Mon, Dec 15, 2008 AFP Dutch face identity crisis
THE HAGUE - THE Netherlands is grappling with an identity crisis, as some ill effects of its liberal approach to such issues as prostitution and soft drugs prompt it to rein in freedoms, analysts say.
With the authorities claiming that legal prostitution and the regulated marijuana trade have grown too big, attracting crime and threatening civil liberties, Dutch society is taking a second look at its free-for-all approach.
'The nation's ideals are being tested by the reality they brought,' sociologist Dick Houtman of Erasmus University in Rotterdam told AFP as new clampdowns were announced.
'The Netherlands went further in allowing all sorts of liberties than many other countries. The test is severe.' The Dutch are reticent to sacrifice tolerance - a matter of national pride.
But in the face of globalisation and economic recession, they long for more security, and fear that too much tolerance is breeding threats to their safety and way of life, experts say.
'The country is turning more conservative,' said historian and author Han van den Horst. 'There is a move away from sex, drugs and rock'n'roll towards some pretty bourgeois values.' Politicians, not wanting to appear weak-kneed, have taken up the baton.
Historians say the open-minded Dutch ethos has its origins in the 16th and 17th century merchant era, when trade considerations forced the nation to practice tolerance towards people of all hues and habits.
Four centuries on, this outlook culminated in a culture of consensus-politics and permissiveness, with much value attached to individual choice and freedom.
In a new report, Leiden University and the Anne Frank Foundation states that 'Islamophobia' has grown considerably, 'also in terms of the increased violence directed at this community and the growing tendency to turn a blind eye to crimes of expression aimed at them'.
Many Dutch see Islam as a threat to their secular and egalitarian values, and immigrants as placing undue pressure on housing, education and social security in one of the most densely population nations in Europe.
'The change started out as a rightist phenomenon, but is now becoming more of a mainstream feeling. It is gaining legitimacy and credibility among the working classes,' Prof Houtman said."
A rather long quote but a necessary one in my opinion.
The Dutch experience is a very interesting one. How they moved from one extreme to the central and slight right now. If the momentum holds, they may jolly well moved to the other extreme. If that happened, a lot of fierce debates and clash of ideals and values will take place before the new values and behaviors emerge.
Lessons for me are:
1. values are created by people. New values involved clashes initially. Hopefully, the clashes are done in a civilized and cordial manner. Robust debates but civil in nature. Hopefully there are 'agree to disagree' and 'the minority will follow the majority' resolution. If not, it will means violent clashes with some defending their ideals and values in explosive manner!;
2. with a value and culture built over a few decades and a generation or two, the people should have grown accustomed to civil debates and 'give and take' necessary to make things work in Holland. As the people perceived the new threats, many unintentional and unexpected, they will begin to understand the need for change. Surely it is not their intention to have human traffickers to enslave innocent young prostitutes to ply the sex trade. The original ideal is that each has a choice to choose their profession. If selling sex is their chosen profession out of their own grown and independent will, so be it. As the new reality hits, they need to temper with this 'no limit on sex industry'. The same go for the 'recreational drug' industry;
3. clash of diverse cultures and values as new migrants moved into Holland created this strain and the need to change the very liberal and tolerant culture and behaviors. I believed there will be interested parties fighting for their interests at the expense of the greater good of the country. The government will be wise to handle this change carefully and not be exploited.
I awaits in 2009 and beyond how this quiet revolution takes shape in Holland!!