Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Archive for the ‘Netherlands’ Category

Migration as conflict and reflection: Scheffer’s ‘The Unsettled Land’

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I recently saw a panel discussion involving Dutch sociologist and politician Paul Scheffer. In 2000, Scheffer published an influential article called “The Multicultural Drama“, in which he criticised the system of migration in the Netherlands and Europe in general. Indifferent ‘pillarisation’ of societies, he argued back then, leads to segregation and conflicts between migrants and settled society.

Now, Scheffer has published a book called “The Unsettled Land” which offers a comparison of the process of migration and its consequences in several countries of Europe and North America. He argues that, besides different systems and different responses in all these countries, the process of migration is quite similar. According to him, there are three steps that can be identified:

Step 1: Avoidance. Initially, the arrival of new immigrants causes “white flight” and segregation, until open conflict breaks out.

Step 2: Conflict. At this stage, the receiving society starts to question its own values and cultural identity to be able to cope with a reality that has outlived the society’s self-conception.

Step 3: Accomodation. Societies develop mechanism to cope with the new demographics. Examples of accomodation include symbolic politics and recognition (monuments, arts, etc) as well as more egalitarian social politics (such as role of religion in policy-making, etc).

What’s remarkable in my view is that Scheffer develops a very sober, almost mechanic, analysis that he deems to be generalizable. First, this perspective removes fear and hysteria from the debate. Migration is seen as a social change;  and while change naturally causes conflict which can be painful, it will eventually lead to a new social formation that is workable. On the other hand, it emphasises strongly our ability to manage this process by finding our ways to come to an accommodation, which, according to Scheffer, will necessarily happen.

In the process that he describes, conflict that migration causes will always lead to the receiving society questioning itself. If we want to integrate newcomers, we have to become clear into what they will be integrated. Migration can therefore also be seen as a reflection for a society

Scheffer’s book was criticised as banal in the discussion I witnessed, but I think it is useful as it sets a ‘frame’ to view the debates in that are fought daily in newspapers and discussions. Surely there are weaknesses, like overgeneralisation and a strong emphasis on the nation-state. Yet, it points to the importance of ‘management’ to be able to accommodate and emancipate newcomers within societies, and it gives a hint as to how societies benefit from it simply be reflecting upon its core values and by redefining what makes up the community that people live in.

 You can find Scheffer’s presentation of his thesis and the following panel discussion online. While the debate was in German, the presentation was in English. It starts at around 2:15. Since I still haven’t figured why I can’t embed external videos here within the blog, please click here for the video.


Despite crisis, more tolerance toward immigrants and Muslim citizens

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Contrary to the 2008 “Racism and Extremism Monitor” in the Netherlands which observed a hightening negative climate towards Muslims (see my post here), the latest quarterly survey by the Social Cultural Planing Office has revealed a changing attitude of the Dutch towards immigrants.

Over the last 3 months, the amount of people stating that the Netherlends would be better off if it had fewer immigrants sunk from 41 to 35%. The number of people who see a presence of different cultures as an asset increased  from 36 to 44%.

At the same time, a student initiative made headlines that handed out 5,000 headscarfs in orange, the Dutch national colour, for the Queen’s Day celebrations on April 30. Their goal was “to allow Muslim women to express loyalty to their faith as well as to the queen.

Source: Radio Netherlands [1] [2], via Crossroads.

The Anglicisation of Dutch universities: inhibiting intercultural exchange?

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A recent NRC article warned that “English takes over at Dutch universities“. I, a German citizen who completed his undergraduate studies in an English-speaking programme in the Netherlands, of course found this very interesting.

The article describes the internationalisation of the Dutch university system. Today, more than half of the graduate programmes at Dutch universities are taught in English.

Internationalisation is the magic word everywhere. Education has become an export product and a university’s competitiveness is measured, particularly by the executive boards, by the number of foreign students it hosts. At many faculties, deans are charged with tasks like organising partnerships and student and faculty exchange programmes with universities around the world.

“It is part of globalisation,” says Gerry Wakker, deputy dean of education and internationalisation in Groningen. “More and more people are working abroad for a long or short time or they are studying there for a year. We prepare them for that by creating groups of students that are as mixed as possible.” 

