Location: London, United Kingdom

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Netherlands – The Canary in the Coal Mine

The recent stories from Holland should be noted by her allies. Where Holland has gone, Britain and the rest of Europe are following. The silencing happens bit by bit. A student paper in Britain that ran the Danish cartoons got pulped. A London magazine withdrew the cartoons from its website after the British police informed the editor they could not protect him, his staff, or his offices from attack. This happened only days before the police provided 500 officers to protect a muslim protest in Trafalgar Square.
It seems the British police — who regularly provide protection for mosques (as they did after the 7/7 bombs) — were unable to send even one policeman to protect an organ of free speech. At the London protests, islamists were allowed to incite murder and bloodshed on the streets, but a passer-by objecting to these displays was threatened with detention for making trouble.
Holland (with its disproportionately high muslim population) - Its once open society is closing, and Europe is closing slowly behind it. It looks, from Holland, like the twilight of liberalism — not the “liberalism” that is actually libertarianism, but the liberalism that is freedom. Not least freedom of expression.
All across Europe, debate on islam is being stopped. Italy’s greatest living writer, Oriana Fallaci, soon comes up for trial in her home country, and in Britain the government seems intent on pushing through laws that would make truths about islam and the conduct of its followers impossible to voice.
Those who write and talk about islam thus get caught between those on our own side who are increasingly keen to prosecute and increasing numbers of militants threatening murder. In this situation, not only is free speech being shut down, but our nation’s security is being compromised.
Since the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn and, in 2004, the film maker Theo van Gogh, numerous public figures in Holland have received death threats and routine intimidation. The heroic Somali-born Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her equally outspoken colleague Geert Wilders live under constant police protection, often forced to sleep on army bases. Even university professors are under protection.
Europe appears to be shuffling into darkness. It is proving incapable of standing up to its enemies, and in an effort to accommodate the peripheral rights of a minority is failing to protect the most basic rights of its own people.
The governments of Europe have been tricked into believing that criticism of a belief is the same thing as criticism of a race. So it is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous to criticise a growing and powerful ideology within our midst. It may soon, in addition, be made illegal. The recent Bill passed through the House of Commons is such a fudge that one can’t tell one way or the other – Nevertheless it is a step closer to a situation where even the most intolerant must be tolerated.
But all is not doom and gloom, there are small but meaningful signs that things may change for the better. Dutch Integration Minister Rita Verdonk, one of several top politicians under death threats from Islamists, plans courses for imams to train in citizenship and Western values. She demonstrated what that might mean in front of press cameras in January, telling an imam who refused to shake her hand because of "religious rules" that he had better learn Western customs. "Next year I expect to speak to you in Dutch," she said through an interpreter. Dutch borders have been virtually shut. New immigration is down to a trickle. The great port city of Rotterdam just published a code of conduct requiring Dutch be spoken in public. Parliament recently legislated a countrywide ban on wearing the burqa in public. Listen to a prominent Dutch establishment figure describe the new Dutch Way with immigrants. "We demand a new social contract," says Jan Wolter Wabeke, a High Court Judge in The Hague. "We no longer accept that people don't learn our language, we require that they send their daughters to school, and we demand they stop bringing in young brides from the desert and locking them up in third-floor apartments."It seems that the Dutch are once again at the forefront of changes in Europe. This time, the Dutch model for Europe is one of multiculturalism besieged, if not in the dustbin of history where it belongs.
What can explain Europe's unusually (and frankly unexpected) robust reaction to the cartoon crisis, which continued last week with riots in Nigeria and Pakistan that have left over 100 dead. There were apologies for causing offense after a small Danish paper published a dozen cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. But on one point European leaders were united and bluntly clear: they would not tolerate any limits on European newspapers' rights to publish. Denmark's Minister of Cultural Affairs Brian Mikkelsen said, "We have gone to war against the multicultural ideology that says that everything is equally valid." These days, he speaks for most Europeans. Danes, and Dutch, and a few other countries might be well on their way to creating multiethnic societies. But make no mistake: they're no longer willing to tolerate a European melting pot—a broadly multicultural society—where different cultures live by widely different norms.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister said "The French way of integration no longer works," meaning France's long-held pretense that its strict public secularism could erase differences and make newcomers "French." – Where on earth was the logic in that? Thus Sarkozy unveiled a new immigration law earlier this month, a virtual copy of the Dutch regulations. Sarkozy plans to introduce highly selective immigration, testing for the "assimilability" of those it admits. A new "contract of welcome and integration" stipulates learning French and looking for a job in return for 10-year residence permits and discrimination protections. Immigrants failing to respect basic Western values face deportation. Let us see if they really live up to this, or better still deal with the problem once and for all.
If Europeans aim to build multiethnic societies that play by their rules, they'll also have to get their heads around the fact that this new world will be multireligious, too—a fact that poses awkward challenges. Over some of Europe, for example, established Christian churches enjoy special state privileges and subsidies [i.e no "separation of church and state"]. The continent will need to decide whether they would like to re-establish the moral code laid down by the Church (it isn’t too late) or abolish the ‘double standards’ and establish a new equality.
Europe's new immigrant related toughness will feel like forced integration to some – no great surprise there. "It's a form of creating a second-class citizenship," says Tariq Modood, director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship in Bristol. "All the burden of change is placed on the immigrant." Unbloodybelievable.


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