The free-debate heroes of the Left

A fake crisis has reached its (anti-)climax.

To my own delight, I found a couple of e-mails from the much-appreciated Texan blogger No2Liberals in my inbox the other day. It is interesting that an American is now notifying me on events taking place in my country, on the other side of the Atlantic (even though I must admit I haven't been very active lately). It testifies to the importance of this particular issue preoccupying him, which ought to concern all the peoples of the Free West. I am talking, of course, about Fitna.

My rants should start to get a bit boring by now, but just when you thought things couldn't get worse anymore after my previous account of "Fitna Gate", the liberal elites in this country yet again catch you off guard.

Of all their shameful reactions, those by prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende are hereby nominated for the 2008 Political Cowards Lifetime Achievement Award. On February 29, Balkenende publicly begged Mr. Wilders to change his mind about a movie of which nobody at that point had caught but a glimpse: "I have told Wilders this: 'Think about what you're doing!' Wilders cannot ignore his responsibility. Terrorists will feel legitimated to commit attacks because of his film."

Let us ignore the fact that a Dutch government leader is now persuading opposition leaders into self-censorship, even though another regional labor politician -- young Muslim apostate Ehsan Jami -- a few days ago actually did give in when the government pressured him not to make a movie depicting Muhammed with a huge erection (on his way to the mosque in order to have sex with nine-year-old Aisha). Let us for a moment focus on the odd line of argument on the part of the Dutch prime minister. For not only is Balkenende deeming Wilders responsible for acts others might commit (but which have yet to occur), he is in fact legitimizing any potential violence on the part of angry Muslims all over the world. In any case, there's no longer such a thing as free will.

Needless to say, this is not the first time Dutch politicians have made foolish statements, but it remains stunning to see how easily they abandon traditions which have marked our free society for hundreds of years, and which are, of course, its cornerstones. It makes me wonder whether our cabinet ever thinks twice before making public statements such as the above. For some reason I am a bit sceptical: when even labor party PvdA recently attempted to have an old -- and hitherto dormant -- law criminalizing blasphemy removed from the Dutch criminal code, the Christian democrat minister of justice, Ernst Hirsch Ballin, in a remarkable countermove suggested to extend the law so as to include other sorts of slander as well. Why not also criminalize harsh criticism of government policies while we're at it? And why not get rid of those annoying elections taking place every couple of years, either?

Even the most liberal of Dutch media, although still rejecting Wilders and Fitna, after the movie's release admitted it wasn't so bad after all, but the government keeps claiming it hadn't overreacted. While erroneously claiming, just after the release, that "The movie has no purpose other than hurting people's feelings," Balkenende stated to be glad he had taken the threats seriously. Hirsch Ballin now says that when Wilders first notified the government on his upcoming movie, its draft script was a lot more extreme than the end result. Wilders heavily denies, and claims he is "being swindled by the justice minister," whom he called a "liar". The Dutch, I'm afraid, will never find out whether the government or Geert Wilders is telling the truth, but judging from the coalition parties' truth-telling histories, I tend to believe the latter.

Jewish anti-Semitism
In the meanwhile, Harry de Winter, of the Een Ander Joods Geluid foundation (EAJG, translatable as "A different Jewish Voice"), placed an advertisement in a national newspaper on March 17, in which he stated: "If Wilders would have said the same about Jews (and the Old Testament) as the nonsense he is now talking about Muslims (and the Qur'an), he would have long been rendered irrelevant and prosecuted for anti-Semitism. ... We Jewish people of all people know best where this kind of discrimination may lead to." Fortunately for Mr. de Winter, Jews also have been radicalizing rapidly in this country, as well as back in Nazi Germany, up to the point of blowing themselves up for the sake of Jewry. I'd almost have thought his argument makes no sense whatsoever.

EAJG, it has to be said, is a club of left-wing Jewish self-haters, who have in the past repeatedly equated Israeli policies with Nazism, and the Gaza Strip with a Nazi concentration camp. Last summer, university professor and columnist Afshin Ellian, who is of Iranian descent, called them "ordinary Holocaust deniers", after they had equated the 2002 Israeli attack on Jenin (in which around fifty Palestinians died) to the SS raid of the Warschau ghetto in 1943 (in which tens of thousands unarmed Jews died).

