Delivering the Final Blow to Failed European Islamic Immigration
During the 1960s, due to a shortage of labor in the Netherlands, the country experienced significant immigration from Morocco and Turkey. This influx included not just workers but also their families, which, by the 1990s, had grown substantially in number due to continued migration and higher fertility rates compared to other groups in the nation. Dutch policy at the time encouraged integration while allowing cultural identities to be maintained. However, public figures who dissented from the government's stance on immigration and integration faced harsh criticism.
Table of Contents:
In the 1980s, the outspoken politician Hans Janmaat claimed that the Netherlands had no more room and was an advocate against the multicultural approach, urging immigrants to either adopt Dutch cultural norms or depart the country. His positions resulted in political isolation, and his activities sparked vehement opposition, including a violent incident in 1986. Left-wing opponents set ablaze a hotel in Kedichem, located in the country's southern part, where Janmaat's small political group was convening. In the chaos, Janmaat's wife was among those compelled to escape the flames by jumping from the building, an action that tragically led to the loss of her leg.
The Netherlands, widely regarded as Europe's most liberal nation due to its permissive stance on soft drugs and progressive views on LGBTQ+ rights, began to encounter friction with its rapidly expanding Muslim minority in the 1990s. During this time, it was privately acknowledged by several politicians that the challenges posed by the growing Muslim population were too complex to be tackled by any single political party. There was a recognition that the country's strategies for mass immigration and integration were falling short, and that dismissing the concerns of critics was insufficient in addressing the unfolding issues.
Freedom of speech emerged as a significant area of conflict. On October 5, 1990, controversy struck when an Islamic cleric, during a broadcast on a Dutch-funded radio station in Amsterdam, invoked a severe interpretation of Sharia law. The cleric declared, “Those who resist Islam, the order of Islam or oppose Allah and his prophet, you have permission to kill, hang, slaughter or banish, as it says in the Sharia.” This pronouncement brought to the forefront the tensions between liberal Dutch values and the conservative elements within the Muslim community.
In 1991, Frits Bolkestein, the leader of the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD), initiated a candid discourse with a speech, which he later expanded upon in an article, reflecting concerns that were slowly surfacing among various political figures. Bolkestein pointed out that Islam encompasses more than religious beliefs—it prescribes a comprehensive lifestyle that, in his view, challenges the Dutch principle of separating religion from state affairs. He also drew attention to the stark contrasts between Islamic perspectives on women and those established by Dutch law and societal norms.
Acknowledging the permanence of these new communities within the Netherlands, Bolkestein asserted that their complete assimilation into Dutch society was essential to resolve the issues he highlighted. Yet, he underlined the gravity of the situation with a cautionary note, stating the imperative to not be mistaken in handling such sensitive matters.
Both his speech and subsequent article were met with substantial backlash. The Prime Minister at the time, Ruud Lubbers, branded the article as 'dangerous,' and another minister criticized Bolkestein for what was seen as offensive commentary toward the Muslim community. A leading opinion writer even suggested that Bolkestein's remarks could incite racial prejudice.
In an intellectual climate where the power of thought remained influential, the sociological discourse in the Netherlands took a sharp turn with the release of Paul Schnabel's 1998 work, “The Multicultural Illusion: A Plea for Adaptation and Assimilation.” This book helped usher conversations about multiculturalism's challenges into the realm of acceptable public debate. Similarly, the year 2000 witnessed the significant impact of “The Multicultural Drama,” an essay by Paul Scheffer, an academic and member of the Dutch Labour Party, which contributed to this evolving discourse.
Yet, despite these academic contributions, a stark gap persisted between public opinion and political action. A 1998 survey revealed that nearly half of the Dutch population already believed that Western European and Muslim lifestyles were fundamentally incompatible.
Leaders like Bolkestein were prescient in addressing these societal challenges, positioning the Netherlands ahead of other Western nations in grappling with the complexities of multiculturalism. This foresight proved crucial as other countries would eventually confront similar issues in the years to follow. However, a tangible hesitance lingered within the political elite to engage with these concerns fully.
It was ultimately a leftist commentator and professor, wielding significant popular influence, who normalized this discourse, bridging the gap between academic circles and the broader public conversation.
The Limits of Tolerance
Pim Fortuyn, before delving into the topic of Islam, did not fit the conventional 'right-wing' profile. As a Marxist academic and openly gay man, Fortuyn championed sexual freedom and many other libertarian principles. It was his stance on Islam that later earned him the 'right-wing' label. His 1997 publication, “Against the Islamisation of our Culture,” delved into the various ways he believed Islam conflicted with Dutch societal norms.
Fortuyn emphasized the lack of separation between mosque and state within Islam, contrasting it with the achievements of Dutch Christianity, which had established a division that safeguarded freedoms of speech and press, human rights, and a public sphere free from religious dogma. He pointed out that this lack of separation within Islam could potentially undermine these hard-won Dutch values.