The focus of the article is on the growing discontent that this internationalisation created. One professor is quoted lamenting that Dutch becomes a “second-class language”, another professor sees the quality of education in decline: 

In his inaugural lecture in 2005, [Groningen professor] Draaisma already argued that the switch to English hinders rather than helps the cosmopolitan academic. “You can travel where you like, but if all universities teach in English and prescribe English literature, then everywhere is going to start to look the same,” he says. A great deal of science can also be lost, he says. Prominent figures from history who wrote in German or French could disappear from the curriculum just like that. “Moreover, the Dutch were always an intermediary between English, German and French. We are now losing this role.”

I studied at Maastricht University (the official name changed recently from the Dutch “Universiteit Maastricht” to the English version), depicted by the author as the “leader of the pack” when it comes to internationalisation. It always felt a little odd living and studying there. All my tuition was in English and, naturally, we would also speak English, not Dutch, on campus. Hardly any foreigner made the effort to gain fluency in Dutch (I didn’t either, I must shamefully admit).

This led to quite some problems, especially since the university – located at the Germany border – recruited a high number of German students. The university newspapar last year had a focus on the conflicts between Dutch and international German students allegedly living in different worlds and even reported on a task force to be set up because Dutch students feel increasingly uncomfortable at the university. 

The whole problem with English tuition / internationalisation points to a general problem with intercultural exchange. If it merely means speaking English and taking over anglo-saxon systems (such as literature, education system), one could argue with Prof. Draaisma in that it indeed means the opposite of intercultural exchange. Instead, a global uniformity takes place by which cultural particularities tend to get lost.

It’s a tricky question. A universal language like English helps people to communicate who otherwise could not (I decided, as a German speaker, to run this blog in English so I could extend my audience and get feedback from people in different countries). Anglicisation also doesn’t necessarily mean taking over local cultures – in every culture at any given time there have been outside influences that these cultures adapt to. Yet, there seems to be a tendency for English to become globally accepted as “bridging culture” for elites and therefore becoming a hindrance for cultural exchange outside the anglo-saxon world.

Politics of citizenship and language: “Allochtoon” becomes “bicultural”

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The Dutch government seems to have adopted a new terminology for ethnic minorities in the Netherlands. The term “bicultural” is now used in official communication rather than “allochtoon” for people of non-Dutch (or rather non-white) ethnicities. In February, the organisation Innovation for Integration will start a media campaign to promote the term.

The word bicultural is a positive counterpart for the word allochtoon,” Yesim Candam, the Turkish founder of IVI, said last year. “We used to say ‘guest labourer’, ‘new Dutch’ or ‘allochtoon’. ‘Bicultural’ is the first term that expresses the fact that two cultures are more than one!”


I am Antoon - I am Allochtoon

"I am Antoon" - "I am Allochtoon"

The term “allochtoon” has become widely used in the Netherlands for people of non-Dutch descent. In popular use, the term is only applied to non-whites, such as people with Turkish or Moroccan ancestry. The Dutch bureau of statistics makes a differentiation between “western” and “non-western” allochtoons in their census categories. While the state agency refers to “allochtoons” only to first- and second-generation immigrants, in everyday usage all non-white people are seen as “allochtoon”.


Historian Ian Buruma described the term “allochtoon” as “an ugly, and relatively new, bureaucratic term for people of alien, but more specifially non-European, origin”. It’s an example of how citizenship in Europe is often defined racially. Like in most European countries, citizenship law in the Netherlands is based on the “jus sanguinis” principle (literally: right of blood”). It confers citizenship rights based on the belonging to the national community of the Dutch, whatever that might look like. 

The introduction of the term “biculturalism” is another step toward recognising that citizenship should be based on political principles rather than ethnic and racial fault lines. 

Source: Crossroads Magazine

Muslim ‘hate monger’ preaches peace

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There has been considerable controversy about a speech by Khalid Yasin at the Islamic University Rotterdam over the last few days. The Islamic lecturer is a notorious figure who in the past was quoted saying that, according to the Qu’ran, homosexuality was an immorality punishable by death, and also that the US was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and the development of the AIDS virus. Before his speech yesterday, some politicians in the Netherlands demanded from the government to deny Yasin entry into the country.

Quite surprisingly then, his actual message was one of peace and understanding between Muslims and Non-Muslims. He did condemn Geert Wilders and the likes but he also had a message directed at Dutch Muslims.

