Lessons From The Netherlands
ROTTEDAM - The young man says he doesn't have time to talk to me. He has a train to catch. But as he whips open the door to Rotterdam's central train station, he gives me a two-word answer to my question. "Holland sucks!"
Inside, he pauses and dashes back out to clarify. "Rotterdam and the Netherlands suck. There's a lot of racism, especially in the police." With an angry nod, he darts inside.
I haven't mentioned this young man's ethnicity, but any Dutch person could guess. He is Moroccan. They would also know that the excellent English he speaks -- the English taught in Dutch schools and heard on Dutch television -- means he was born and raised in the Netherlands. He is therefore the son of Moroccans who are, most likely, illiterate Muslim peasants from Morocco's remote Rif mountains.
And that, in turn, means he is a Dutch citizen -- a Dutch citizen who hates his country.
The reason any Dutch person could surmise all this is that there is nothing terribly exceptional about this young man. Go to any train station in Holland, pick out the brown face of a young Muslim man, especially a young Moroccan, and there is a good chance you will hear some variation of "Holland sucks!"
Holland has a problem. France, Germany, Britain, Denmark and the other prosperous nations of Western Europe have the same problem. Over the last four decades, these countries became home to large numbers of immigrants, many of them Muslim. It was an unprecedented social experiment and the results are, to say the least, discouraging.
Immigrants suffer unemployment, poverty and segregation out of all proportion to their numbers, while their children drop out of school and into trouble at an alarming rate: Most of the faces in prisons across Western Europe are black or brown. As for the faces of Muslim women, they are sometimes hardly to be seen at all, thanks to men who use harsh discipline -- even honour killings -- to control their daughters and wives and keep them out of the schools, streets and workplaces.
Religious fundamentalism is also festering in Europe's ghettoes. And along with it, Islamism -- the utopian political program of Muslim fundamentalists. Local boys have been caught plotting terror in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Germany, France and the United Kingdom -- the usual words of hate and holy war spoken on "martyrdom" videos made by suicide bombers can now be heard in the working-class English accents George Orwell knew and loved.
Holland -- solid, peaceful, little Holland -- was shaken to its core by the 2004 murder of filmmaker and provocative critic of Islam Theo van Gogh and the attacks on mosques and churches that followed. The killer was Mohammed Bouyeri, the son of Moroccan immigrants, born in Amsterdam, educated in Dutch schools, a Dutch citizen. He pinned a five-page manifesto to van Gogh's chest with a knife.
In country after country, fears that immigration is going horribly wrong have boosted the political fortunes of critics, populists, racists, even the occasional fascist. In Denmark, the issue dominates national politics; the Danish twice elected a centre-right government that significantly restricted immigration and gave the fairy tale kingdom of Hans Christian Andersen a new image, fair or not, as a land of xenophobes and racists. When the publication of cartoons ridiculing the Muslim prophet Mohammed was followed by deadly rioting across much of the world earlier this year, many observers were not surprised that the newspaper that lit the match was Danish.
In the Netherlands, the first man to seize this new source of political energy was Pim Fortuyn, a wildly gay former sociologist and provocateur who saw in Islam a threat to the tolerant Dutch society he loved. Mr. Fortuyn looked set to shake up Holland's cosy political establishment when he was assassinated on May 6, 2002 (by an animal rights activist, though the furious debate about immigration undoubtedly contributed to the deed). In the years since, Mr. Fortuyn has been lionized by much of the Dutch population, while many politicians now vie to be deemed his successor.
Of course, any Canadian who reads a newspaper knows most of this already. Europe's troubles have become a staple of the North American media.
Journalists inclined to the left focus on what they see as a racist, anti-Muslim backlash -- the CBC television reporter who equated Holland's centre-right government with the racist cranks of the British National Party, for example -- while those on the right emphasize what they deem to be the failings of Muslim immigrants and the deluded nostrums of multiculturalism.
It is the right's take, however, that is heard more often. Books with titles such as Menace in Europe, While Europe Slept and Eurabia depict a continent that believes in nothing slowly being subverted and converted by Islamic hordes whose faith is absolute. In the right-wing blogosphere, past Islamic invasions of Europe -- the last was in the 17th century -- pepper discussions of the latest terrorism arrests.