He also strongly critiqued Islamic views on gender, arguing that Muslim women in the Netherlands should be entitled to the same levels of emancipation as their non-Muslim counterparts, and he vehemently opposed the treatment of sexual minorities within Islamic cultures. Fortuyn highlighted that while Dutch society was a pioneer in legislating and fostering a culture of gender and sexual equality, the practices within Muslim-majority countries often starkly contradicted these values.
Fortuyn posited that the Dutch approach of tolerance could not successfully coexist with the intolerant aspects present within the beliefs of Islam, as demonstrated by the fastest-growing demographic in the Netherlands. His views pointed out an inherent tension, suggesting that Dutch society's celebrated tolerance might not be able to accommodate the intolerance associated with Islamic doctrines.
Pim Fortuyn had a knack for articulating his perspectives and drawing out opinions from others, which he often showcased on television programs and in his newspaper columns. In one memorable incident on a TV discussion panel, Fortuyn, with his characteristic flair, provoked an Imam to the point of anger over Fortuyn's open homosexuality. His interactions weren't limited to religious figures; even mainstream politicians expressed their disapproval. During a 1997 TV debate on his book about the islamization of Dutch culture, Marcel van Dam, a prominent figure in the Labour Party and a former cabinet minister, openly disparaged Fortuyn, calling him 'an extremely inferior human being'—a prelude to the intense condemnation that would follow.
With the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the Dutch public was already familiar with the contentious discussions surrounding Islam, and Fortuyn had shifted his attention more toward political action. After being ousted from the party he initially joined for labeling Islam as 'backward,' Fortuyn swiftly established his own party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF). The Dutch proportional representation system allows for relatively easier entry for new parties, and Fortuyn capitalized on this. In the run-up to the 2002 national elections, he managed to dramatically disrupt the established order of Dutch politics in just a few weeks.
Emboldened by a lack of restraint from peers, Pim Fortuyn's messages became increasingly urgent, signaling a dire threat to Dutch identity, particularly its liberal values. He contended that multiculturalism had failed, leading to the emergence of segregated communities, with Muslim ghettos becoming increasingly prevalent. He used the phrase 'five minutes to midnight' to evoke a sense of critical urgency, suggesting that the Netherlands was on the brink of a profound cultural shift that could still be averted.
His charisma and showmanship, combined with a defiant stance against conventional media engagement, garnered substantial public support as the 2002 election approached. The electorate seemed inclined to place their faith in Fortuyn's vision for the nation. Meanwhile, his political adversaries launched a barrage of accusations against him, branding him as racist and drawing comparisons to Hitler and Mussolini. In an interview conducted shortly before his untimely death, Fortuyn spoke of receiving death threats and ominously remarked that should any harm befall him, the political figures who vilified him should bear some culpability for inciting his potential killer.
Tragically, such speculations turned into reality when, just days before the election, Fortuyn was fatally shot by a man after a radio interview. The nation braced for the possibility that the assailant might be a Muslim, which could have escalated tensions dramatically. However, “it was revealed” that the “perpetrator was a far-left vegan activist” who confessed to targeting Fortuyn for his perceived animosity towards Muslims.
The assassination plunged the Netherlands into a state of grief, and in a posthumous homage, the Dutch populace awarded Fortuyn's party a significant number of parliamentary seats. Yet, internal discord and inexperience, exacerbated by their rapid ascent, led to the party's inability to fulfill its electoral promises, leaving Fortuyn's ambitious vision for the Netherlands unfulfilled.
The assassination of Pim Fortuyn left a void in the Dutch political landscape, stalling the public's initiative to address their societal challenges through the democratic process. While successors like Geert Wilders, who departed from the VVD to form his own party, endeavored to carry on Fortuyn's legacy, they could not fully recapture the unique coalition of working-class and entrepreneurial young voters that Fortuyn had energized. Despite the closure of one avenue in electoral politics, Fortuyn's death paradoxically broadened the societal dialogue. The notion that Fortuyn was a fascist and that a significant segment of Dutch citizens would endorse such ideologies became untenable.
In the aftermath, Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker and a friend of Fortuyn, rose to prominence, continuing the conversation where Fortuyn left off. Van Gogh was no stranger to controversy, often appearing on television alongside Fortuyn and challenging outspoken Islamist figures in the Netherlands. His book “Allah Knows Best,” provocative in both its cover imagery and content, as well as his verbal confrontations, exemplified his defiance. This defiant stance was particularly evident when he engaged with the extremist Dyab Abou Jahjah, an encounter that ended with threats from Jahjah's followers.
Amidst growing concerns for his safety, van Gogh remained publicly visible, continuing his work unabated. This culminated in the production of “Submission,” a short film addressing the subjugation of women in Islam, written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali immigrant and former Dutch MP. The film's airing heightened the perceived danger to its creators, yet van Gogh declined personal security measures, with those close to him suggesting he believed no one would bother to target someone perceived as the 'village idiot.' This dismissive attitude towards his own safety would have tragic consequences.
