Thursday, 20 April 2006

Racism and Islamophobia are the real problems

"Not soft Dutch Multiculturalism, but Racism and Islamophobia are the 'real' problems"
Respons to Jane Kramers' article in The New Yorker

We would like to respond, somewhat belatedly, to Jane Kramer's article on the current situation in the Netherlands. In November last year, while she was visiting Amsterdam to research the topic, we discussed our views with her, and expressed our dismay at what we see as an increasingly antagonistic and racist climate, which is fed by our present, right wing government. In her article Kramer misrepresented and ridiculed our views and analyses. It is absurd to portray us as a born-again Marxists 'clique' for whom capitalism is the source of all-evil and denying the 'real' -cultural- source of the conflict. We pointed at the increasing discrimination and divide-and-rule politics in a post 9-11 and neoliberal context. Kramer clearly chose to echo the right wing, clash of cultures discourse of the conservative party that presently dominates the Dutch government. Spokespersons for this party, particularly Integration minister Rita Verdonk, commonly blame and demonize (often second or third generation) migrants, particularly Muslims, while denying the existence of racism or discrimination in the Netherlands.

This denial is scandalous since discrimination and racism are increasingly evident, and Moroccans are its prime targets. A recent study showed that professionals with Moroccan names do not stand a fair chance in job applications, another major study confirmed the increase of racism and Islamophobia in the Netherlands. It reported that a quarter of the respondents held racist views, ten per cent self-identified as racist, while three quarters said to have an aversion to Islam and see it as incompatible with Dutch society. Meanwhile, racism is structurally denied; while multiculturalism has long been a reality, it is held responsible for failed policies.

The present political climate impacts the prevalence and intensity of these antagonistic feelings. In light of the longstanding debates on race and racism in the United States, we are taken aback that a supposedly critical journalist from the New Yorker cannot see such discourses for what they are, and instead participates in the now commonplace devaluation and ridiculing of critical voices that call attention to these disturbing developments in our society. This is all the more alarming since we offered Kramer the opportunity to talk with community workers and organizers of projects dealing with the daily challenges of multiculturalism.

Furthermore, the article does little justice to our critical analyses regarding Hirsi Ali, who acts as a self-proclaimed savior of so-called oppressed Muslim women. Hirsi Ali reiterates orientalist portrayals of Islam as an immutable source of women's oppression and Muslim women as incapable of thinking for, let alone emancipating themselves. Unfortunately Kramer chose to reconfirm the dominating profiles and presents Hirshi Ali's admirer Paul Scheffers as the 'rational' voice within Dutch society, high profile voices that present a mind-set of 'allochtones' as caught up in a false consciousness of tribal-religious loyalty. We can hardly regret Hirsi Ali's decision to substitute Holland for a job at a neo-conservative think tank in the US. We hereby wish critical Americans and readers of the New Yorker all the support in taking over our burden.

Miriyam Aouragh (University of Amsterdam/Samen Tegen Racisme) and Anouk de Koning (Royal Netherlands Institute for Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies)