The Netherlands has a reputation as a liberal, tolerant society. On a range of issues, from legalising prostitution and cannabis, to euthanasia and gay marriage, the Dutch have taken a progressive stance. The Dutch capital, Amsterdam, is one of the most multicultural, ethnically-diverse cities in the world.

Yet not everybody in the Netherlands supports tolerance. National elections are scheduled for 15 March 2017, and the anti-immigration, anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, who leads the far-right Party For Freedom (PVV), is currently polling roughly 18%. The PVV’s manifesto pledges that a Wilders government would enact a “de-Islamification” programme: rounding up and detaining any Muslim the government identifies as “radical” (even when no crime has been committed), banning the Muslim Quran, expelling Muslim asylum seekers, shutting all mosques in the country, banning headscarves in public, and banning immigration from Muslim-majority countries. Needless to say, these policies are not exactly “tolerant”.

Supporters of the PVV argue that Muslim immigrants often hold very traditional, conservative religious beliefs which clash with the Dutch notion of tolerance (for example, on homosexuality or women’s rights). Critics, however, see Wilders’ de-Islamification programme as dangerously authoritarian, scapegoating Muslims and inciting hatred and racism.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Peter, who says he disagrees with racism but that he also feels that his culture is under threat from immigration, and that this makes him less tolerant of diversity.

To get a response to Peter, we spoke to Floris Mansvelt Beck, a lecturer in ethics and political philosophy at Leiden University. What would he say?

florisWell, my guess is that there are a lot of people that feel the way he does. But, to be honest, if you look at the cultural changes that have occurred in the Netherlands over the past half-century, the effect of immigration is pretty marginal by comparison. There have been huge cultural changes, transforming the Netherlands from a highly pillarised and fairly religious society (and ‘pillarisation’ is a term describing the Netherlands as being composed of different religious groups, such as Catholics and Protestants). The Netherlands has changed from that kind of society – which was fairly religious and diverse – into a pretty homogenous, highly-secularised, post-industrial society. These changes have been huge and they weren’t caused by immigration, but they might go some way towards explaining the societal angst that some people are experiencing. So, I understand that immigration can be seen as threatening, but it’s not quite clear to me that immigration is more of a threat to Dutch culture than, for example, the internet and American sitcoms.

We also had a comment from Marieke, who argues that “stereotypes, prejudices and paranoia” have always been embedded in Dutch culture. So, is the Netherlands really growing less tolerant? Or has intolerance always been there?

We spoke to Caroline De Gruyter, author and journalist based in Vienna, and a European Affairs correspondent for the leading Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. What would she say?

de-gruyterThe Netherlands has a reputation for tolerance. We have always been conducting social experiments, if you will. We were the first country to legalise euthanasia in the whole of Europe, gay marriage was another first – we conducted one social experiment after another. Also, as a multicultural society, we were always ahead. And this gave us the label ‘tolerant’ and flexible. But, at the same time, we all had to agree with that. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t agree with it, but there were many more people who did not agree with it and they felt they were not listened to.

[The Netherlands is] a small country and it feels like almost everybody knows one another, especially the political, economic, and cultural elite. It’s very much a culture where – a bit like in Denmark – everybody wants to agree. People who fundamentally disagree have usually kept a low profile. So, I think our so-called ‘tolerance’ has carried with it a sort of intolerance for dissent. This has now come to the surface, and Marieke is very much right to say that it’s always been there, but people used to say it with the curtains closed, and now all of a sudden they say it on the street and on television…

Finally, we also had a comment from Bert, accusing the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of playing populist politics. Most recently, Rutte took out a full-page newspaper ad in order to publish an open-letter arguing migrants should integrate or “go home”. Is this a sign that Dutch politics is growing more xenophobic?

florisI think what it shows especially is that it’s much more acceptable to be critical of what are considered to be deviant beliefs or behaviour than, say, 20-30 years ago. This has less to do with xenophobia than it does with changing views of toleration, however. For the majority in the Netherlands, there isn’t really a good reason anymore to tolerate what they consider to be unreasonable beliefs or customs. As a result of secularisation, the majority isn’t religious. Because the majority has no need for toleration itself, it has become much less tolerant than it was when the Netherlands was still composed of differing religious groups, none of which had a clear majority. That is why the prime minister can get away with remarks which would have been beyond the pale two decades ago.