This time, Ellian called de Winter's advertisement "a nice example of the demagogy some Germans in the 1930s mastered very well," and referred to EAJG's members as "postmodern Holocaust deniers". Instead of using counterarguments to respond to these polemical statements, EAJG decided to write a letter to Elsevier, the weekly magazine publishing Ellian's columns and blogs, in which it requested that Ellian be removed from his position as columnist.

This is the Left's definition of free debate: if we can't beat them, we attempt to silence them. In the process, freedom of speech is being endangered mortally, while the moderate Muslims in this country are neither helped nor committed to our liberal-democratic values.


No Fitna after all?

Please let's not make Mr. Wilders go out on the street to hand out DVD's of his movie himself.

Need I introduce this story? Hardly. Allow me to add to the disgrace the little detail that Network Solutions, the American company that until recently hosted the Fitnathemovie.org website, now appears to be hosting IslamOnline.net (NL) as well, next to Hizbollah.org. IslamOnline is property of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and happens to be one of two most popular websites on Islam in the entire world. Clicking your way through IslamOnline, you will find that it is currently devoting lots of energy and resources to establishing a Palestinian Holocaust Memorial Museum, and focusing on the horrors taking place at Guantánamo Bay (focus on the barbarity inflicted by your own kin upon your own kin in your own lands instead, damn hypocrites).

And now Network Solutions tells me that "This site has been suspended while Network Solutions is investigating whether the site's content is in violation of the Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy. Network Solutions has received a number of complaints regarding this site that are under investigation." Give me a break.

Anyway, I hereby pledge allegiance to the Blogburst which MacsMind initiated on Saturday, and I encourage all bloggers to do the same.


Wilders's great ordeal

This Dutch MP deserves some credit for challenging social democracy and multiculturalism in the Netherlands.

I have been pretty critical of Geert Wilders lately. I have dismissed his plans to ban Muslims from obtaining permanent residence in the Netherlands, and I never liked his call for banning the Qur'an either. If Wilders's soon-to-be-published film on the Qur'an consists of nothing more than him shockingly calling the book "fascist" and burning its pages on the fireplace, the Dutch will be better off without it.

On the other hand, it might just turn out that this film, entitled "Fitna" (Arabic for "ordeal"), will actually teach us something about the Qur'an and the way it is currently being adopted by radical Muslims all over the world. One particular development has raised my hopes in this respect: just after I had in a Dutch blog mourned the fact that Wilders hardly ever explains his views in extensive interviews (but, indeed, usually limits his parliamentary contribution to mere oneliners), he was interviewed by Fox News. Even though Fox's anchor was clearly anxious about religious sensitivities on the part of his Muslim audience, Wilders brought his message across in a polite, calm and thorough manner, speaking with a clear accent but in otherwise excellent English.

It is too bad that the Dutch never get to watch this kind of footage. Instead, they have -- ever since Wilders announced he would make the film -- been bored with comments by various public figures, all of whom would love to see freedom of speech subordinated to vague notions of "tolerance" and "respect". And so it happens that even many of my own friends and colleagues -- mostly highly-educated people -- tirelessly repeat this blabber when I talk to them about Wilders. (Anyone who recognizes this phenomenon ought to refer their interlocutors to the YouTube fragment below.)

The people I talk to never fail to mention that Wilders with gross generalizations and exaggerations blows up a relatively small problem to huge proportions, and that he demonizes an entire group of people. Well, let us see what the Great Satan himself has to say about that. "I make a distinction between the religion and the people. I have big problems with the Islam," Wilders stated on Fox. "But I am not saying that all the people who call themselves Muslims are wrong, of course. Also, the majority of Muslims living in the Netherlands are not terrorists."

He then made some legitimate statements on the supposed "reforms" within Islam, claims which have been made repeatedly by respected scholars such as Robert Spencer: "Unfortunately, a growing minority, not only in the Netherlands but all over the world, a growing minority of Muslims is taking a radical and extremist stand. ... I don't believe in a moderate Islam. I don't believe in what some people call a European Islam. I don't think there will be, and if there will be in time a moderate Islam, it will be two or three thousand years, and we cannot afford to wait. It's five minutes to twelve, as we say in the Netherlands."

