Although the murder of Theo van Gogh triggered a spate of German commentaries heralding the end of the idea of multicultural society, in the Netherlands there had already been quite high profile criticism of the multicultural policy since the early 1990s.
In 1991 the future EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein was one of the first sharp critics of Dutch integration policy. He declared that "my tolerance does not stretch to intolerance", a dictum that Pim Fortuyn took over ten years later. Scholars had also during the 1990s pointed to the high unemployment levels among ethnic minorities, their underachievement at school, and their poor living conditions – and the ensuing problems for integration. The anthropologist Jan Rath (1997) drew attention to the fact that Dutch minority policy identified minority groups as culturally distinct and therefore as unable to fit in with prevalent socio-cultural norms and to adapt to western culture. According to Rath, the idea of supporting for minorities through special programmes had had precisely the opposite effect. The result of the policy was that migrants were perceived as being particularly needy or low-skilled, and seldom viewed as equal partners. The author and commentator Paul Scheffer also emphasised the poor socio-economic situation of immigrants in the Netherlands in his article "Het multiculturele drama" (2000). According to Scheffer the high level of tolerance towards ethnic minorities and their alternative lifestyles created a situation in which the Dutch public overlooked the poor socio-economic situation of immigrants in the Netherlands. The commentator therefore demanded that underlying problems and conflicts be recognised and addressed.
This call for a more honest exposure of the problems emerging from the coexistence between the native population and migrant communities has been characterised by Dutch Philosopher Baukje Prins (2002) as "New Realism". This New Realism aimed to break taboos and positioned itself in opposition to the dominant political correctness. Representatives of the "new realism" view themselves as the mouthpiece of the public, articulating a number of popular concerns. In the short period between Pim Fortuyn's first involvement in local politics in Rotterdam and his murder in 2002 just before the national elections, he had made this New Realism politically acceptable within the Dutch debate. As a professed homosexual opposing the homophobic statements of a radical Imam in Rotterdam, the controversial politician Fortuyn gained a certain legitimacy when he called for "no tolerance towards the intolerant".
Ines Michalowski is completing her PhD at the Political Science Institute, University of Münster and the Centre for Sociology of Organisations (Sciences-Po/CNRS), Paris.
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