Demeaning confrontation between Europe and its Muslim community brings misery – Will Netherlands win back its country from anti-Semites?

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By John Vinocur
The New York Times

AMSTERDAM — Of all Europe’s great and present miseries, the one receiving the most uncertain remedies is the failing integration of its increasingly large and alienated Muslim communities.

The wobbling euro, the European Union’s markedly uncertain future as a unified economic force and world political player, its debt, growth and deficit levels, all get daily prescriptive counsel from thousands of experts and bystanders. The markets post minute-to-minute fever charts. Up, down, healing, worsening — the illness and the medicines are there for everyone to see.

But in terms of measurable grief, the exact degree of Western and Islamic civilization’s collisions in Europe is much more difficult to plot.

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Instead, denial is their standard metric: That bomb didn’t go off here, our national soccer team is full of Muslim players, and we haven’t elected any anti-immigrant parties to Parliament, or if we have, they’re ultimately manageable. The less we talk about this stuff the better.

Then something happens. A conflict comes into focus that, beyond its particulars, raises the question of the ultimate compatibility of Islamic communities in Western environments. An issue that, most comfortably, is kept vague, suddenly demands that Europe — in this case, the Netherlands — draw the line. But where is the line?

What has taken place here is that Frits Bolkestein, the former leader of the Liberal Party, which now heads the Dutch government, has advised “recognizable Jews, orthodox Jews” that their children should emigrate from the Netherlands to Israel or the United States. He said, “I see no future for them here because of anti-Semitism, above all among the Moroccan Dutch, whose numbers continue to grow.”

The remark last month twice shocked the Netherlands.

There was the statement itself, resounding in the context of a national history in which almost the entire pre-World War II Jewish community of 150,000 was wiped out by the Nazis.

More, there was Mr. Bolkestein’s view that the Dutch state was unlikely to deal successfully with the problem and his uncertainty that the Dutch people would demand its resolution. These were matters, he told me later, that reflect his profound and overarching concern about the long-term influence of Muslim populations on all of European society.

This dark vision has particular impact here because of Mr. Bolkestein’s reputation among many of the Dutch as kind of seer concerning Muslim immigration. When he suggested in a speech in 1991 that integration had to mean compromises from newcomers concerning their old identities, he was denounced as a bigot. In the intervening 20 years, large parts of the Dutch political spectrum, and much of Europe’s, have evolved toward a position (closer to his) that regards respect of national law and tradition as more necessary than any further European accommodation to a growing Muslim community.

Concerning the harassment of orthodox Jews in public places, Mr. Bolkestein, who is not Jewish, says that it is an “outrage” and “a tragedy” and that he sees similar circumstances existing in France and Sweden.

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Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a Liberal, has responded to Mr. Bolkestein by acknowledging that the problem is one of “great symbolic impact.”

He said of the Netherlands’ anti-Semites, “We stand shoulder to shoulder and stand against these asses.” And, “We want to win society back from the bastards.”

That sounds very much like an admission at the top that Dutch society has been moved or has retreated to someplace it doesn’t want to be.

But Mr. Bolkestein’s pessimism runs deeper. Over the years, he has instead pointed to trends in the country’s population that he believes drive the Dutch/Muslim interface.

Currently, based on official 2006 census figures, the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute estimates Muslims, essentially Moroccans and Turks, represent about 6 percent of the population (with criminality rates among Moroccan youth running about five times that of their Dutch peers). The institute projects the Muslim share of the population will represent 7.6 percent in 2050 — or, with an increased birthrate, 11 percent.

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Population growth that is faster than the native population’s, extremists’ murderous plots, sharp-edged disaffection for their adopted countries among third-generation Muslim males, and societies where large segments of the ethnic majority insist they feel increasingly less at home — what should the Netherlands, and by extrapolation Europe, do?

Revert to a kind of multiculturalism that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, at least, insists is dead?

In fact, the School of Acquiescence and Denial has its followers. Jürgen Habermas, a leading German intellectual figure for decades, has written, “We had, and apparently still have, to overcome the view that immigrants are supposed to assimilate the ‘values’ of the majority culture and to adopt its ‘customs.”’ André Glucksmann, who holds a similar place in the French intellectual stratosphere, notably for his views on European nihilism, refers nowadays to the “imaginary conflicts” that involve French society and France’s Muslims.

In the Netherlands, Job Cohen, the leader of the Labor Party and former mayor of Amsterdam, who was defeated by Mr. Rutte in national elections last June, even points in the direction of Muslim suffering and exclusion from European society.

Asked by a Dutch reporter whether current circumstances affecting Muslims resembled the exclusions of the 1930s, an obvious reference to the Nazi racial laws that placed Jews in an intolerable position in German society, he replied: “Yes.”

Mr. Cohen explained, “That happens in two ways. They get blamed for Muslim extremism. And they get blamed when some Moroccan kids mess up.”

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Frits Bolkestein, whose father was a Buchenwald inmate, described Mr. Cohen’s vision of reality to me as “cultural masochism.”

From this conflict of judgment and diction among democrats, there is no difficulty in identifying who takes profit.

In France, Marine Le Pen of the National Front — trying to replace her father, Jean-Marie, who founded and led the rightist extremist group and called the Nazi gas chambers a “detail” of the history of World War II — has succeeded in turning that history into a nearly unspeakable but headline-making characterization:

She compared streets sometimes closed off in Paris so that Muslims, for lack of mosques, could worship in them to the occupation of France by the Germans.

The disintegration of the European Union and its common currency may well be steered into a rational, livable outcome. The increasingly mean and mutually demeaning confrontation between Europe and its Muslim immigrants finds no signs of a clear resolution, just more misery.

See Related: WORLD POLITICS

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