Is Dutch racism on the rise?

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Pim Fortuyn brought the thorny issue of tolerance towards immigrants to the forefront, just as racial attacks in the Netherlands were seen to be on the rise. As Roberta Cowan reports, local attitudes towards the "New Dutch" are far from simple.


If the Dutch consider themselves 'tolerant' does that mean they are not racist?


The number of racist incidences and violent attacks have risen considerably in the Netherlands since 11 September, according to the Rotterdam-based National Bureau Against Racist Discrimination (LBR), including several 'serious' incidents directly linked to the US terrorist attacks.

A mosque in Vlissingen and school in Nymegen were burned to the ground shortly after the attacks.

A man of Turkish decent was severely beaten by two Dutch men in Appeldorn. The accused men then got into their car, ran over the man they had just beaten leaving him for dead. The Turkish man survived but he suffered serious physical injuries. Witnesses heard the Dutch men shout 'one less Muslim' as they pummelled over him with their car.

According to the LBR there have been more incidents of racist violence in the Netherlands since 11 September than any other western European country.

But where does this apparent anger, hostility and fear come from?

Racism is a pretty touchy subject in most places but in the Netherlands the average Dutch person takes pride in the 'live and let live' attitude this country has, for centuries, been known for. Tolerance is a source of Dutch pride.

Liberal ideas, pragmatism, or so-called tolerance vis a vis soft drugs, abortion, euthanasia and prostitution have been woven into the Dutch social and political fabric. But is this willingness to be 'open' extended to the non-white living in this country?

What's unique about Dutch racism

Even if one accepts the notion that racism exists everywhere and that everyone, to some extent, is racist, it's still quite thorny to ask whether the Dutch are more or less racist than other Western countries.

But why then the rise in racist crimes, violence, hate propaganda and the popularity of the political party Leefbaar Nederlands?

Recently-sacked Leefbaar Nederland leader Pim Fortuyn

The rise in attacks against mosques and Muslims living in the Netherlands has in ways challenged the notion of Dutch tolerance. And some hypothesise that the events of 11 September have made space for suppressed racist attitudes to surface.

Legal Advisor for the National Bureau Against Racist Discrimination Dick Houtzager said that a schism has become apparent with the attacks in the US triggering something in Holland which has made space for racist attitudes to come out from the dark.

He added that 'regular' racist incidents, including hostile treatment, shouted insults, graffiti, spreading of pamphlets and hate mail, and grabbing of clothing, particularly head scarves have increased dramatically over the past few years.

Too few conservative parties?

According to Houtzager, the Dutch are as racist as any society but the circumstances in the Netherlands are unique and unlike other Western countries.

He believes that the question is not so much whether neo-facist or extreme right wing views exist, because they do here in Holland, as they do in most countries. What is interesting about Holland is how these views are channelled.

There is no right wing, extremist political party and although the Leefbaar Nederlands is attractive to right wing and perhaps some racist views, it is, at this point, not a neo-fascist or extremist party, according to Houtzager.

The rise in incidences in Holland could be explained by the fact that there are no outlets for this political opinion in the country.

In other countries, extremist parties have some political representation giving voice to these political opinions. When the channels exist people can express their opinions and their feelings. Although he does not advocate the creation of such a party, he said that in the case of Holland, even though the channels do not exist, the racist feelings people have remain.

Pim Fortuyn and immigration

Fortuyn was too radical, even for Leeftbar Nederlands. He was sacked in February 2002 by the LN leadership for refusing to retract comments made in an interview about doing away with a clause in the Dutch constitution that forbids discrimination.

The LN party chair stated that Fortuyn's views were his own and that the party remained open to admitting asylum seekers.

The move served to raise Fortuyn's profile. He established his own party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, which has 49 candidates standing in the May general election.

His policies included sealing the Dutch borders to the stream of newcomers, who largely end up as illegal aliens; offering an amnesty for "white illegal" newcomers who have been working here and paying tax for a minimum of five years but who do not have permits to stay; and taking additional steps to compel newcomers already living here to integrate.

Such views tapped into a primal or basic emotion in some Dutch people, according to Houtzager, which is that Islam threatens or challenges the "one culture/one people" of the Netherlands.

"The positive thing is that there is a strong norm in Holland that racism is bad but the problem is that some people are often blind to their own prejudice. They say 'I'm not a racist but….," said Jeroen Visser from LBR's information unit.

"Most Dutch people do not have a real problem with foreigners but as soon as they realise that their presence might affect their wallet, neighbourhood or child's education, things begin to change," and Nimby sets in. 'Not in my back yard' is the Nimby effect and according to the LBR it is more prevalent in Holland than one might expect.

The LBR oversees the national racist climate, monitors general trends, advocates for policy and legislative changes and offers expertise when required. There are anti-discrimination bureaus in each city, which provide immediate advocacy and information to those individual cases.

For more information about LBR visit

12 February, updated 7 May 2002

Additional reporting by Cormac Mac Ruairi and Simon Payn

Subject: Dutch racism

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