Big-name conservative pundits rarely go that far, but the picture they paint is bleak, nonetheless. "The fact is that the people of Europe are losing their homelands," philosopher Roger Scruton wrote recently, while the multinational firebrand Mark Steyn declared, "I find it easier to be optimistic about the futures of Iraq and Pakistan than, say, Holland or Denmark." That was in 2002. In 2005, with Iraq in flames, Mr. Steyn wrote that he hadn't changed his mind.
It's all very grim stuff. And here I have to make a confession.
I've contributed some bleak words about Europe, too. "Mental walls can be found in country after country across the continent," I wrote earlier this year. "On one side is a majority that is rich, established, old and dwindling. On the other is a minority that is poor, alienated, young and growing. And all across the landscape is an atmosphere of incomprehension, doubt, suspicion and fear."
I wouldn't write the same today, not after I recently spent some time in the Netherlands and Denmark. It's not that I was wrong. There is plenty of incomprehension, doubt, suspicion and fear in Europe. It's that there is much more to the picture than that. What I wrote was too simplistic, too extreme.
The same is true of most of the dark reports in the media. It's not that the problems don't exist. Unemployment, poverty, segregation, crime and the subordination of women are only too real. So is the growing Islamist movement and the threat of terrorism. And, yes, there is racism and a backlash.
But what's seldom mentioned is what's going right. And contrary to the relentless reports of failure and hate, there is much that's going right -- and good reason to believe more will go right in future.
- - -
"There is indeed a problem with integration. Among some youngsters, it is not going well," concedes Geert Mak, a renowned journalist and historian whose many books on the Dutch and European past routinely top Holland's bestseller charts. "But there have been lots of inquiries done and every time the same kind of figures are coming out. Twenty per cent or perhaps 25 per cent are not doing well. But for 75 or 80 per cent, the integration is going normally, or even quite well when you look at what kind of villages these people are coming from."
The origins of modern immigration in Europe are completely different than in North America. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Western Europe's economies grew so rapidly, they ran up against severe labour shortages. At first, companies and governments recruited temporary workers from Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Balkans, but then they looked further abroad -- to Turkey, North Africa and elsewhere in the Muslim world -- and saw bigger, cheaper pools of labour. "There were a lot of people who migrated to Istanbul or Casablanca to do their jobs in the wintertime and in the summer they went back to the villages," notes Mr. Mak. "They had done this already for dozens of years. So the Dutch government thought, let's hire these people and instead of bringing them to Casablanca, fly them to Amsterdam."
They were not migrants. They were "guest workers." They were poor. Almost all were men. Most were illiterate. They came from a few, isolated, rural regions -- such as Morocco's distant Rif mountains -- and their views reflected the tribal, deeply conservative values of those places.
The guest workers were ideal for the limited purposes of the managers who imported them. They worked hard for low wages and were happy with what they got. And because they were strangers in these decidedly strange lands, they would never organize, complain and make demands. How could they when they didn't even speak the language?
The system worked as intended until 1973. That year, the Arab oil embargo hammered European economies. Manufacturing -- where almost all the guest workers were employed -- was hit especially hard. Factories fell like giant dominoes. Whole industries collapsed: Europe was shifting from an industrial, manufacturing-based economy to a post-industrial economy of services.
But still the guest workers didn't leave. Even a precarious existence at the bottom of the ladder in Europe was more promising than the back-breaking toil in the fields at home. And there was always the dole. "The attitude in Holland was we don't discriminate and social security was quite generous. All these immigrants thought we were mad," Mr. Mak says. "Then a new thing started."
After a decade or more living alone, guest workers started asking if they could bring their families. Social Democrats supported reunification as a matter of fairness. Christian Democrats also approved it on the grounds that it was pro-family. "So the wife and kids came. Nobody realized at that time that Holland had started an enormous immigration."
It's almost impossible to imagine today, but almost no one at the time understood that the temporary workers had become permanent residents and that Europe, an exporter of migrants for centuries, had, for the first time in modern history, become an importer. Across the western half of the continent, governments simply assumed that some day all these foreigners would go back to their countries. "They said the families are staying but they go back after a few years," Mr. Mak says. "The kids can go to school and learn a little Dutch, but after all they will go back. So there were no introduction programs, no language programs, nothing."
