When one thinks of The Netherlands/Holland (n.b. I never know what the difference is, does anyone?), what's the typical stereotype which comes to mind? "Coffee shops" dotting nearly every Amsterdam and Rotterdam street corner which sell all manner of recreational drugs and drug paraphernalia, the practice of euthanasia, unbridled gay and lesbian marriage, savoury cheese, the tallest race in Europe, canals that meander through this multiple-bridged city...anything else?
Well, in his latest book of investigative journalism, MURDER IN AMSTERDAM, author Ian Buruma deconstructs the rapidly vanishing and cushy notion that "being Dutch" is all about wooden clogs and windmills.
Following two ghastly celebrity assasinations in the early 21st-century, the first of caustic gay politician Pim Fortuyn, followed soon thereafter by the murder of controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (of "Submission Part I" infamy), Buruma aims his writerly crosshairs smack dab upon the emergence of a new kind of Dutch subculture--radical Islam in the Low Countries, specifically Muslim-Dutch fundamentalism.
While Fortuyn's murder was not, rather, committed by a member of Holland's growing Islamic citizenry, the majority of Buruma's book does deal with the souring relations between native Netherlanders (what Buruma calls the upstanding Calvinist "regenten," in the vernacular) and the newcomers or immigrants whom these "regenten" find in their midst.
The book is a tour-de-force of Holland's population centres where Islamic and non-Islamic migrants and refugees have made their permanent home, the sons and daughters of the one-time "guest labourers" who toiled in Holland's 1960s post-war heavy industry. It deals with the sometimes bipolar existence these various citizens--who hail from many different countries: Turkey, Morrocco, Algeria, and Suriname--and what they experience as part of their working and living days-to-day.
It would seem, Buruma indicates, in the case of its Muslim newcomers, that Holland--and Western Europe, more generally--hasn't comfortably accepted the obvious reality that Islam is now a fully integrated and legitimate "European" religion. Islam is here to stay, Buruma reiterates. Dutch people, he claims, still treat the Muslims present in their midst--in some cases, those who have been there over several decades--as "barbaric" newcomers. It's a state of affairs which seems to exacerbate the disconnect that many, for example, Moroccan or Turkish Hollanders experience.
As Buruma shows with his meticulous research, the phenomenon drives many of these young sons and daughters of the "non-Dutch" Dutchmen into the camps of extreme ideologues, those with manipulative agendas who twist their subjects' already warped sense of communal belongingness into something at once more macabre and demonic.
Dining once too often at the table of hatred and fear, Mohammed Bouyeri, Van Gogh's erstwhile killer, was a protoypical example of a young Muslim-Dutch man who fed once too often on an appretite of poisonous extremist rhetoric. Bouyeri's case is similar to the fate of tens of today's young Moroccan-Dutch, Buruma shows, the children of parents who were never fully accepted and integrated into their surroundings and society, who were never tolerated by their fellow Dutch citizens as fully-functioning members of their community.
Buruma tells us that The Netherlands is no longer that safe and innocent place it once used to be.
The addition of a new--some might say, foreign--element into the societal mix has caused "native" Dutch people to turn inwardly into themselves, shielding themselves and their families from the need to interact with those who didn't quite fit into their narrow-minded conception of religious propriety and culture, resulting in a deadly and vicious circle (as we've clearly seen).
In response, newcomers don't interact with locals, and an environment of dangerous mistrust and suspicion festers.
What I enjoyed most about this read was the in-depth interviews the author conducted with several famous Dutch sociologists, criminologists, and demographers. Reading the lines (and between the lines), one gains a clearer perspective on the conditions extant in today's European Union Holland, perhaps also gaining a better understanding of the conditions which combined to produce a killer such as Bouyeri, or "Mohammed B." as he's known in Holland.
The book was packed with lots to digest, frankly.
Buruma dwells excessively on Holland's WWII past, and makes copious (some would say, excessive) mention of the country's prior relationship with its one-time sprawling Jewish population as a way to either justify, compare, or simplify the "whys" surrounding the behaviour of its burgeoning Muslim populations. This is a radical overemphasis, in this reviewer's opinion, and totally uncalled for and shocking in light of the disproportionate numbers Holland's Jewish population plays in today's Dutch makeup.
While the country's past is revealing in certain specific instances, the book seems to possess an irking refrain which does less to elucidate upon the complex case of Holland's present-day Muslims, than frustrate.
Having said that, I learned heaps.
Buruma reveals plenty of juicy historical bits that could only come off the pen of a sage observer of Holland's present day affairs, from one who is intimately acquainted with his material, as Buruma quite clearly seems to be.
As you'll make your way through, prepare to be shocked. While most of what you'll read from the tongues of some of Amsterdam's more radical Islamic elements isn't anything you haven't heard before, you'll very soon realize (if you haven't already) that an ominous menace is closer at hand than perhaps once believed. Ten bad apples, for example, are tainting an entire society's impression about a particular minority's participation in its collective. Less so about being fair or unfair, this is a travesty.
It goes to show you that a) the Dutch (insert French, Germans, Belgians, Austrians, Spanish, alternately) are clearly **unwilling** to probe deeper than mere surface details in an effort to gain a clearer understanding of "their" various foreigners and b) these same foreigners are unwilling to modify elements of their old country ways and mannerisms to more seamlessly integrate with the relative laissez-faire openness of the West.
Again, these aren't themes we haven't heard bafore. It's just that Buruma draws them out for us in ways which we've perhaps not seen. He supplies these details via more incising corroborating proof, as it were, and I was grateful for that.
Admittedly, I didn't choose this book. It was sent by a lawyer colleague who thought I might gain certain critical insights, considering that I make my present home in Europe. To be sure, radical Islam is not a daily feature of the former Bloc countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and perhaps therefore less of a factor to ponder.
However, once upon a time the Dutch, too, felt that theirs was an unassailable society. The divides which often rended some of their one-time colonial-power neighbours' internal societies would never reach their low-lying shores, many thought. But that misconception has sadly been obliterated over the past twenty years. They've been disabused of that fantasy.
I suppose the lesson for we dwellers of old "mitteleuropa" is: be prepared, be vigilant, be conscious.
That which once seemed impossible, will soon be impossible no more.
--ADM in Prague