Asked about his upcoming movie, Wilders answered: "Qur'an is Islam, unfortunately. [The movie] is about both. The main issue is the book, the fascist book, the Qur'an. And what I want to show with this movie ... is to show to people [sic] that many verses from many surahs are very bad indeed, and still, even today -- and I'm not talking about centuries ago -- are inspiring people to do the worst. Often implemented in laws in many countries in the Middle East, but, once again, also in Europe and the United States, it's inspiring people to do the worst things. And this is what I want to show, why we should get rid of this terrible book."

Despite his pessimism on this matter, he made one thing crystal clear: "But I do believe in people. Which means that if Muslims try, really want, to assimilate in the Dutch society, they will have to get rid of the tough and intolerant and fascist parts of the Qur'an. But if they want to assimilate, and take our values to their values, of course, I have nothing against them. They are worth, and have chances, as much as you and me or any other." How radical is it, really, to expect Dutch residents to live up to the standards of this country?

One might surely label Wilders's proposals "unconventional", but to claim that "he doesn't offer solutions" would be pretty insincere. Surely banning a book is a solution, albeit not a soft one. Banning Muslims from obtaining a permanent residence permit in this country is another, as are measures against the numerous staged marriages (also in order to obtain residence), auctioning off the Netherlands Antilles on the Internet, and zero tolerance in our increasingly dangerous cities.

Yet the same people I have mentioned above make this nonsensical claim. The problem, of course, is that those complaining about a supposed lack of solutions, just do not like any of the solutions Wilders is offering, period. It is not very hard to figure out why. It has often been said that the issue of immigration and integration in Europe forces our societies to deal with their own shortcomings. To a large extent, Wilders is responding to that proverb, and finds a lot of ideological debris and powerful interests obstructing his path.

Consider this (rather lengthy) quote from his Fox interview: "Well, the multicultural problem brought us all the problems. Not only the fact that those people came here; you cannot even blame all the individuals for coming to a country where they can have a better life. But unlike what you see in the United States, we pampered all those people. We have a really perverse social security system. People even get more social benefit than when they work at the minimum wage. So there's totally no economical incentive to get the best out of yourself and to work. And if you work, you assimilate, you get friends, you have something to be proud off, you share the values more often. If you don't, if you get people housing without any pay, if you give people a social benefit, if you don't tell them that to beat up your wife or to let your wife or young daughter not work in Dutch society, that it's wrong, that it's not okay if your son beats up homosexuals on Saturday evening in Amsterdam, if you don't do that, you get into trouble."

He went on: "So it's not only those persons who are doing that, but it's also in the last decades the Dutch politicians that were responsible, that they allowed it to happen, that they never said 'Stop! It's our country, we are the boss, it's our values. If you want to come and stay here, that's okay, but only if you adhere to our values, to our principle, and our law and Constitution.' And unfortunately, that is not happening. So, with all the tolerance we are having, unfortunately, we are also tolerant to the intolerant. We should learn to start being intolerant to the people who are intolerant to us. This would be the best lesson for the Dutch government to learn."

Little wonder Wilders is not being cheered on by the other parties in parliament when making another pejorative remark about Islam. He gets to the core of multiculturalism, only to smash it into pieces. Yet I hereby ask the Wilders bashers to consider this: even though Wilders has not been able to live in freedom for a few years now, he refuses to give in to those aiming to murder him, for then "the people who are not using democratic means but undemocratic means like death threats -- that I get every day -- those people would win."

Tell me, who do we prefer: a person like Mr. Wilders, who risks his life every day for the sake of protecting our freedom against Medieval barbarity, or a politician who makes repeated campaign promises regarding a referendum on the new EU treaty, only to renege on that promise for the sake of his untamed lust for power? Or, alternatively, a cabinet member who spends his tenure fighting -- unsuccessfully -- for an amendment of the Dutch constitution so as to be able to have our city mayors elected by the people, only to be appointed mayor in the city of Nijmegen after his government falls? And need I even mention minister Piet Hein Donner, who argued that it would be fine with him if Sharia law were implemented, should a two-third majority of the Dutch be in favor of it?

I am not sure about Wilders yet. Perhaps "Fitna" will enable me to give a final verdict. But lest anyone has any doubts concerning my loyalties, let me make absolutely clear that the questions posed above were rhetorical.


No "buts": we want freedom of speech

On my Dutch blog I yesterday addressed the horrific reactions to the upcoming release of Geert Wilders's film on the Qur'an. This morning I read an online article which confirmed my initial analysis.