The migrants thought no differently. Of course they would go back. When? Some day. Not this year, of course. Perhaps next. But the departure was delayed again and again and this mental limbo lasted for decades.
"This process went on until the end of the 1990s," says Mr. Mak. "I was with a few Turkish students and I asked them, 'Be honest, when was the decision made that the family would stay in Holland, that your parents would die in Holland?' They were six students. For two, the decision was not yet made. For the four others, it was the end of the 1990s. So these families had already stayed 30 or 40 years in Holland but still had the idea to go back."
These are the almost accidental origins of Europe's immigrant communities. There are other sources, including migrants from former colonies and asylum seekers who arrived mainly in the 1980s and 1990s. But the primary source of immigrant communities in Europe remains the guest workers, their families and their descendants. And that fact has immense ramifications.
When conservative pundits write about Europe's immigration problems, the standard narrative goes like this: During the 1980s and 1990s, leftist multiculturalism dominated and, as a result, no one dared to talk about the problems in immigrant communities and no one demanded that immigrants conform to the basic rules and norms of Europe; but after the Sept. 11 attacks, the murder of Theo van Gogh, the London subway bombings and other events, multiculturalism was discredited and now the Netherlands and other countries are demanding that immigrants live up to the best European values of tolerance, freedom and the rule of law.
Nonsense, says Mr. Mak. What dominated official thinking in the 1980s and 1990s wasn't mushy multiculturalism. It was wilful blindness -- a refusal to see not only the problems of the immigrant communities, but the very fact that there were immigrant communities. "They didn't want to see it and were not interested at all. The Dutch government only accepted that Holland is an immigrant country in the middle of the 1990s," he notes. And "most of the neglecting was done by right-wing governments, by the Christian Democrats and Liberals. They were all involved in looking away. And that's not tolerance. It was just denial."
Many Europeans still can't quite grasp that the foreigners in their midst are not leaving. "Even now that I've been here 20 years, I get the question 'are you going back?'" Halleh Ghorashi says, her eyes wide with incredulity. In 1988, when she was 26, Ms. Ghorashi fled her native Iran for the Netherlands. In short order, she learned Dutch, got a university degree and earned a PhD in anthropology.
Today, she is a professor of integration at the Free University of Amsterdam -- and still people wonder when she is leaving. "The idea that migration is temporary, they don't want to give it up."
The usual theory on immigration holds that three generations are necessary for full integration into the larger society. There aren't many third-generation immigrants in countries like the Netherlands and they are mainly to be found in playgrounds and primary schools. It's simply too early to declare Europe's experience with immigration a failure.
And that's if the generations are measured from the arrival of the first guest workers. Arguably, it should not be. The better baseline is the moment when both newcomers and governments realized and accepted that immigration is a reality. And that wasn't until the 1990s.
By that measure, Europe's immigration experiment is barely more than a decade old. Writing if off so soon is absurd.
Italian-Americans provide an interesting comparison. Large-scale Italian immigration to the U.S. began in the 1880s. By the 1890s, it had spawned large, poor, Italian-speaking crime-ridden ghettoes. Italians were feared and despised: In 1891, the largest mass lynching in American history took the lives of 11 Italian men in New Orleans.
Of course, Italian immigrants ultimately did integrate and the U.S. was deeply enriched. But that process took more than half a century to come to fruition.
Mr. Mak cites another historical example, one much closer to his home.
"We are having the same kind of problems now with the Moroccan people as we had with the Jewish people in the 19th century," he says. Most of Amsterdam's Jewish population had come from eastern Europe a century earlier "but they lived in ghettoes. They were really not very much integrated." At the end of the 19th century, Mr. Mak says, newspapers wrote "exactly the same way about Jews as people today are writing about Moroccans."
The Social Democratic party, led by prominent Jews, pushed for what we would today call integration policies. Foremost among them was building social housing in middle-class neighbourhoods so the poor wouldn't be isolated in slums. And, since the poor were disproportionately Jewish, it was mostly Jews who moved in.
Along with free, integrated public schools, the new policies made all the difference. Within a generation, Amsterdam's Jewish population became a pillar of the city (a pillar later torn away by the Holocaust).
The critical element, Mr. Mak says, is patience. "This was not a job done in two or three years. It took a generation."