We put the same question to Caroline De Gruyter, to see what she would say. Does she think the Netherlands is growing more xenophobic and less tolerant of diversity?

de-gruyterIf politicians use xenophobic rhetoric, people will think it’s perfectly okay to talk like this. I think we have a very irresponsible political class at the moment. It’s not just in Europe but across the whole Western world, where politicians are just saying what they think people want to hear instead of putting forward a positive vision for the future and focusing on that. So, I was not very happy with the ad that Prime Minister Rutte put out telling people to ‘act normal or go home’. I think he should have put a stop right there.

Is the Netherlands growing less tolerant? Or has intolerance always existed in Dutch society (and is just more visible today)? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll put them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – René Wouters

30 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Bobi Dochev

    Lets hope so! Tolerance is good thing, but above certain levels the tolerance become pure suicide!

    • avatar
      Malcolm Healey

      You mean above the level of tolerating your drivel?

  2. avatar
    Alfredo Coelho

    You call tolerance to accepting people who want to destroy your way of life and kill you. I call it spudity.

  3. avatar
    Siniša Bundalo

    Well, with increasing number of no-go areas in the Netherlands and other Western European cities… I wonder why!!!

  4. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    Tolerance has limits. People need to understand that.
    I tolerate my neighbor’s dog barking at 14:00H but NOT at 02:00H.
    I tolerate my neighbor wanting to borrow my trash can every once in a while but I do not tolerate him borrowing it every week.
    Does that make me intolerant? If it does then YOU need to adjust your standards! Not me!

  5. avatar

    Tolerance has limits. People need to understand that!
    I tolerate my neighbor’s dog barking at 14:00H but NOT at 02:00H in the morning.
    I tolerate my neighbor using my garbage can every once in a while but I do not tolerate him using it every week.
    Does that make me intolerant?
    If it does, then YOU need to adjust your standards! Not me!

  6. avatar
    Isidor Burtman

    I want to tell about our asylum procedure in the Netherlands. We are refugees from Putin’s and we suffered from ill-treatment and torture which has been used against us by the Dutch authorities. Trolls from the authorities were constantly threatening us and we were refused asylum. We have fully proved our case. The authorities of the Netherlands have spoiled our files and participated in the crimes of Putin’s government. We have all the evidence and are ready to pass it to journalists.

    • avatar
      Paweł Kunio

      I might know a journalist or two who could want to describe Your story in biggest polish daily. Could You provide an essay on what happened to You so that I can check with them whether they will want to start cooperation with You?

    • avatar
      Isidor Burtman

      We are a family from Moscow (three adults and a child). Mafia of the Russian security services persecutes us as opposants to the Putin’s regime. FSB (Russian security service) have destroyed our business and stole from us our house, land and flat. We’ve refused to sign a paper that we present our property to the mafia FSB and left Russia. We came to Israel. In Israel agents of FSB and corrupted by them people by the Israeli authorities and security services have continued our persecution. There were multiple attempts on our life in Russia and in Israel. We were subjected to hard repressions in Israel and we left Israel for asylum request in the EU (in Holland). In Netherlands authorities destroyed our asylum case, throwed away from it all our facts and documents and refused in asylum in violation of the law. This decision was supported by the regional Dutch court. At the moment we make high appeal to the High Court. Dutch authorities conceal by all means the crimes of the Russian and Israeli authorities. Also they say us: “They are our allies, friends”. It means that Russian and Israeli criminal systems have strong support in the Netherlands, and we will be destroyed in Israel as a witnesses of the international mafia of security services (it’s in brief)

  7. avatar

    I think people are becoming desperate for a voice to represent their feelings and thoughts. I am under the impression the vast majority of those who would vote for Mr. Wilders are not racist but merely sick of the political correctness and obfuscation surrounding certain issues like Islam, terrorism, economic hardship etc. When the political class do not represent the people’s wishes, they will revolt. That is what we saw with Trump and Brexit. The overwhelming majority of people are not racist, they are simply being ignored and lied to to further an agenda that they were not consulted about.

    06/03/2017 Matthijs Rooduijn, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Utrecht, has responded to this comment.

  8. avatar
    Mario Kurzio Scortichini

    Well, people should be allowed to have their own opinions, right? So if they do believe they shouldn’t be so tolerant let them be. Who are you to tell people what they should consider to be right or wrong?

    • avatar
      Mario Kurzio Scortichini

      expressing opinions is far from vandalism. not allowing ppl to express themselves is called fascism tho.

  9. avatar
    Paul X

    Does nobody see the irony in being called less tolerant because you object to an influx of people who are totally intolerant?