Some of the calls for self-censorship in the Netherlands are absolutely chilling. What to think about a self-proclaimed Islam expert who in free newspaper DAG states: "To prosecute Wilders for his film is the only way to make it clear abroad that Wilders's views are not those of the Dutch authorities"? Or that split-tongued wolf in sheep's clothing Tariq Ramadan, who in the same article says that "Comparing the Qur'an to Mein Kampf is an extreme insult," the only purpose of which is to "unleash outrage, and, consequently, media attention"? If Ramadan were right, does it not prove Wilders's initial point that this book is at the root of a religion annex political ideology deeply intolerant of criticism and apostasy? And if the comparison with Mein Kampf is indeed so outrageous, why is it that this book is so widely distributed in the Muslim world?

The media largely repeat -- uncritically at that -- the same message put forward by "experts" and by the Dutch government: even though freedom of speech is our constitutional right, we have a duty towards society to preserve respect and tolerance vis-à-vis all people living in this country. Prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende in an interview on Friday once more bored the Dutch people with it, in the process subordinating free speech to some vaguely defined notion of "responsibility". It led public television channel NOS to conclude (NL), again uncritically: "Balkenende pointed at our tradition of freedom of speech, within which people treat each other with respect."

In my latest Dutch blog, I noted that Holland's Christians have never received such warm government support in reaction to the imposition of an anti-religious liberal agenda upon this country from the 1960s onward. It can only lead one to conclude that there must be a difference in strategy on behalf of the Muslims which is bringing them more success than their Christian counterparts in the past. My guess would be: threatening the societies of the West with violence in order to further their anti-liberal agenda.

Furthermore, the bankrupt tradition of cultural relativism has deprived the West of an important means of defense against the barbarism surrounding it. While continuously confronting us with our history of colonialism and slavery, our professors apparently are not allowed to confront the world of Islam with its darker historical (as well as contemporary) episodes. Islamic extremists sense this weakness and self-doubt, and so are able to use the products of our Enlightenment against us.

Of course, freedom of speech and "respect" sometimes stand in sharp contrast to each other; that is the consequence of living in a liberal democracy, in which one is free to say anything without having to fear being prosecuted. The one and only thing protecting society from descending into civil war is classical tolerance (not that politically-correct perversion it has become in modern times): allowing something with which you do not agree, out of love or respect. Stopping Wilders from expressing his views has nothing to do with that.

Muslims in the Netherlands have learned in recent years that it pays to challenge criticism of Islam by referring to religious sensitivities. It is a mechanism which never fails them. And since humans generally are quite eager to accept outside causes for their own social and cultural misery, they are all too willing to push the button that sets it in motion. Rather than providing immigrants in the Netherlands with an incentive to take matters into their own hands and better their lots, our politicians confirm their belief that white man's oppression and racism, not individual merits, are at the root of their problems. The implication is that violence and death threats are an understandable, if not justified, reaction to the events that have been taking place not only in the Netherlands but in basically the entire world.

Another objection to the repeated mea culpas on the part of our liberal elites is the fact that it can hardly be called a compliment that a large ethnic group in this country is perceived to be acting like an explosive device ready to blow up any second. Yet no one seems to consider such a low esteem of Dutch Muslims "discriminatory" or "racist". In fact, Tariq Ramadan on Saturday said (NL) in NRC Handelsblad: "Geert Wilders is revealing his true nature, and the best answer is to ignore him. The worst scenario for him indeed is no reaction. Silence!" Milli Görüs, a quasi-fundamentalist organization of Turkish origin with branches all over Western Europe, also urged its constituency to remain calm. But statements such as these, however applaudable, imply that the default mode in the minds of Muslims is outrage and violence, and that it takes community leaders to notify them on any possible alternatives.

This morning, one headline (NL) demonstrated the familiar reflex on the part of our Muslim immigrants even more clearly. A Dutch-Moroccan writer, Mohammed Jabri, is currently setting up a committee, initiated by citizens, with the specific goal of pressing charges against anyone who insults Islam. "Anyone making racist remarks about Islam, anyone inciting hatred, we will together take on through legal means," Jabri said. "We will lose lots of cases, and that is ok. What this is about, is that the effect of [winning one court case] will be lasting. If we succeed in enforcing jurisprudence that will make it more difficult for people such as Geert Wilders to vent discriminatory viewpoints about us, I am content."