- - -
Thanks largely to last year's riots in French suburbs and a stream of frightening conservative commentary -- which fails to mention that the French have always opposed multiculturalism and have instead taken the hard line on assimilation urged by conservatives -- a grim new image of Europe's immigrant neighbourhoods has coalesced in the imagination of many. Veiled women flitting by like shadows. Packs of feral young men roaming the streets. Bearded fundamentalists glaring at any white face that dares show itself. Poverty, filth, graffiti, violence and fear: These are ghettoes, alien places detached from the prosperous and uncomprehending societies that surround them.
I wish I could report having found such a place. It would make a terrific story. But the worst neighbourhood I could come up with is a place called Kanaaleiland, in Utrecht, a city close to Amsterdam.
In Kanaaleiland, a 1960s-era housing development that is home to 15,000 people, there are no packs of feral young men, no glowering fundamentalists, not even any veiled women that I could see. The neighbourhood is certainly poor by Dutch standards. Seventy per cent of those living in the long, low apartment blocks are first- or second-generation immigrants, mostly of Turkish or Moroccan background. The expected satellite dishes -- no news story about immigrant communities is complete without a reference to the term "dish city" -- poke out from every second balcony. But there's no trash scattered about, no burned-out cars, little graffiti, nothing rusted or decayed or falling down.
For a journalist, the place is hopelessly lacking in colour. But apparently there's a solution for that. Nathan Rozema, the director of a government-funded social services agency who is showing me around, points to the entrance of one building that's a little more run-down than the rest. Reporters always take pictures of that, he says. Those are the only pictures that appear in the newspapers and on television. Nearby, there's a lush canal, a wooded park and a pretty Moroccan mosque, but these never make it into the media. They also don't mention that the building they're using to portray the desired urban squalor is scheduled to be torn down and replaced.
Another useful technique for juicing up the dull reality is to speak only to the teenagers loitering around the corner store, who will, on cue, deliver the usual "Holland sucks" sentiment. Next to the corner store, however, is a halal butcher shop whose chipper young owner, Terza, earned an economics degree before going into business and is as enthusiastic about the future as the huddled masses who once got off the boat at Ellis Island. Reporters don't quote Terza much.
"Some French government officials visited here and they laughed," says Mr. Rozema. "They say, is that your problem? That's nothing! So you don't have a scary feeling here."
These, of course, are only anecdotes and impressions. By themselves, they don't prove anything. To really understand the reality, we must gather broad empirical data -- an important caveat to bear in mind when reading frightening books such as Menace in Europe which are long on anecdotes and appallingly short on data.
Segregation is a good place to start. The alarmists say ghettoes are growing all over Europe. Is that true? If so, it should be obvious in the numbers.
It turns out it's not obvious at all. Sako Musterd, a geographer at the University of Amsterdam, looked at ethnic segregation -- the degree to which members of an ethnic group live in neighbourhoods with disproportionate levels of that ethnic group -- in the Netherlands between 1980 and 2004. He found that the great majority of immigrants, including Turks and Moroccans, do not live in even modestly segregated neighbourhoods.
He also found that levels of segregation have not generally increased or decreased over the last 21/2 decades. "Remarkably, in Rotterdam, where populist politicians make a lot of noise about increasing levels of segregation, segregation levels appeared to be decreasing steadily," he writes in a forthcoming paper. "This happened from way before the populists started their campaigns."
Mr. Musterd has also compared segregation levels in Europe with those in the U.S. and discovered that the problem is far worse on this side of the Atlantic. Even if American blacks are removed from the calculations -- because of their unique history -- segregation in most cities of continental Europe is "still clearly lower" than in the U.S.
Another major indicator is employment. In the Netherlands, the employment rate for non-migrants in 2004 was 67 per cent. Immigrants did worse, with employment rates ranging widely from 62 per cent for Surinamese and an appalling 37 per cent for Moroccans. But in a forthcoming paper, Mr. Musterd shows that the trend over the last decade is positive: "All migrant categories succeed in making the gap narrower."
It's also important to realize that negative commentary of immigrants -- particularly Muslims, and most of all Moroccans -- may in part be self-fulfilling. Several studies have found that when applications to employers are made in which all information is identical except the name of the applicant -- Moroccan in some cases, Dutch in others -- the "Dutch" applicant is invited to an interview far more often the Moroccan. This isn't surprising, given the horrible image of young Moroccans in the Netherlands, but it surely a good way to fulfilling the stereotype of Moroccans as young, jobless and angry.
