According to my partner, who has been subjected to (often ‘mild’) racism in different parts of the world, the main challenge of the Dutch ‘problem’ with immigrants is not general xenophobia, but the failure of imagination of the Dutch political elite. In The Hague, we had the privilege to discuss immigration with Marnix Norder, councilor (and Alderman) of the municipality. At the time, his comments seemed rather naive, commenting as he did on the importance of maintaining gardens and cleaning as part of Dutch-ness (he didn’t mention setting cars on fire at New Year, a good old Haagse tradition as well). He subsequently made headlines by referring to a tsunami of eastern European immigrants, and this week announced that refusal to learn Dutch will lead to loss of benefits for migrants who do not learn Dutch, and or fail to pass the Inburgerings exam (http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2011/09/learn_dutch_or_lose_your_benef.php#.TmYY1ERqKNw.email ).
Anybody who has seen the content of the exam, or experienced the shameful inefficiency of this market for education, or has read about discrimination in the labor market realises this is doomed to fail as activating labor market policy. But of course this is not the point. On the same day, we read that the PVV doesn’t think that a debate about growing hatred and intolerance in Europe after the Norway massacre is necessary. (Interestingly, also, we read about statistics that show that PVV voters are less tolerant of homosexuals than any other voter). Right-wing blogs are quick to comment that the PvdA is finally getting their point about immigrants, no doubt silently grateful for people like Marnix being unable to come up with imaginative and inclusive solutions. Never mind that the Turkish and Moroccan employees of Albert Heijn speak better Dutch than, well…. at least me who left the country for 15 years. The language of ‘shortlists’ of people with ethnic backgrounds is simply very worrying, and one would hope that a party like the PvdA would avoid a language that further stigmatises a minority, and adds to intolerance.
To be fair to Marnix Norder, his speeches (e.g. http://denhaag.pvda.nl/marnix/nieuwsbericht/113) do promote tolerance. But the headlines he creates do not seem to match that. To control the ‘spook’ (ghost) he refers to, a more consistent voice promoting inclusiveness is necessary.