversity, her intermingled lifestyles and variety, an object lesson to the rest of Europe in how tolerance could build a stronger nation.

Again in the 1950s, Holland offered a European home to immigrants from the former Dutch colonies - Surinam, Indonesia and the Moluccas. From the 1960s onwards it was Moroccan Muslims who were drawn to the Netherlands by her booming economy.

As the pace of immigration quickened across Europe, the Dutch remained committed to their historic belief in open borders and readiness to accept and tolerate difference. By the beginning of the 21st Century more than 10% of Holland's population of 16.3 million were "non-Western"immigrants. Close to one million of these are Muslims.

'Canary in the mineshaft'

Since taking office in 2003, Verdonk has ordered citizenship tests for immigrants, raised visa fees by hundreds of euros and began imprisoning failed asylum-seekers before deporting them. She has shown herself resolutely hard-line in a number of other high-profile immigration cases. Dutch popular opinion appears to be running her way.

What are we to think of all of this? I have heard several comments to the effect that Holland has "at last got her come-uppance" - as if the Dutch were the last Europeans to understand that a long-standing tradition of easy-going liberal tolerance had finally come to an end under the pressure of global migration and post-9/11 polarisation in the "war on terror".

But this is surely the wrong way to look at this sequence of events. The cutting down of an individual with a flamboyant voice and message (Fortuyn was openly gay, van Gogh was a maverick media polemicist) strikes a direct, targeted blow against the values of liberal western nations. Beyond the random terror of hijackings and bombs, it is aimed directly at freedom of speech - at our entitlement to air our views without fear of reprisal.

Holland is the canary in the mine-shaft. As we in Britain watch with fascination, the Dutch Left and Right appear to be coming together in maintaining that immigration barriers have to be put in place, and hard-line legislation enacted to control forcibly those who are already there - exactly as is happening in other, less historically-openminded European countries like our own.
When the Dutch canary stops singing, we should beware. It will tell us that we have sacrificed personal liberty and freedom of speech out of fear of assassination on some street corner in broad daylight.

It is not easy to resist the urge to quiet an irritant voice like Hirsi Ali's. But each of us has to understand that the price of communal silence - the decision not to talk openly about difficult-to-resolve issues of faith and mores - is too high for us to pay. The cut and thrust of political debate, public controversy, and stated positions unacceptable to particular groups, is a vital part of a healthy political state.

Source: BBC (English)

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