In short, one foolish verdict by a liberal judge anywhere in the Netherlands -- we have plenty of those -- and freedom of speech in this country is permanently tainted. This is how extremists maintain their stranglehold on one of the corner stones of Western civilization. Initiator Jabri, of course, is not very willing to admit low motives for the step he is taking. "We aim for nothing less than equal treatment of Muslims in this society," he said. "[Equal and full-fledged participation] for everyone." The implication, again, is that some outside power is prohibiting his kin from succeeding in Dutch society, not the fact that a large majority of Muslims fail to obtain even a highschool degree and enter the labor market without any of the skills necessary to succeed in a modern service-oriented economy.

Interestingly enough, however, city councillor Ahmed Marchouch, of the social-democrat PvdA party and himself of Moroccan descent, told another free newspaper, De Pers, on Friday: "Holland thinks it is discovering new phenomena, but it was already going on in the 1980s. Nobody paid attention to it. All kinds of things were said in the mosque. From anti-Semitism to bellicosity." One can only hope that our political and intellectual elites will eventually come to conclude that the present conflict was already slumbering long before the taboo on criticizing Islam was lifted. Their unwillingness to acknowledge their past mistakes is serving neither the established political parties nor the immigrants themselves. As Marcouch argued: "I tell people: there is only one reality, which is that you have to study hard, get good grades, apply for jobs, and go to work. That is tough. For the thing they would like to hear most, is that everybody is unemployed because all companies discriminate."

It is amazing how we have been able to get our immigrants to adopt the worst vices of Dutch society, while ignoring its virtues. This country provides them with opportunities of which they could only have dreamed in their countries of origin. Instead, they indulge in the self-pity they are being talked into by our foolish politicians. Add to that the nasty peculiarity of Islamic faith, and your recipe for social disaster is complete. The ultimate victims are freedom of speech, and, not to forget, the Dutch.


U.S. primaries in the Netherlands

My recent Dutch blogs about the 2008 presidential elections have stirred up some opposition.

So ingrained in our public perception is the idea that a "real" Left does not exist in the United States, that saying otherwise leaves people utterly confused or even hostile. They apparently do not notice the irony of denying its existence on the one hand, and finding ideological soulmates among the presidential candidates -- through the online "electoral compasses" -- on the other.

One reader sent me an e-mail suggesting that Hillary Clinton is more conservative than Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders. It is for a reason that Democrats are being called "liberal", he wrote, that term being the usual label for our market-friendly (and formerly most right-wing) VVD party. As for the Republican Party, its credentials can be summed up thus: "Rockefellers + nuclear power + super nation." Welcome to the Netherlands.

I will not even engage in a debate concerning the use of hard power by the United States and its alleged relation to the Rockefeller family, as if real arguments for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq never existed. (In fact, this reader claimed they are "utterly useless little wars," serving merely the agenda of "the lobbyists", whom John Edwards, of course, is heroically taking on.) Let us focus on the notion that the extreme left wing in American politics more or less matches the Right in the Netherlands, or, more generally, in the whole of Europe.

First of all, liberalism in the Netherlands in name represents free markets, individual liberties, freedom of religion, and the degrading of religious beliefs to -- as we say in Dutch -- "behind one's front door." With this emphasis on individualism came a long list of entitlements, including the right to abortion and euthanasia. While the VVD's stances on the latter issues resemble those of the Democrats, however, its attitude toward economic liberty has -- overall at least -- been friendlier.

Admittedly, the VVD has not always been very consistent in its application of liberal principles ("liberal" in the classical meaning of the word). Although having been in power quite a number of years since World War II, it has never been able -- nor perhaps even willing -- to check the social democratic PvdA party's love for redistributing income. In fact, the Dutch welfare state has always found solid support across the political spectrum, even though the parties differed of opinion as to how intrusive it ought to be.

Only when the 1973 oil crisis and a prolonged period of stagflation in that same decade laid bare the negative consequences of social engineering, the VVD -- riding the neoliberal wave of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher -- shifted somewhat to the right, becoming more critical of big government and immigration. But following chairman Frits Bolkestein's (picture) farewell to Dutch politics in 1998, the party's tone with regards to immigration and integration once more became an appeasing one.

So it has been throughout the VVD's existence. While flip-flopping on issues relating to immigration, it has combined market liberalism with a socially liberal agenda, the latter including calls for the legalization of abortion and euthanasia, and the toleration of soft drugs and prostitution. In this respect, the VVD is little different from political parties on the Left, and the resulting liberal conformity on social issues in Dutch politics stands in direct connection to our self-proclaimed "tolerance" of less traditional lifestyles.

