Leon de Winter, a Dutch novelist and wise, wry social critic (or so I think, having read a few of his novels translated into German), writes in today’s New York Times about the death of the historic Dutch culture of tolerance, in the wake of the murders of Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn.
The terrible irony is that tolerance, fully exercised, ends up enveloping intolerance.
For centuries the Netherlands has been considered the most tolerant and liberal nation in the world. This attitude is a byproduct of a disciplined civic society, confident enough to provide space for those with different ideas. It produced the country in which Descartes found refuge, a center of freedom of thought and of a free press in Europe.
That Netherlands no longer exists.
The murder last year of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose killer was convicted this week, and the assassination of the politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 marked the end of the Holland of Erasmus and Spinoza.
No, the Dutch suddenly did not become intolerant and insular. But these killings showed the cumulative effect of two forces that have shaken the foundations of Dutch civic society over the last 40 years: the cultural and sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s and the influx of Muslim workers during those years of prosperity….
When they came to the country, often under long-term government work visas, they were faced with a highly educated but apparently decadent society in the grip of a cultural revolution. Many were astonished: was this country some sort of freak show?
No, it certainly wasn’t. Under the effusive “anything goes” exterior, the majority of Dutch people held on to their disciplined Calvinist values. To the immigrants, however, this core was all but invisible….
And thus the delicate mechanism of Holland’s traditional tolerant society gradually lost its balance. The news media, politicians and artists gnawed away at the traditional values of Calvinistic civic society, while in the bleak Muslim suburbs resentment grew among the Moroccans’ Dutch-born children, who found the promise of an affluent life unfulfillable.
Meanwhile, the news media and politicians maintained an unofficial ban on any discussion of the problems of immigration: after all, in progressive Holland only socioeconomic problems were admissible. It was simply not acceptable to discuss problems relating to religion and culture.
: LATER IN BRITAIN: See, too, Michael Portillo in The Sunday Times of London arguing that mindless multiculturalism is over:
Tolerance was clearly never meant to mean that Britain should allow those with roots outside the country to flout human rights and the laws of the land on the pretext that things were done differently where they came from. The Ayn Rand Institute is right to say that it is dangerous nonsense to pretend that all cultures are morally equivalent. Such sloppy thinking corrodes our ability to distinguish good from evil.
It is tempting in a tolerant society to want to see other people’s point of view. If Islam has thrown up its extremists, we can recall the excesses committed over centuries in the name of Christianity. We can understand that a devout Muslim might find western society licentious and irreligious. But the time for sophistry has passed. Our citizens and our society are under threat from those who believe that difference is a justification for terror and murder. Our country has the right to assert its values and require from everyone living here compliance with our laws and respect for our standards.
Britain’s woolly thinking about multiculturalism has helped to make us vulnerable.
: See also a Sunday Times of London editorial on tolerating intolerance:
We cannot know whether the bombers were driven by the incitement of others. What we do know is that Britain has for too long been tolerant of the messengers of hate, many of whom have been foolishly admitted from abroad. Action will now be taken. It is a pity that it took the deaths of more than 50 innocents to bring it about.
: MORE FROM BLAIR: Tony Blair addresses his party on tolerance and staying the course:
The Prime Minister hit back at suggestions that the London atrocities were linked to injustices in the Middle East, saying it was the ‘almost-devilish logic’ of extremists to play on western guilt.
Their propaganda was clever and sophisticated, he told an audience of Labour party delegates in London: ‘It plays on our tolerance and good nature; it exploits the tendency to guilt of the developed world – as if it is our behaviour that should change, that if we only tried to work out and act on their grievances, we could lift this evil; that if we changed our behaviour, they would change theirs.
‘Their cause is not founded on injustice. It is founded on a belief, one whose fanaticism is such that it can’t be moderated. It can’t be remedied. It has to be stood up to.’