The myths and its choice of words

Checks and Balances, Economy and free migration

Take a look at yourself, Multi-cultural society?

Get going, In a new building

discussion about migration 1

discussion about migration 2

Take a look at yourself, Multi-cultural society?

The attitude towards migration is not only defined by rational arguments. Even though we can proof that increasing migration has both a cultural and an economic advantage to our society, this still does not have to lead to a different attitude towards 'foreigners'. We have to consider which conditions in our thinking are necessary to change our attitude towards the 'foreigner'. The way we think about 'foreigners' has in essence much to do with the way we perceive ourselves.

One of the most important foundations of the restrictive foreigner's policy is the fear that comes from the sense of threat. The foreigner is perceived as a threat. Not only because the number of foreigners that would arrive but more importantly because of the unknown. This has as consequence evading a confrontation with the 'difference'. To maintain the evasion there follows aversion, also because of a misplaced sense of superiority. We see ourselves as highly civilized and developed against others who are lees civilized and developed.

Vision of evasion

Thus the confrontation is evaded. With this the actual discussion about, for instance, illegality and migration is evaded too. Jos de Beus, professor of social filosophy and ethics, talks of two visions to the migration policy: the vision of evasion and the confrontation vision. "The confrontation vision presumes an agreement of intention over the multicultural society can only come to being through 'enlightenment' of the groups concerned, through (nls: boring?, wat is dat in godsnaam?) and a form of political presentation", according to Jos de Beus. According to him the evasion vision is dominant in the Netherlands. With this vision he points at the evasion of conflicts like 'white' and 'black' schools or area's with high percentages of 'foreigners', but that is not the end.

In his essay 'De cultus van vermijding' (The cult of evasion) he states: "Like the mono-culture is the tempting home of freightened people and a collection of mono-subcultures is the domain of composed people that want their tranquility most, so is the polymorphic culture the arena for striving, nervous people." Evading of conflicts is also a typical reaction in a consensus democracy, as we know it. Means to allow confrontation are public discussion, standing up for one's own culture, emancipation, political representation and collective action. The image that there is little proof of confrontation which results in a multicultural society, is confirmed by the Sociaal Cultureel Plan Bureau (Social Cultural Plan Bureau, SCP). In a report of 30 September 1998, they observe that there is no multicultural Netherlands. Director P. Schnabel states in the Volkskrant of 1 October 1998: "The style of society is plainly Dutch. The different serves merely as a decorative element. Society is not a melting pot of cultures, but a melting pot of people from different cultures."

The autochtonous Dutch evades contact and keeps safely home. The immigrant is perceived as strange and is rejected. The opinion of the Dutch about foreigners is therefore not positive. According to the SCP almost half (48 percent) of the Dutch think that there are too many foreigners in the Netherlands. 46 Percent would not want foreigners as neighbours. And the tolerance towards other religions, most notedly Islam, has decreased. By preserving the distance there will be no recognition of the other and the different. The 'we' 'them' thinking is only stimulated.


With confrontation and multicultural society we do not plead for uniformity. On the contrary, society will have to exist with diversity, also diversity of subcultures. Only those subcultures will have to come into contact and collide. Collision in openness instead of collisions intended out of rejection like a racist ideology. Chenjerai Hove, a writer from Zimbabwe, wrote: "Even dissonance is part of the harmony, of understanding. If you shout at each other, are angry with each other, then you will adhere to goodness, since you have seen anger. Besides I resent living in a country where everyone thinks and says the same. That is boring. I want to see straight and crooked noses, weird, ugly and beautiful faces. That is my ideal. That is why I put color in my work." Other cultures have much to offer like care for the community or elderly, approaching problems differently and hospitality unknown to us. A hospitality we generally appreciate on holiday. It is a frequent experience of people on holiday and apparently in contrast with what we are used to.

But we should not put the immigrant on a pedestal as a more pure or real person than we are. Anil Ramdas warned for this in his Socrates lecture: "The worst thing that can happen to 'foreigners' (allochtonen) is that they are embraced by intellectuals out of blind love. This danger is sometimes imminent, when one hears general comments about the 'enrichment' that people of ethnic minorities are for the Dutch culture, or that they at least have an 'authentic' identity which the Dutch have lost. Such an attitude is barely different from those of missionaries and social workers who help people because they are just as much entitled to 'our' civilization. Both views place the ethnic minorities in the position of the absolute Other: the better Other or the destitute Other; the perfect Other or the defenseless Other. In all cases the own superiority is the rancid undercurrent and the exotisation of foreigners is the final result. But if sweet cliches are just as suspicious as the mean ones, what is there left? A personal involvement, I would think. A personal involvement that is base out of necessity on personal experiences."

The question is of course how to break through the current situation. Why is the Dutch society so conservative and introvert? Why don't we see the richness that confrontations could bring? How are we able to produce curiosity instead of rejection? These are questions that are not easy to answer, but it is clear that we have to look at ourselves and not at the others.

A positive view is difficult to impose. A start for change in the ideological/cultural approach will especially have to be given by those who do not function from within the existing political structures. People, unattached and with an open vision, who are prepared to engage in discussion. It is also of importance that a different approach is also practiced and not left at words alone. The last few years we have seen that many groups and people are active in the field of immigration, who actually try to go against the prevailing culture, to try and develop alternatives. The importance is in bringing as many people from different cultures together. In the case of refugees and illegal immigrants should not only exist in the relation of social worker and the one in need, but also out of interest of what the other thinks and does.

A different approach

The acknowledgement of the Netherlands being a country of immigration and a multicultural society would be an important step. The image of a white Dutch(wo)man is still prevailing. There is still talk of autochtonous and allochtonous; a partition that makes no sense and is usually made by white Dutch people in order to distinguish themselves from the 'others'. Usually a number of negative feelings exist towards this other and a number of negative traits are attributed to them.

"Is a young Turkish man, who was born in Amsterdam and can swear 'kanker-eikel' perfectly, a resident of Amsterdam or a foreigner? Or are these words used to mask a difference between full or half fledged?" so wondered writer/researcher Sibel Bilgin. She went on a search for the Dutch-Turkish identity of the youngest generation. "Whatever it is, in any case it isn't allochtonous. That word should be on the scrapheap."

While many, including politicians, plead for a multicultural society in words and probably don't find it unwanted, each time problems like criminality arise especially the other culture is pointed out as a cause.

The racism is increasing at an alarming rate. While the extremist right-wing parties have been nullified a broad sentiment of racism has developed. This where we continue to emphasize how tolerant and humane our foreigner's policy is. We can speak of a life besides the truth.

The start is within you

A different immigration policy starts with the people themselves and will not develop in politics. Mixed marriages, mixed sport clubs, mixed schools, people living together in their area and by standing up for their shared interests will make it normal in the long run, that a Dutch person can be of all shades and colors. Our own feeling of superiority can thus be part of the discussion and the image we have of ourselves will have to be readjusted. Recognition can arise of certain values that we all want, like democracy and freedom, and that cultural differences are also nice. It is the basis to both literally and figuratively look over own borders, which can teach the original Dutch person the insight that there is no reason to think of him/her as more than somebody else. A multicultural society does not guarantee a more open migration policy, but the lack of a multicultural society renders alternatives almost impossible.

Continuos movement is necessary, a continuing debate in which society is involved. Where we have to look at our mutualities and our differences. "The tension between communal values and cultural differences can be the motor of development", according to Breyten Breytenbach.

Ed Hollants