  10. avatar
    catherine benning

    The people of the Nederlands, just as those of the rest of Europe, are not at all intolerant. In fact they have been and are over accommodating of the situation they find themselves in.

    And why I say find themselves in is because, as with all of the very good people of Europe they were never told or asked what they were willing to allow into their homeland. What they were being asked to accept , or, how that influx was going to affect their civilised way of life and the fibre of the culture.

    They were never advised on the financial cost such an invasion would create, or, if they could propose a sensible approach to millions of immigrant people forcing their expectations and customs on their way of life or to their detriment. They, just as the rest of us, were lied to by omission.

  11. avatar
    Malcolm Seychell

    it is getting wiser. Being tolerant doesn’t mean to be an idiot and enjoy rapes, violence, terrorism and crimes in your country.

  12. avatar

    If he can call one scum then he can call anyone scum including you and me. It’s not nice. It’s malicious. It undermines the seriousness of the discourse about the presence of Islam in the Western world. It shows lack of genuine intention and an attempt to appeal to lower sentiments while whipping up a storm. No!

  13. avatar

    People will always be tolerant of others until being tolerant is replaced by being undermined . The people of Europe feel that this is the case because migrants in the main do not integrate into their new societies as they did in the past . Its not just Holland ,the rise of Nationalist parties across Europe is the result of mass migrations and the failure to integrate .
    Whats the point in traveling across continents ,fleeing a life you hate to then try and replicate that life in Europe while in the meantime disregarding any concerns and generally pissing off your new hosts ?

    Holland is becoming less tolerant as is all of Europe . We don’t want our societies changed ,we don’t want multiculturalism ,we don’t want ghettos in our Citys and no go areas .
    If becoming less tolerant , replacing liberal governments with Nationalist ones helps us in protecting our societies then that is what we will do .

  14. avatar

    The rise of nationalist parties is the result of the crisis. it has everything to do with a neoliberal agenda of marketization of private life. Europe has become less and less of a collective project, and the Netherlands is no exception. Only the established class of cospopolitants can flourish. The Socialists should come up with an answer, but by governing with the liberals have lost trust of the Dutch working class voter for now.
    The only way out is to have an inclusive national economy. That is the challenge of the Netherlands in particular and Europe in general. I don’t think this change will come from the nationalists. It should be a challenge for the left, because the right preoccupied with identity politics.

    12/04/2017 Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Mayor of Rotterdam, has responded to this comment.

  15. avatar

    ‘tolerance’ being defined as ‘never hold any negative opinion about any group or if you do shut up or we will publicly attack you and ostracize you as a moral untermensch’ has been for every long the hallmark of so called ‘progressive’ left wing media and politicians. They have also used this weapon to silence any opposition to large scale (Islamic and African) immigration.They treat opposition to immigration as if it is a human rights violation and nationalism as equal to racism but never explicitly admit that their policies logically will lead to the end of Europe as we know it. They should be honest about that and not divert attention away from their goals with demonization of political adversaries.

    • avatar

      It should also be kept in mind that effectively all 13-nud-nader prostitutes are slaves. Yes, slaves. Slavery in this form exists, illegally but with enough cover from corrupt police and perverted johns, in most or all developed nations. It can be kept in check to some extent, but eradication seems to be impossible. The authorities just don't have the will to really lower the boom on the pimps/slave dealers.

  16. avatar
    George Diplas

    The man with the two faces? How credible is Martin Schulz in his demand for more justice for employees and his announced fight against the tax dumping of the corporations? This question is discussed in the ‘Munich Report’. It is not about the creators to throw with dirt. On the contrary, they show factually and soberly that Martin Schulz, in his time as President of the European Parliament, was the exact opposite of the policy he promises today. Everyone may decide for himself what conclusions he draws from it. For me, the contribution once again made it clear that it is important to remain skeptical. Of course it would be good if Martin Schulz wanted to pursue another policy in the future. However, as long as he is neither ready to use the already existing majority in the Bundestag for the implementation of at least the first social improvements, it still clearly states that he will then reunite with the CDU after the election, if there is no other majority, As long as one should remain suspicious. Beautiful promises before the election – and ugly politics after the election, that the SPD unfortunately has often done. It is therefore all the more important that there is a strong left which she will vigorously recall.

  17. avatar

    In Netherlands, the type of government is a Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy. In Netherlands, the legislative power is vested in a States General. The head of the government is Willem-Alexander. The governmental structure of a country determines the manner in which laws are written, approved, and interpreted.

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