There is a word in Dutch, gezellig. It is not easily translated, loosely meaning a combination of cozy, homey, charming, friendly, welcoming and any other kind of adjective that would give many Americans a case of the wretches. Gezelligheid is kind of the gezellig-ness of something. Think a comfy chair (!) next to a blazing fireplace in a country house surrounded by snow. That's gezellig. A Brown Cafe on Singelgracht or a lovely pension can be gezellig.
I was thinking of that word today as I read Christopher Caldwell's excellent article on the crisis of multiculturalism in The Netherlands. Caldwell contends, as I do, that the legendary Dutch toleration is at the point where the population at large as come to the realization that the social experimentation of the past decades has lead the country to ruin and must be reversed quickly and harshly if Holland is to survive as a Dutch country. Caldwell sites statistics and profiles the major players with enough detail that I won't quote any of those feature here. But I want to pull out a few paragraphs where Caldwell gets into the bones of the crisis.
Dutch people have the sense that, for the first time in centuries, the thread that connects them to the world of Geert Mak's father, and that world to the world of Erasmus and Spinoza and Rembrandt and William the Silent, is in danger of being snipped. Part of it is the size and the speed of the recent non-European immigration. The Netherlands, with a population of 16 million, has about 2 million foreign-born. By some estimates, a quarter of them do not speak Dutch.
Dutch citizens have been told for years now that immigration is there to stay and that there's nothing they do about it. That immigration is predominately Muslim, insular and in many instances openly hostile to the country that welcomed it. What's more, these immigrants are a killing drain on the system. Caldwell says that upwards of 60 percent of Moroccans and Turks above the age of 40 are unemployed.
No doubt much of this is the outcome of what European Socialism has wrought. But there is an added level to this problem.
Most of these immigrants are Muslims. Muslim immigrants had begun to scare people long before Pim Fortuyn, the charismatic populist, turned himself into the country's most popular politician in the space of a few weeks in 2002, by arguing that the country was already overloaded with newcomers. (Fortuyn was assassinated by an animal-rights activist in May of that year.) Already in the 1990s, there were reports of American-style shootouts in schools, one involving two Turkish students in the town of Veghel. This past October, newspaper readers were riveted by the running saga of a quiet married couple who had been hounded out of the previously livable Amsterdam neighborhood of Diamantbuurt by gangs of Muslim youths. There were incidents of wild rejoicing across Holland in the wake of the September 11 attacks, notably in the eastern city of Ede. The weekly magazine Contrast took a poll showing that just under half the Muslims in the Netherlands were in "complete sympathy" with the September 11 attacks. At least some wish to turn to terrorism. In the wake of the van Gogh murder, Pakistani, Kurdish, and Moroccan terrorist cells were discovered. The Hague-based "Capital Network," out of which van Gogh's killer Mohammed Bouyeri came, had contact with terrorists who carried out bombings in Casablanca in 2003. Perhaps the most alarming revelation was that an Islamist mole was working as a translator in the AIVD, the national investigative service, and tipping off local radicals to impending operations.
In Amsterdam they have a saying, "Our hearts are on our tongues," a way of demonstrating the national characteristics of frank honesty and outspoken good humor. Everywhere in Holland a visitor is greeted with a sort of detached, amused curiosity. Opinions are freely voiced and accepted. The Dutch will dish out exactly what they think and then sit there and take it as well. These traits are being tested as Holland becomes less Dutch.
There will be those who say, "So what if Holland becomes less Dutch? What is so important about being Dutch? The way of the world is toward greater integration across imaginary borders and antiquated cultural divides and if the Dutch don't like it, too bad." This type of argument is generally made by the same people who weep for the loss of "authentic" customs, music and traditions, etc. when the West is the bogeyman. What we're talking about here, though, is not just the loss of Dutch-ness but the usurpation of an egalitarian society that has opened the gates to its own conqueror. The problem that confronts The Netherlands is that the immigrants that have flooded the country have no desire to become integrated into the social and cultural fabric that makes up modern Holland. The don't see that they or their children can become "Dutch" like an immigrant to the US can become "American" and for the most part they don't care to. And the crisis is likely to worsen:
The question naturally arises: If immigrants behave this way now, what will happen when they are far more numerous, as all authorities have long promised they will be? It has been estimated that the country's two largest cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, will be "majority minority" very soon (Rotterdam is today at 47 percent), and already 65 percent of primary and secondary students in both cities are of non-Dutch parentage. London's Daily Telegraph, citing immigration experts and government statistics, reported a net outflow of 13,000 people from Holland in the first six months of 2004, the first such deficit in half a century. One must treat this statistic carefully--it could be an artifact of an aging population in which many are retiring to warmer places. But it could also be the beginning of something resembling the American suburban phenomenon of "white flight," occurring at the level of an entire country.
The situation in The Netherlands has become such that outspoken politicians must stay in hiding, under armed guard, for fear of their lives. We have already witnessed the murders of prominent figures who dared name the immigration problem as an Islam problem. No longer content to finger "radical" or "fundamental" Islam as the culprit, Holland has become the first European country to ask if Islam and democracy are compatible.
Within the country some of the most vociferous critics of Islam are in fact Muslim themselves. Theo van Gogh's collaborator is a Somali Muslim immigrant and member of Parliament. Yet this woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is herself the target of death threats from the community she strives to bring into modern Europe. She has little taste for traditional Islam and sees herself as a reformer. We still await the imam that would offer her the protection of his office.
When we talk about the Dutch character, then, what do we mean? Is the very notion of being Dutch, or French, or German for that matter, an anachronism? Have European governments simply abandoned their national character, making a sacrifice of their post-colonial guilt on the altar of multiculturalism?
Will the Dutch lose their gezelligheid?
I will try to answer that with a short anecdote. On a visit to Amsterdam for Queen's Day (I've written about that here) we wondered into a Brown Cafe and were treated to "Orange Champagne," actually a nice rose', in honor of the day and the Queen and on being Dutch. "But I am not Dutch," I said to the stout woman behind the bar.
"I knew that," she giggled as she waved away my protest. "But today you are. Now drink up and be happy to be Dutch. If only for the day."
So Sherry and I did indeed drink up and moved around to the side of the bar to get a better look at the goings-on. After a while a youngish couple of what I took to be Middle Eastern origin walked in and grabbed what little space was left next to us. After talking awhile, we found out that both were second generation and that their families were from Morocco. The proprietress came by and asked what they would have. The young woman ordered a beer but the guy asked for a genever, or gin, Holland's national drink.
"Ah she," said, raising her thumb winking and at me. "Now that's a real Dutchman."