Double Dutch

It is 400 years ago that the first Dutch people founded New Amsterdam, the place that is currently known as Manhattan. Interesting is that also the Belgians (source in Dutch) now claim that they were the first settles. The first Dutch colonists crossing the ocean were indeed people from what is now known as Belgium (the modern nation state Belgium exists since 1830) and more in particular the french speaking part of Belgium, from the city of Henegouwen. Two of the most well known people were Joris Rapalje (a last name that has a very negative meaning in Dutch) and Catalina Trico from that part of Belgium. Notwithstanding this countercampaign from the Belgians the Dutch managed to set up several exhibitions and public campaigns celebrating the establishment of New-Amsterdam. Also the American press has some coverage. Russel Shorto who writes for the New York Times magazine has written a book called The Island at the Center of the World on the history of Manhattan’s founding. He argues in this book is that the Dutch founding of Manhattan
Books by Russell Shorto

seeded not only New York’s immigrant culture, but America’s melting pot.

Thank you very much mr. Shorto. He also has written a very positive article in the New York Times:
Going Dutch – How I Learned to Love the European Welfare State. –

PICTURE ME, IF YOU WILL, as I settle at my desk to begin my workday, and feel free to use a Vermeer image as your template. The pale-yellow light that gives Dutch paintings their special glow suffuses the room. The interior is simple, with high walls and beams across the ceiling. The view through the windows of the 17th-century house in which I have my apartment is of similarly gabled buildings lining the other side of one of Amsterdam’s oldest canals. Only instead of a plump maid or a raffish soldier at the center of the canvas, you should substitute a sleep-rumpled writer squinting at a laptop.

But not everyone is happy about this article. For example Dutch Heleen Mees, who lives and works in New York, wrote a letter to the editor:
Letters to the Editor – Going Dutch? Not So Fast –

In his essay “Warming to the European way” (May 2), Russell Shorto sounds the praises of the Dutch welfare state. However, the Dutch welfare state isn’t as beneficial to low-skilled immigrants as it is to high-skilled workers like Mr. Shorto. In fact, it has suffocated the large group of non-Western immigrants who came to the Netherlands over the past decades to seek their fortune.

This little controversy has reached a few Dutch blogs by now:”>Obama Obama » Hollands Glorie potverdorie

Denk nu niet dat de VS ineens vol zijn van Nederland. Het stuk was (voorzover ik kon nagaan) niet op het televisienieuws. En het conservatisme mag dan krimpen, het is niet verdwenen. Dus zo goed als Nederland wordt bewonderd in dit land, zo goed wordt erop neergekeken.

And also a conservative Dutch man living in the US:

But Shorto does not describe in detail issues that are well worth talking about: welfare state overreach, the Dutch approach towards multiculturalism and the Dutch approach towards crime. All three are highly relevant to understanding a growing sense of disillusionment in Dutch society and a rising enthusiasm for emigration.

But also beyond the Dutch blogosphere there has been some attention, for example by one of my favorite writeres Ezra Klein:
EzraKlein Archive | The American Prospect

Tax quibbles aside, Russell Shorto’s explanation of how he stopped worrying and learned to love the European welfare state is nicely done. The answer is pretty simple: He started to like the welfare state when he began to receive its services. This, incidentally, is the sort of thing that conservatives worry about quite publicly in the United States. When Ben Nelson says he’ll oppose the public plan because “at the end of the day, the public plan wins the game,” he’s gesturing towards this point.

Now it is not up to me to decide who is wrong and why so. More interesting is what these articles together reveal about contemporary Dutch society. Is it a coincidence almost all reactions focus on the welfare state, crime, political intolerance and multiculturalism? These are, certainly not only from an American perspective, the most important issues that divide Dutch society nowadays, in particular political parties and opinion leaders. In particular multiculturalism, tolerance and more specifically Islam have been major fault lines in Dutch society starting from the 1990s onwards but with increasing speed and intensity from 9/11 and the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004 in such a way that it can only be characterized as an Islam neuroticism; a situation wherein a society has an enduring tendency to experience and express emotional states (such as anxiety, anger, depression) in everything (remotely) related to Islam and/or Muslims and whereby ordinary situations appear as threatening and demanding immediate, quick and hard reactions. A neuroticism sometimes fed by political and religious elites but also abound on the internet on weblogs and webfora.

Also interesting of course is that both the Dutch and Belgians want to celebrate the event of establishing New Amsterdam. Of coursre understandable because New York is probably one of the most interesting, well known cities carrying a lot of symbolic value. Who doesn’t want to be the founder of that? For both the US and the Netherlands (ok and Belgium too) it seems to have become an event celebrating their self-proclaimed image of progress, pioneership, entrepeneurship, tolerance and (delusions of) grandeur. But is there also some attention for the negative aspects of our past? Except in the book The Forgotten History written by Dutch historian Geert Mak and Russell Shorto, there is not a lot of attention in the program for issues such as slave trade and the relationships with the native Americans. Also in the Dutch coverage of this event I have seen no reference to those issue yet. Yes, it seems that both the slaves and the native Americans were better off with the Dutch than with the English, but that does not mean we are fully exonerated. At one point the Native Americans were seen as ‘obstacles to European settlement‘ resulting in some brutal campaigns against the Native Americans. And what about buying a piece of land for 60 guilders in goods (beads, buttons and other trinkets) from people that did not realize that the transaction was for permanent possession (since the concept of alienable real estate was unfamiliar) of the land and even if they knew that, it in no way reflected the value of the goods that the Native Americans received. Moreover the deal was closed with the Canarsee tribe who hunted on the land but did have no rights on the island (the Weckquaesgeeks who did live there, were not consulted). The Dutch (and later English) colonists built the city’s local economy around supplying ships for the trade in slaves and in what slaves produced. Slaves did a lot of work in creating a major port city, they built Fort Amsterdam (Battery Park) and cut the road we now know as Broadway. I don’t want to spoil the party, but could we please consider taking this into account as well. Or, if this already done and I couldn’t find it, let me know.

Ow and this also Double Dutch (with Malcom McLaren, yes the one and only)

3 thoughts on “Double Dutch

  1. Als antropoloog moet je toch weten dat je niet met jouw bril naar de 17e eeuw mag kijken. De indianen waren immers ook geen lieverdjes.
    En de eerste zwarte die als vrij man land bezat in de nieuwe wereld deed dat in de huidige Bronx, als Nederlands onderdaan. Trouwens de eerste moslim die voet zette op Amerikaanse bodem was ook een Nederlander. Nieuw-nederland is ook de plek waar de eerste synagoge in de nieuwe wereld is gebouwd, maar dat laatste feitje wist je waarschijnlijk al.

  2. Hahaha sjaak, ja pak me maar terug op mijn eigen stiel. je hebt natuurlijk gelijk, maar dat wil niet zeggen dat we dat nu maar helemaal moeten negeren. De andere feitjes wist ik al, hoewel ik geloof dat de Belgen ook die eerste moslim claimen. Het boekje van Mak en Shorto, The Forgotten History, is in deze best aardig en genuanceerd voor zover ik dat kan beoordelen (behalve een 21e eeuw antropoloog ben ik ook nog geeneens een deskundige op dit gebied). Overigens wordt het cultureel/historisch relativisme van de antropologie ook wel eens verkeerd weergegeven. Betekent niet dat helemaal geen vergelijking of moreel oordeel meer mogelijk is.

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