The party's evident lack of American-style conservative influences manifests itself in this subordination of individual duties to individualistic rights. Its staunch secularism -- basically dismissing religion as an illiberal relic of the past -- has led the VVD to ignore the idea that liberalism can only be sustained in a society supported by Judeo-Christian and classical traditions. It is clear that it has given too much leeway to the liberal academia who saw marriage and virtue as mere products of oppressive social constructs, which in turn has reinforced the popular demand for new non-establishment politicians on the Right.

Now we have established that conservatism hardly exists in the Netherlands, let us look at the Left in the United States. My personal experience is that America's Marxism seems to be more cultural than Europe's; it is less preoccupied with economic class warfare than with the "empowerment" of socially repressed groups in society. Familiar examples include women, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals, whose alleged socio-economic deprivation is -- just like in Europe -- perceived to be culturally constructed and sustained by institutions such as slavery, capitalism, and Christianity.

Nevertheless, the idea of economics -- as well as society -- being a zero-sum game in which some inevitably lose, is well-established among liberal intellectuals in the U.S. Nowhere is this more clear than on the international relations and political science departments of universities across the country, where youngsters are invariably being taught that the Cold War escalated as a result of President Truman's aggressive tone, that both capitalism and socialism come with up and downsides, and that Islamic terrorism struck America because of the latter's decades-long oppression of the Islamic world.

The spirit of the 1960s had an influence on this liberal perception of foreign policy that was perhaps even larger than in Europe. So drastically a departure from America's self-perception as "shining city upon a hill" was the Vietnam War perceived to be, that the liberal mood towards the American hegemony rapidly turned into a radical sense of white man's guilt. To this "New Left", every demonstration of hard power on behalf of the Americans smacked of neo-colonialism, and all economic inequality in the world was caused by capitalism.

Sound familiar? The writings of William Apple Williams, Noam Chomsky, and Edward Said have not fallen on deaf ears. Neither has John Edwards's blabbering about the "two America's", and his repeated claims that big companies are enemies of the people. The only difference with the Netherlands is that conservatives in the U.S. have never given up defending American values against the devolution of liberalism from the 1960s onward. In addition, the emergence of the New Left also led to a counter-movement by liberals who -- in their own words -- got "mugged by reality." Realizing that, "at least for now, capitalism seems to be a more efficient creator of wealth for all than socialism," these so-called "neoconservatives" rejected the naive social engineering on behalf of the Great Society, and also opposed the "appeasement" of the Soviet Union during the period of detente in the 1970s.

Politics in the U.S. is not one-sided, public opinion in the Netherlands is. While the Dutch are able to choose between liberal and even more liberal, the perception of America as a conservative bastion of religiously-fundamentalist, war-mongering cowboys serves as a useful warning for what our own country will develop into, should we elect the right-wing populists into power who are threatening our tolerant, consensus-based political system.

Better indeed to stick with the establishment, whose ever-expanding intrusions into our private lives at least provide us with the safety of a life-long income and free healthcare. Even if it has not been able to protect our borders from being crossed by massive amounts of immigrants, who not even tolerate, let alone embrace, the very freedoms the liberal elites have been imposing upon our society so relentlessly since the 1960s.


The liberal consensus and the politics of intolerance

In defense of freedom of speech -- and of blogger Lionheart.

I watched something interesting on Dutch public television yesterday night. Former minister and now member of parliament for the market-friendly VVD party Henk Kamp consulted the online Electoral Compass USA, and found out he is ideologically closest to Hillary Clinton, followed by John Edwards and Barack Obama. He himself said to feel more connected to the latter, however; the fact that Hillary's success depends for a large part on her husband's past achievements he did not like very much. (See picture below for my own result.)

This is a guy who is supposed to represent the conservative wing of our formerly most "right-wing" party (that is, until the emergence of "populist" parties on the right). Admittedly, from following Dutch media coverage of the American pre-election season, one might conclude that only Democratic candidates participate. But this fact alone cannot be a sufficient explanation for Kamp's liberal bias.