There is also evidence of a growing Dutch-immigrant middle class. Leading the way are immigrants from the former Dutch colony of Surinam, says Gideon Bolt, a social geographer at the University of Amsterdam. "The Surinamese have the advantage that they came here knowing the language. You see an emerging middle class that tends to move out of the larger cities. They tend to go to smaller cities. And very recently you see a trend among Turks. There is not so much socio-economic differentiation but it is starting to emerge and we see a middle class starting to move out of the bigger cities."
The story is much the same with education. Migrants, particularly Turks and Moroccans, do poorly but the trend is in the right direction. "Between 1995 and 2003, the share of Turkish and Moroccan youth that started a higher education track almost doubled from somewhat over 10 per cent to approximately 20 per cent." The level for natives is 32 per cent.
In Canada and the U.S., Muslim immigrants are actually better-educated than the native population. That's not surprising, given that North American immigration policies, in contrast to Europe's guest-worker programs, favour skills. The massive gap in education between Muslims in North America and those in Europe is the strongest testimony to the disastrous approach Europe took in the 1960s and the lingering effect of that terrible mistake.
Another key piece of information is the level of social contact between first- and second-generation immigrants and native Dutch. That's a little harder to measure, but according to a 2005 government report, surveys taken between 1994 and 2002 show a trend toward more social contact outside one's own group -- there is "a diminishing ethnic distance," as the report puts it.
The ultimate form of social contact is marriage, and on that score the news is not good. In recent years, according to Statistics Netherlands, the Dutch national statistics agency, between 50 and 60 per cent of Turkish- or Moroccan-Dutch married someone from Turkey or Morocco. Not only does such a high rate of marriage from the old country slow integration, it brings new migrants to Europe who have the same poor, semi-literate, tribal, ultra-conservative backgrounds as the original guest workers.
But here again, there is reason for optimism. The figure above includes first-generation immigrants, but when young Turks and Moroccans are asked, Statistics Netherlands notes, only 10 per cent "think it is important that their partner grew up in Turkey or Morocco. Only time will tell whether they will actually opt for a partner who grew up in the Netherlands or prefer a partner from Turkey or Morocco."
Not surprisingly, social scientists have found that migrants, particularly Muslims, are far more conservative in their attitudes toward women than native Dutch. Only three per cent of natives "completely agreed" that if a man does not want his wife to have a job, she should accept it, compared to 27 per cent of Moroccans and 29 per cent of Turks. Sixteen per cent of native Dutch said a woman should quit her job if she gives birth, compared to 39 per cent of Moroccans and 38 per cent of Turks.
What's interesting, however, is that large majorities of Turks and Moroccans did not strongly support these views. That hardly supports the common claim that Holland's Muslim communities are awash in brutal sexism.
Another positive sign is the fertility rate of Muslim women. As a general rule, uneducated women living in a society where women have little control over their lives will have four, five, six or more babies. As women become better-educated and take more control of their lives, fertility falls.
Not surprisingly, older Muslim women -- all first-generation immigrants -- gave birth to far more children than do native Dutch women. Not so second-generation Muslim women. Their fertility rate "hardly differs from that of native Dutch women," notes Statistics Netherlands. Falling Muslim fertility also puts the lie to claims routinely heard in conservative circles, and often in mainstream publications, that Rotterdam (or Amsterdam) will soon be Europe's first majority Muslim city. Not true, according to Statistics Netherlands. As of 2004, Muslims were only 13 per cent of the total population of Greater Amsterdam and 14 per cent in Rotterdam. The two big Dutch cities are indeed close to having immigrant majorities but Muslims make up only 54 per cent of all non-Western immigrants in the Netherlands. In 2006, Muslims in Holland are expected to top one million, or six per cent of the total population of 16.4 million -- hardly the "Eurabia" feared by some.
In his paper summing up the data on integration, Sako Musterd concludes, "there still are substantial differences between population categories. However, serious and promising positive developments could also be shown."
Translated into ordinary English, that means: There are problems but things are getting better.