The NRC Handelsblad quotes this sections from his speech about Muslim youth in the Netherlands:

Yasin, who converted to Islam after being inspired by Malcolm X, expressed criticism for the Dutch Muslim community, which he said is not doing well. No wonder, then, that Dutch people talk about “those Moroccan youths,” according to Yasin. He also criticised pious, fundamentalist Muslims. “Don’t be so full of your own righteousness. Islam is not a religion of hermits.”

He also called for integration efforts and understanding between believers and non-believers:

Indeed, he said, “Western society offered Muslims the best possibilities for development.” He said, paraphrasing John F. Kennedy, “This nation wants to know what one million Dutch Muslims can do for their country.” He also warned Dutch Muslim youth: “Don’t come to me with the nonsense that you won’t obey the kafirs (non-believers).”

This is not to forget Yasin’s previous remarks about homosexuals, but it has to be said that it is quite refreshing to have a Muslim authority speaking so self-critically and with such candour to Muslims. Where are Muslim voices from within Europe who speak in this way? I have met some personally. But either they are not heard in the Muslim community or they are ignored by the media.

Update (2-2-09): The blog ‘Salafi Burnout’ has an interesting discussion on Yasin here, on his alleged scams, his conspiracy theories and on how he is seen by Muslim communities in the US, Australia and Britain.

Islamophobia and manufactured Muslim threats

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In early December the Anne Frank Foundation and Leiden University issued the annual ‘Racism and Extremism Monitor’ for the Netherlands. Its key conclusion:

The problem of ‘Islamophobia’ in the Netherlands has worsened significantly in recent years.  Not only is there a negative climate of opinion towards Muslims, violence against this community has increased and there is greater tolerance of anti-Muslim offences. This is one of the most striking findings of the Racism and Extremism Monitor.

Violence against Muslims rising in an increasingly anti-Muslim climate:

The number of violent incidents against Muslims has grown significantly while overall incidents of racist violence were decreasing, the report states. The violence is accompanied by a general anti-Muslim climate which tends to facilitate the violent attacks. The appearance of the anti-Islam party PVV (by ‘Fitna’ author and populist Geert Wilders) has made Islam-bashing politically tolerable. The party is become part of the reason why right-wing extremisms seems to be more acceptable again to a larger part of the population.

The government targets Islamic radicalism, while letting neo-Nazis grow:

The government’s activities against political radicalism seem to worsen islamophobia rather than create a realistic picture of the origin of radical ideology. The government monitors political Islam rigidly while leaving right-wing extremism virtually unchecked, despite the growth of neo-Nazi activities from 40 to 400 in the last four years. 

The report cites the annual school inspection report saying that: “Schools are much more likely to face “white” extremism (…) and clashes between native Dutch students and students from an immigrant background than religious extremism.” More than half of the no-Muslim youth between 14 and 16 years, according to a poll, have negative attitudes toward Muslims.

The Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reports in English on the publication of the Racism and Extremism Monitor here and here.

University scholarships: A structural take on diplomacy

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For more than a year now, my university in the Netherlands has been hosting a number of students from Zimbabwe with a scholarship paid for by the Dutch government. All of the students (by now they are 17) were suspended from Zimbabwean universities for involvement in the opposition movement. Some of them were active in critical student movements or members of the opposition party MDC, others were involved in other civil society organisations that were critical of the government.

A good diplomatic move in the long run. In the Netherlands, the students are able to obtain a university degree despite their suspension, and once they return home they will be well-prepared to assume responsible position in a “post-Mugabe” Zimbabwe. As for the Dutch government, this programme equips them with an excellent relationship with the opposition movement and possibly with future leaders.

Besides these international interests for the Netherlands, the programme also has an impact on the university. On campus, the students contribute to an international climate and cause some interesting encounters. In class, human rights become concrete issues and not merely an abstract topic of political theory. The Zimbabwean students bring examples from a reality that the other students would have no access to otherwise. They are actively involved in organising public presentations and debates on the issue of human rights in Zimbabwe, and they establish contacts with expat political movements of Zimbabweans in Europe.  It’s a good piece of diplomacy.

If you’re interested, here is an article on the issue by a Maastricht university student in the webmag Crossroads.

Written by henrik

January 6, 2009 at 1:54 pm