Another incident also demonstrated the lack of serious conservative alternatives in Dutch politics and media. The very successful "right-wing" weblog GeenStijl -- featuring politically-incorrect and often hilariously sarcastic analyses on issues including immigration, integration, left-wing radicalism, and the welfare-dependent underclass -- held a poll among its visitors. It turned out that 41 percent of them would vote for Hillary Clinton had they been American citizens, followed by 32 percent for Barack Obama.

These are interesting facts. They show that the right wing of the Dutch political spectrum is in fact equivalent with -- at best -- the center of American politics. It testifies to my long-held opinion that we are being paralyzed by a choking liberal consensus. (Indeed, if the opposite were true, that American rather than European media and politics are extremely biased, such enlightened figures as Michael Moore and Oprah Winfrey would simply not exist in the United States.) And the Netherlands are not alone, of course. It made me remember the former Clinton administration official who moved to London after his tenure, and found out -- to his own delight -- that the Liberal, Labour and Conservative Party more or less reflected his personal political views.

Perhaps this liberal consensus, openly intolerant of opinions critical of its policies of multiculturalism and socialism, is the driving force behind the planned arrest of British blogger Lionheart on the grounds of inciting racial hatred: "I am currently out of the Country and on my return home to England I am going to be arrested by British detectives on suspicion of Stirring up Racial Hatred by displaying written material" contrary to sections 18(1) and 27(3) of the Public Order Act 1986. This charge if found guilty carries a lengthy prison sentence, more than what most paedophiles and rapists receive, and all for writing words of truth about the barbarity that is living in the midst of our children, which threatens the very future of our Country."

Here is yet another disgraceful product of bankrupt, yet all too popular, liberal ideals, which should be met with outrage all over the Western world. If we don't speak out today, it might be too late tomorrow; Dutch prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende recently said (NL) in a television interview that his government is planning to make an extra effort to prevent society from becoming more polarized, referring to old but hitherto dormant hate-speech laws. (Of course, he refused to answer repeated questions as to whether this new policy would target Geert Wilders's confrontational politics as well.)

One Dane has already written a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown concerning these politics of intolerance aimed at Lionheart. Atlas Shrugs devoted an article to this disgrace, and fellow Dutch blogger R. Hartman (from whom I learned about the incident) wrote about it as well, concluding that "Freedom of Speech is on the way out fast in the formerly free Western world." Please allow me to be next. Hopefully many will follow.


The anthropology of Bruce Bawer

I finally picked up a copy of Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept a couple of weeks ago. Of course, I had been reading his articles for a few years already, but still felt quite shameful that I had not yet read this book, which has been such a landmark publication in Europe. I finished it in a day or two.

The contents of While Europe Slept were not very shocking to me, to be honest; I was already quite aware of the extent to which the European establishment has been seeking to appease Muslim sensitivities for decades. I had written reactions to some of Bawer's writings on my Dutch blog (rather positive for the most part), and I am all too familiar with the foolish anti-Americanism that has struck Western European nations like an epidemic.

One aspect of the book, however, was surprisingly instructive, especially to a person who has been living in between American culture and his own for the past four years: Bawer's effort to compare the two left me with a feeling that, at least in my head, the puzzle pieces have finally fallen into place. The Dutch could not but nod in approval when reading Bawer's description of their cultural characteristics.

Besides the fact that Amsterdam "was the one place I'd ever been where homophobia really seemed to have disappeared," he notes that "Dutch people's sense of identity and self-worth didn't depend on jobs or salaries." Indeed, more than Americans, for whom life is all about "future payoffs, preferably bountiful ones," the Dutch, like many Western Europeans, "attend to the present moment and its small rewards." So when Bawer on one of his first visits to Amsterdam asked someone he had just met what he did for a living, the latter responded: "We don't ask that so soon. ... Not like you Americans."

Hence the Dutch noun gezelligheid, unsatisfyingly translated by the dictionaries -- and thus adopted by Bawer -- as "enjoyable," "pleasant," and "companionable." Bawer notes that these are words few Americans "would use to describe a person, place, or experience that's given enjoyment." But the word gezelligheid testifies to the Dutch people's satisfaction with the small everyday pleasures, which include visits to our typical tiny "brown cafés" with friends, having nice dinners with our families, or sitting cozily in front of the fireplace. (Now I come to think of it, the word "coziness" actually seems to be the best translation.)

