The O'Reilly Factor has no place in Dutch culture
Fox News' recent portrayals of the city of Amsterdam has stirred up outrage as only The O'Reilly Factor can; however, the programme's underlying message is worth a second look.
Amsterdam – It is seductively easy to bash Fox News and its representative TV personalities. Bill O'Reilly, with his arrogant body language and absolutism, practically begs for it.
In December 2008, the “Culture Warriors” segment of O'Reilly's talk show suggested the Dutch's liberal attitude and social tolerance were to blame for Amsterdam's crime problems.
“The Dutch are getting more conservative because it [their liberal stance towards soft drugs and prostitution] hasn't worked,” said O'Reilly, who described Amsterdam as being overrun by organised crime.
In the United States, Fox News dominates cable news and O'Reilly is king of the hill. The O'Reilly Factor has the largest viewership of any cable news programme, with 3.1 million viewers as of July 2009.
Given his reach, it's no surprise that O'Reilly's comments sparked thousands of YouTube responses and blogs.
As the row over Amsterdam and liberal Dutch culture unfolds, I'm less interested in what he said than why he said it.
So, what's the point?
From what I can tell, O'Reilly's main message in the December segment is two-fold.
First, the United States should not have the same drug policies as the Netherlands. His statements were largely directed at Americans who support legalisation of marijuana.
Second, the problem with the Dutch liberal culture is not the citizens themselves, but people from outside the Netherlands who come in and take advantage of its relaxed policies.
To that extent, I think the Fox anchor shot himself in the foot while trying to make what perhaps is a valid point. The Netherlands is indeed not the United States. It has many cultural and governmental institutions in place to handle legal prostitution and soft drug use that just do not exist...maybe anywhere else.
Unfortunately, O'Reilly wrapped his argument in insults and exaggeration. Such shock jock journalism appeals to people's worst instincts – whether you love and hate him – and suffocates whatever insights his coverage may have offered.
Amsterdam, while closing many of its famous prostitution windows and coffee shops in part to combat organised crime and human trafficking, is still far from what most people would consider conservative.
The red-light district still exists, there are hundreds of coffee shops and the city celebrates gay pride like few others can. In fact, the city recently launched a tourism programme to attract more gay tourists from the United States.
And no matter which statistics you use (O'Reilly claimed on 3 August that the Netherlands “does statistics differently” than the United States), the Netherlands has less drug use, drug-related crime and less crime in general among its population than the United States.
The Centre for Drugs Research, a former institute affiliated with the University of Amsterdam, reported that even in Amsterdam only 38.1 percent of the population had tried marijuana in their lifetimes as of 2001.
In 2005, the United States average was 40.3 percent compared to 22.6 percent of the entire Dutch population. Amsterdam is certainly higher than the national average, but hardly a disaster.
What we could learn from the Dutch
In 2008, I moved from the United States to the Netherlands to live with my Dutch partner and attend school. Since that time, I've been steeped in all that is Nederland.
Through countless cultural experiences – house parties, concerts, family dinners, neighbourhood block parties, market days, NS railways, Sinterklaas – I've learned that the famous liberal Dutch attitude is much more subtle than a five-minute TV segment can portray.
Their collective stance towards soft drugs and prostitution comes less from a desire to party, but from their practical, straight-forward approach to life. The Dutch cannot be bothered with upholding 'traditional values' that ultimately have negative effects on society.
Remember, this is the same country that ranked first in a child well-being survey of 21 industrialised countries conducted by Unicef in 2007. The survey scored countries across a number of categories, including relative poverty, educational and health standards, sexual behaviour and the children's relationship with friends and parents.
The United States placed at number 20. Out of 21.
As O'Reilly noted on his show, coffeeshops and brothels in Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands were closed largely because of foreigners, not native Dutch. Border cities are closing coffeeshops because drug tourists from Belgium and France invade relatively quiet, low-key areas.
This development does not prove that a liberal culture is responsible for all the evils in society. In fact, it does just the opposite. It suggests that conservative cultures cannot control themselves in the face of cheap drugs and sex.
That's right. The problem is not that the Dutch are too liberal, but that everybody else isn't liberal enough.
Curb your enthusiasm
Of course, the Netherlands is not an island of perfection. The country is struggling with its own range of political issues, including immigration. And it's true that the Netherlands, like the United States, is far from homogeneous. Not every citizen agrees with the status quo.
However, while it may seem that the Netherlands is becoming more conservative, keep in mind that “conservative” in Holland is still Super Far Left on the American political spectrum.
In The O'Reilly Factor's latest piece about Amsterdam, O'Reilly suggested that Dutch-style liberalism could reach across the pond.
“What I'm saying to everybody is, this is coming here to the United States. It's coming,” he warned.
Jennifer Evans / Expatica