Despite his seemingly unassuming demeanor, Theo van Gogh was not spared the violence he had seemed to dismiss. On the morning of November 2, 2004, as he biked to work in Amsterdam, Mohammed Bouyeri attacked him. Bouyeri shot and fatally wounded van Gogh, who in his final moments purportedly sought to negotiate, asking, “Can't we talk about this?” The brutality of the attack was underscored by the letter pinned to van Gogh’s body with a knife, which contained a death threat against Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
The Dutch government acted swiftly to protect Hirsi Ali, moving her out of the Netherlands for her safety, while others who had spoken critically of Islamic extremism, such as Afshin Ellian, were placed under police protection. The chilling effect of van Gogh's murder was profound; even the most cautious critics of Islamic practices, like Paul Cliteur, retreated into silence. The murder underscored a grim reality: challenging aspects of Islam publicly could be a death sentence without the security of state protection. This was a stark turn for a country once known for its embrace of religious skepticism and its nurturing of freethinking philosophers like Spinoza.
In this climate of fear, Ayaan Hirsi Ali stood out for her refusal to be intimidated. Her backstory was remarkable—a Somali woman who had come to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage, she quickly adapted to her new home. Claiming asylum upon arrival, she took on menial work even as she learned Dutch and eventually attended the University of Leiden. Within a decade, she had completed her Master's degree, worked as a researcher, and was elected to Parliament as a representative of the Liberal Party. Her ascent was not just a testament to her own formidable abilities and resilience but also a narrative the Dutch society craved—a tangible emblem of successful integration.
Hirsi Ali's outspokenness, especially as an immigrant and a woman, confounded and sometimes alienated the left-wing establishment, who had expected her to champion their perspectives. Her bold stance and her commitment to speaking out, even in the face of grave personal risk, kept the spotlight on the tense discourse regarding immigration and integration in the Netherlands.
Hirsi Ali's introspection following the events of 9/11 led her to question the religious ideology she was raised with, pondering deeply if the seeds of violence and animosity were embedded within Islam itself. This self-examination eventually led her to acknowledge her loss of faith, a personal revelation that she had previously kept private but chose to share publicly over time. As her views evolved, the Dutch press appeared particularly eager to push her into controversial territory, pressuring her to label Islam as 'backward', echoing the contentious language once used by Fortuyn.
Caught between conflicting pressures, Hirsi Ali found herself in a complex social dynamic. On one side, certain elements within the political left seemed to provoke her into making statements they could then denounce, while on another front, individuals across the political spectrum seemed to urge her to voice sentiments that might be less palatable if not coming from her—a black woman, which in theory made the charge of racism less tenable. Nevertheless, detractors sought to discredit her criticisms by suggesting she was speaking from a place of personal trauma rather than informed conviction, attempting to frame her adverse experiences as anomalies rather than systemic issues.
Having endured female genital mutilation, renounced her previously held belief in extreme religious punishment, escaped a forced marriage, and navigated the intricacies of assimilation, Hirsi Ali confronted the most delicate and divisive topics with courage and candor. Yet, the backlash she faced was telling. It came not only from a significant segment of the Dutch political sphere but also, with intense hostility, from elements within the Netherlands' Muslim community. Her journey, marked by both her significant contributions and the contentious reactions they sparked, signaled challenging times ahead for a country grappling with the complexities of cultural integration and freedom of speech.
Early in her journey to becoming a public figure, Hirsi Ali had an illuminating conversation with a friend who cautioned her about the potential impact of her outspoken views in the Netherlands. Hirsi Ali later reflected on this exchange in her memoir, expressing her initial disbelief that her opinions could be considered 'explosive' in a country that was liberal enough to openly discuss topics like prostitution, drug use, euthanasia, and religious satire—a place where the arts pushed boundaries, as exemplified by author Gerard Reve’s controversial expressions of faith.
Yet, against this backdrop of apparent openness, Hirsi Ali’s forthright commentary on Islam struck a nerve. Her unflinching stance highlighted a deep discomfort within Dutch society, a realization that their celebrated tolerance might have reached its limits. Hirsi Ali stood as a living testament to the fact that even in a society that prides itself on freedom, there are boundaries that should not be crossed. Her resolve was firm, even in the face of danger that became all too real following the assassination of her colleague, Theo van Gogh. She staunchly believed that there are moments when staying silent is tantamount to endorsing injustice.
Unlock a Wealth of Insights: Gain Full Access to this Exclusive Article and Others by Subscribing to My Premium Membership.
Your support as a paid subscriber enables me to continue producing high-quality, independent journalism on this important topics. As an ad-free platform, I rely on the support of my readers to keep this content accessible and free from external influence.
If you really want to read but can’t afford it, contact me, tell me why and we will figure something out. Promised.