In fact, I recently had the opportunity to test Bawer's hypothesis when I traveled to the United States to celebrate Christmas there. (I had visited the U.S. many times before, but never paid much attention to these differences, I guess.) And indeed, every person I talked to would almost immediately ask: "What do you do?" Even in Vermont, that bastion of radical lefties (some of whom I have described in a Dutch article). In contrast, when I spent New Year's Eve at a party in Amsterdam, I equally talked to quite a lot of people I had never met before, but I cannot recall one single occasion in which occupations were brought up. And at a party prior to my departure to the U.S., the only memorable incident had been when a relative asked me how much money I thought U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney had made off of the war in Iraq, financial rewards being the only justification for the war of which my interlocutor could conceive.

Yet the gezelligheid to which Bawer refers I run into in America just as easily as in the Netherlands. Yes, the bars generally are not as cozily decorated as their Dutch counterparts, but the experience of spending time in them with friends is just as gezellig to me in the United States as it is in the Netherlands. And, perhaps due to my experience with the former, I sometimes get more annoyed by the narrow-minded, sometimes purposeless, and often parochial, people around me at home. Being around Dutch youths, some of them quite literally dressed up like Ernesto Ché Guevara (a habit to which Bawer also devotes a few spot-on pages), can sometimes bring up a sense of instant claustrophobia. (To be sure, the fact that I find myself defending American foreign policy in the face of staunch hostility all the time, does not help much.)

Not surprisingly, Bawer himself also conceives of a downside to Dutch gezelligheid. The lack of preoccupation with what people do amounts to a similar lack of character: "what you do (or don't do) is crucial to an understanding of who you are. ... Life without [American ambition], I saw, could be a pretty pallid, hollow affair. Furthermore, I'd begun to see that in much of Western Europe, the appreciation of everyday pleasures was bound up with a stifling conformity, a discomfort with excellence, and an overt disapproval of those who strove too visibly to better their lot. Sometimes it could even seem as if Western Europe's core belief was in mediocrity."

The cultural Marxists have done a fine job educating the Dutch masses indeed: recently, right-wing parties in parliament complained (NL) about some school books used in our public school system, which described their economically liberal policy directives as "Let the people sort it out for themselves. Bad luck for those who cannot do it themselves." Left-wing parties, on the other hand, acknowledge "that not everyone can look after themselves," and therefore plead for a government "which provides everyone with as many opportunities as possible." One wonders which choice 15-year-olds will make based upon reading books such as these.

Radical indoctrination is not confined to children. Dutch daily the Volkskrant recently attributed (NL) the current subprime mortgage crisis in the United States to "deceive-the-consumer-wherever-you-can capitalism," which "is digging its own grave." (It was not even an editorial.) Better indeed to protect Dutch citizens from the sharp edges of the free market, with its evil all-for-profit corporations at the helm. We truly are the champions of mediocrity. Examples such as these abound, and Bawer sums up quite a few in While Europe Slept. Of course, they also affect what we perceive to be the trivial, if peculiar, aspects of our culture.

The final oddity Bawer notices among the Dutch that is worth sharing here is the pillarization, or verzuiling: "the division of society into religious and ethnic groups, each with its own schools, unions, political parties, newspapers, and, in recent times, TV channels." Although verzuiling is "now largely a thing of the past," "the mentality [lingers]." As a result, neither the Dutch Moroccans nor Bawer himself would ever be considered to be "Dutch".

It is funny that it takes an American living in Europe to make Europeans see the oddness of calling third-generation immigrants "Moroccans" or "Turks", but never "Dutch". In any case, it is completely true. In comparison, me telling I am from Europe to Americans in the United States often leads to surprised reactions, by people who -- despite my funny accent -- had never considered me to be a foreigner.

But perhaps they had not even asked themselves that question; from my considerable experience, I know Americans to be very warm and welcoming people anyway, and much less suspicious of strangers than Europeans are. Next to the exorbitant welfare system, and our Muslim youths' painful inability to do good in school and make something out of their lives, the Dutch tradition of verzuiling must surely be one of the foremost factors feeding the alienation of Moroccans and Turks in the Netherlands.

In my case, Bawer has largely been preaching to the choir with his book. But I did learn some important things; his anthropology of the Dutch and the Americans was both surprising and insightful. To the ordinary Dutch, of course, While Europe Slept could (and should) be and unprecedented eye opener, and a highly readable one at that. That is exactly why I, immediately upon returning to the Netherlands from the U.S., bought its Dutch translation as a Christmas gift to my father.