A short genealogy of racial hatred in The Netherlands (or why Geert Wilders is nothing new, really)

This is somewhat long and probably not that interesting or relevant to international readers but I need to put it somewhere (as I drafted it and want to make sure I can reference it if I have to). So, most of this is going after a cut so as not to clog anyone’s dashboards/ readers of choice.

Geert Wilders has been acquitted of all charges against him. He is not inciting hatred, his is not hate speech and, in his own words, he means to be coarse and denigrating, but not racist. Now, of course, a chorus of Dutch voices raises explaining how this is so against the country’s long tradition of tolerance and multicultural “living together”. But is it?

The Dutch have a solid tradition of looking for an “Other” to demonize and create a sense of national cohesion against a perceived enemy. Wilders is just one more name in a long list of public figures who have advocated for the alienation of certain groups to appeal to the Nationalist tendencies of the Dutch native population. In 1949, the Dutch government reluctantly agreed to sign Indonesia’s Independence and dealt with the question of what to do with the Moluccan army that had been faithful to Dutch imperial forces. The solution, back then, was to house 12,500 individuals (former Officers and their families) in a former Concentration Camp used by the Nazi German army a mere five years earlier. These Moluccans were not encouraged to look for work because the unions in the Netherlands feared that they would drive down Dutch workers’ wages. Media at the time, portrayed them as “difficult to integrate” and too different to the native Dutch. A narrative was created where these Moluccans were seen as the “aliens” who were both a shameful reminder of Dutch defeat in Indonesia and a threat to the dominant culture. The “Othering” of Moluccans reached its peak in the mid ‘70’s, fueled by terrorist acts by Moluccan youth who, deprived of a National identity and constantly singled out as undesirable, resorted to violence and disruption of civic life.

Around the same time, Suriname’s struggle for independence had been successful. Cue in a media and political frenzy about the threat of non integrated, separatist Surinamese (and, in a case of guilty by racial association, Antilleans). The “brown peril” was born. The Netherlands had, collectively, found a new group towards whom fingers could be pointed and who would offer the Dutch nationalist elements a sense of unity and purpose.

It was around the mid 80’s when Dutch media turned their eye to a group collectively known as “Guest Workers”. Guest workers came from countries located in the eastern and southern regions of Europe as well as those from North Africa. Originally, they were supposed to be temporary workers who would fill in positions deemed as “too low” for Dutch natives or to assist in reconstruction and renovation efforts after the World War II. Up to that point, nobody had seen a need for these workers to integrate as they were supposed to pack and go home as soon as the work was over. No provisions were made for them to learn the language in a proper setting, no integration into civic and/ or political life was expected from them. They were, after all, only meant to provide low cost labor. Until they weren’t anymore because they had families and children with dreams of upwards social mobility. Suddenly, they were a threat to Dutch national identity. Their cultures and habits too different. Their outfits not Western enough. Their idiosyncrasies too conservative for the mainstream idea of a Dutch liberal and tolerant society. Suddenly, politicians could appeal to a voter base increasingly fearful of this new “Other”.

And that brings us to Geert Wilders. His discourse and his ideas are nothing new. He has only found his niche, a new group, who, after 9/11 is an easy target for those who wish to increase their populist allure. A new dress for the old xenophobia. What is, indeed, novel and somewhat worrying is the fact that, for the first time in modern Dutch politics, there is one single figure setting the agenda for the whole country to follow. Wilders sets the topics that matter and politicians across the entire spectrum only react to his pointers. The only politician in present day Netherlands that sets the course is Geert Wilders. The rest follow suit either opposing him or helping him move legislation forward. He is not part of the current government but he certainly beats the drum that both government and opposition dance to. Well intentioned and well meaning politicians, not wishing to alienate an increasingly polarized voter base are too afraid of losing votes to emphatically put the rights of minorities as the main issue of their agendas. There is no room for a politics of ideals and utopias in The Netherlands, only a pragmatic, lukewarm reaction to Wilders “coarse and denigrating” rhetoric.

According to Dutch courts, Geert Wilders is not guilty of hate speech. However, looking at the state of contemporary Dutch politics, we can safely say that he is responsible for the absence of ideals and justice for those who are targeted as enemies of a uniform and outdated notion of Dutch nationalism. In The Netherlands, we have finally abandoned all pretense of justice and fairness for their own sake. Now, everyone just reacts to a politician who, by his own admission, only wishes to denigrate.

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