Dutch Elections – Neoliberalism Meets Nationalism

On 12 September the Dutch will have their national elections after the last minority government fell after the nativist anti-islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders withdrew his support as he did not wanted to support the severe austerity measures that were deemed necessary because of the economic crisis.

In the last elections Dutch culture, migration and Islam were still major issues. Now with the major economic crisis and the problems in the EU those themes appear to have vanished from the debates. There were some reports on (young) Muslims losing faith in the democratic system because they see no party that stands up for them. In particular the social-democrats appear to be worried about losing the  migrant vote. None of these stories however provided a substantial argument for that and similar ideas also emerged in the last two elections; at that time I think they were justified but I don’t see why this would be the case again. What has been lost in those reports as well is not only that some Muslims are (indeed) worried about their position in politics as Muslims, but they are also disappointed in political parties because of the poor economic situaton (as are probably most other citizens). And, also as usual by now, there was someone who depicted Wilders together with Hitler and Breivik and a short controversy over that.

The hardworking Dutch people

This doesn’t mean that nationalism and racism are gone. On the contrary; it is quite remarkable how quickly particular stereotypes on southern Europe, in particular Greece, emerged after the news broke of their financial problems: unreliable, lazy, corrupt, you name it. The EU was blamed by politicians for most of the problems (conveniently shying away from the fact that national politicians make the EU) and parties such as the Freedom Party linked the EU with the problem of the so-called mass-migration. It was supposedly the EU who caused huge waves of migrants coming to the Netherlands (in fact the idea of mass-migration has been debunked by several experts) in particular the East-Europeans and the Muslims. It is in particular Wilders who has weaved together a strong anti-EU stand with anti-immigration and anti-austerity measures. Interestingly, and disturbingly, he is severely criticized on all these points but not so much on the connections he makes between the three themes.

Other parties however see culture (used for referring to migrants) also as problematic. If the migrants are presented as beneficial at all (two parties; very few sentences) it is always in relation with something like ‘but there are problems as well’.  Concrete measures are proposed that always restrict migrants in order to become compatible with ‘Dutch society’ or the punish them more than other citizens (for instance in the cases of domestic and other forms of family violence). And everything that remotely resembles multiculturalism should not be subsidized anymore. There are some differences between the parties with regard to issues such as dual citizenship, the ban on face-veiling.and some other discriminatory measures of the last government. All parties do give some attention to the struggle against racism, homophobia and discrimination but often only in general slogans. Only the orthodox Christian parties (also criticizing ‘secularist ideologies’) and the Freedom Parties pay attention to Islam; in terms of a threat for society or concrete groups such as gays and Christians. (see a Dutch summary HERE). Remarkably absent from the debates in my personal opinion are the causes of the financial crisis, the role of the banks and other financial institutions and the neo-liberal model. The latter not only having economic consequences but also for legal and social justice as the Dutch ombudsman stated: “Justice is an unexpected factor, which apparently doesn’t fit in the economic model.”

The Muslim voices

There aren’t many initiatives from Muslims (as Muslims) in this campaign. The Dutch Muslim Party has been dissolved (after having not been very active anyway). The Dutch Muslim site Wij Blijven Hier (We are here to stay) has launched one of the many voting aids. The Muslim Women’s Organization Al Nisa, celebrating its 30 year anniversary, presented its campaign against prejudice against Muslim women a few days ago:

Do you know me?

A call for Dutch politics to challenge prejudice against Muslim women.

Amnesty International concluded in their recent publication ‘Choice and Prejudice: Discrimination against Muslims in Europe’ that “European governments must do more to challenge the negative stereotypes and prejudices against Muslims fuelling discrimination especially in education and employment.”.

Ten days before the elections, Al Nisa, a Muslim women’s organization, takes action in her own way by starting her campaign “Do you know me?”. A one-minute Youtube video shows five strong and enterprising Muslim women, who have become successful in all sectors of society, but hardly seen or recognized by ordinary citizens or politics.

In response to her 2010 campaign “ECHT Nederlands” (REAL Dutch), Al Nisa received disconcerted reactions such as, “These women do not exist” or “Better not think that you are Dutch”. Al Nisa envisions Dutch politics orienting itself towards the exemplary roles that many successful and independent Muslim women play in our country. In previous years, politics has instead wasted valuable time and money on freedom-limiting and offensive measures such as the burqa ban, the Ramadan “black book” (a list of alleged public disturbances by Muslims during Ramadan, or instances of public accommodation of Muslims) and other political brouhaha. ‘Realistic optimism’ and ‘role models’ are key words to be used if you – just like us – stand for a better society for all of us.

The campaign is a part of Al Nisa’s 30-year anniversary with the theme “ZIN” (Self-conscious Women, Inspiring Encounters and New Insights). Over the past 30 years, Al Nisa has been making an effort for Dutch Muslim women and Dutch society. On 22 September 2012, a national symposium will be organized in cooperation with Marmoucha and New West Fest in De Meervaart, Amsterdam. Here, Muslim women will share the stage with academics, columnists and artists. Special guest speaker is Dr. Ingrid Mattson from Canada who was until recently the first chairwoman of ISNA, the largest Islamic umbrella organization in North America.

In this campaign they present a variety of Muslim women as strong, powerful individuals who make a contribution to society. In the next video five women appear who are successful in all layers of society but remain invisible for politicians and the larger publics.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSVs5gWet1Q]

I certainly sympathize with the video and the intentions of the makers, but the video also disturbs me somewhat although I cannot really put my finger on it.

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