In the tempestuous weeks following the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004, as arsonists attacked mosques and churches and politicians declared the country to be "at war," Geert Mak published a short essay. Please, he asked his countrymen, calm down.
"A kind of fever of xenophobia" overtook the Netherlands, he says. The focus on the failings of immigrants, particularly Muslims, was intense. The language was harsh.
Conservatives celebrated the moment as the shattering of old delusions, but Mr. Mak saw little constructive in it. "Just saying these young Muslim guys are criminal doesn't solve the problem. You don't solve a problem with hostility."
Hostility may, however, make the problem worse. "If you are isolated, if you are marginalized, if you are labelled, you get frustrated," says Haleh Ghorashi. "And that's the basis for radicalization and for criminal activity."
It's also a good way to stop integration in its track. A young man whose parents came from Morocco, who was born in the Netherlands and has never lived anywhere else, will naturally feel ties to the land he knows and the land he thinks he knows through his parents. This is the story of immigrants everywhere. As time and generations pass, the links to the new country grow stronger while those to the old wither.
But if you tell this young man over and over he is Moroccan, and you tell him Moroccans are criminals and troublemakers, he may well decide you are right. He is 100-per-cent Moroccan. To hell with Holland and to hell with you.
Ms. Ghorashi says that's precisely what's happening now. "Migrants are seeing themselves as entirely Moroccan or Iranian and they do not claim their Dutchness." From this come Dutch citizens telling foreign journalists that Holland sucks.
The alienation is far from universal, however. Some immigrant groups, notably Surinamese, are more likely to identify themselves as Dutch and to feel accepted as Dutch. Meanwhile, Holland's little Chinese community -- also a legacy of guest workers -- is far from integrated and yet the Dutch have nothing negative to say about the people who are generally perceived to be honest and hard-working.
A kind of immigrant hierarchy has formed, with migrants from Western countries and former colonies on top. Beneath them are Muslims -- a category which is applied to countries, not individuals, so that even a woman who flees Iran because she is an atheist Marxist, as Ms. Ghorashi did, is lumped in with Muslim. But Muslim is further broken down, with those believed to be harder-working and less trouble -- Turks and Iranians -- placing higher. At the bottom of the bottom are Moroccans.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Dutch intelligence agency reports that the ranks of domestic, potentially violent Islamists are almost entirely made up of second-generation Moroccans.
A recent report commissioned by the immigration minister found that the political climate of the past half-decade and the escalating criticism of Muslims has generated a widespread sense of rejection and humiliation among the second-generation Moroccans who are the focus of it all. More than unemployment and poverty, the report concluded, these feelings are what lead some to radical Islam and even terrorism.
The message of the Islamists is that Islam and modern Europe cannot peacefully co-exist. Their goal is to drive a wedge between the two and force young Muslims in Europe to choose: Either you can be a Muslim or you can be a European, but you cannot be both.
That message is spreading, and not just among Muslims: A poll taken in the Netherlands in May 2006 asked whether "Islam is compatible with modern European life." Sixty-three per cent said no.
In this atmosphere, many successful immigrants and their children -- the educated, lawful, hard-working majority -- are re-opening the old question of whether they will stay in Europe. "The people who attend universities, the people who would be social workers, police, teachers or doctors, these people are now thinking of going back, especially to Turkey," says Mr. Mak. "I don't know if they will do it but, especially among the young Turkish immigrants, there is a strong sentiment in favour of going back."
Of course it's impossible to know whether the forces pushing people apart will prove stronger than those pulling them together. But it's certainly too soon to despair.
The worst of the "xenophobic fever" has clearly abated and a series of politicians has tried and failed to resurrect the populist movement once led by Pim Fortuyn. The "immigrant problem" remains a popular theme on the Dutch right but conservative fortunes are falling: Rita Verdonk, the famously tough-minded immigration minister, failed to win the leadership of her party, and polls give right-wing parties little cause for optimism with a November general election approaching.
As a historian, Geert Mak prefers to take the long view. "It's a whole thing of generations," he says. Living with these newcomers and accepting them as Dutch like everybody else is "strange for my generation. But for our kids, it's completely different. They know much more. For the kids who are now in school, there are totally mixed schools. They have been in multi-ethnic and multicultural surroundings their whole lives," he says.
"When I talk with kids 20 years old, they are astonished about the discussions we have."