Multiculturalism and Muslim immigrants.
by Jane Kramer

8/4/2006- Consider this story. In the fall of 2004, on the day a Dutch filmmaker is murdered in Amsterdam by a Dutch-Moroccan fanatic (who explains later, at his trial, that it wasn't "personal," it was simply that Islamic law compels him "to chop off the head of anyone who insults Allah and the Prophet"), an artist in Rotterdam paints an angel on his studio window, along with the date and the words "Thou Shalt Not Kill." There is a mosque on the artist's street, and apparently some men from the mosque, walking by the studio the next day, see the painting and get mad; they consider the Sixth Commandment to be a racist statement, directed at them, and they complain to the imam. Somebody calls the police. Rotterdam, at the time, is run by an anti-immigrant party founded by another murdered (though not by a Muslim) Dutchman, Pim Fortuyn, but never mind.

The police, ordered by the mayor to be vigilant against provocation, do not want trouble in a city with one of the greatest concentrations of Muslims in Holland, so they proceed to the scene and call for trucks with power hoses to destroy the painting. Meanwhile, a local television reporter sets out with a cameraman, expecting to talk to the artist about his window, discovers the mosque chairman, the police, and the trucks, and tries to protect it. He is arrested, and some of his footage is erased, but the rest makes its way onto the Internet. There is a minor scandal, after which the mayor apologizes to the artist and the reporter. He allows that, in the interest of harmony, the city has made a small mistake. Everyone wins this multicultural round but the angel.

It is an ur-Dutch story. Even the murdered filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, bore an almost mythically Dutch name. (He was Vincent van Gogh's great-great-grandnephew.) But it is not so different, in terms of the questions it raises about free speech and crosscultural coercion, from a lot of recent European stories. The most recent, of course, began in Copenhagen last fall, when the newspaper Jyllands-Posten took up the cause of a children's-book writer who couldn't find an illustrator willing to sign his name to a book about Islam, and invited a group of cartoonists to "test the limits of self-censorship" with drawings about the Prophet. It is seventeen years since Ayatollah Khomeini issued his famous fatwa against Salman Rushdie, a citizen of Britain, for the "crime" of writing "The Satanic Verses." The West is still under attack for being itself-secular, democratic, and libertarian-but the fatwas no longer arrive from the mosques of Qum or Cairo. As often as not, they come from a young man with a laptop in a city like Amsterdam or Copenhagen-from immigrants or the children of immigrants, born in Europe. For the Dutch, it remains van Gogh's murder-their murder-and its aftermath that opened the floodgates of intimidation that have now sent twelve Danish cartoonists into hiding.

There are said to be fifteen million Muslims in Western Europe-the result of postwar and post-colonial migrations, labor recruitment, and the demographics of a rapidly expanding immigrant population drawn from cultures that do not concede much in the way of rights to women, and often judge them by the number of male children they produce. If you count illegal immigration, there are certainly more. Every country in Western Europe has had to concoct elaborate strategies not only for absorbing its Muslim immigrants but for dealing with Islamic identity at its most insistent. But the truth is that the subject of identity is as charged for Europeans as it has become for the immigrants themselves. When labor recruitment began in Western Europe, in the nineteen-sixties, most Europeans had never thought of themselves as living in immigration countries-despite the historical evidence that they almost always had. In the event, they could not anticipate the trouble they would have, decades later, when Europe's young Muslims, frustrated in their prospects, unnerved by discrimination, courted by fundamentalist mullahs and imams from North Africa and the Middle East, and stirred by the rhetoric of the new Internet jihad, were persuaded that the redress they sought was not to be found in jobs or classrooms but in symbols of "respect"-that they could fight exclusion with self-exemption, and due process with Sharia.

A great deal has been written about van Gogh's death in the past year and a half. But I came upon the Rotterdam story only a few months ago, in Amsterdam, where I was poking through the arcana, real, virtual, and rhetorical, of Holland's ongoing immigrant crisis and was sent to see a sociologist named Albert Benschop, who teaches media studies at the University of Amsterdam. Benschop, by way of tracking Islamist recruitment on the Internet with his students, had become something of a one-man archive of what he calls "jihad in the Netherlands" lore. After van Gogh's murder, he produced a casebook of the crime, "Chronicle of a Political Murder Foretold." It was a narrative of the missed clues, outmoded technology, civic placidity, inept intelligence, uneasy discrimination, lax laws, and official "tolerance" that had led to the murder, or, at any rate, left the murderer free to kill. By the time I met Benschop, he had revised the casebook, bringing it up to date with incidents like the Rotterdam story-incidents that added up to a portrait of a country unravelling under the shock of an act of terror that was, if not personal, chillingly specific in its challenge to the much vaunted tranquillity of Holland's official face.

The Dutch are not confrontational. They admit to being better at talking about what they should have done than what they could be doing now. So perhaps it isn't surprising that they still discuss their immigrant problem in terms of Theo van Gogh's murder. Or that many of them seem convinced that they can solve the problem only if they determine whether van Gogh, arguably the Lenny Bruce of Holland, was being "provocative" or "insensitive" or merely his irrepressibly insulting self when he called Muslims "goat fuckers." Or when he directed "Submission," an eleven-minute film of unremitting tedium (aired once, in the summer of 2004, on Dutch television), which featured the lament of a young Muslim woman with words from the Koran superimposed on her bruised, beaten, and transparently veiled body. Van Gogh's was a ritual killing. He was shot eight times, his throat was slit repeatedly in the attempt to behead him, and a fivepage warning to unbelievers, driven into his chest with a fillet knife, proclaimed the imminent death of the Dutch-Somali woman who wrote "Submission." Her name was Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was a passionately lapsed Muslim and, as it happens, a member of the Dutch parliament.

A lot of people in Holland liked van Gogh, even some of the people he insulted, and he had plenty of opportunity for that-a newspaper column and a couple of radio and television shows, along with the movies he made. In terms of his targets, he was indiscriminate, eclectic, and unsparing. His friends-many of them young Muslims from his films and television series-included the famous Moroccan comic Najib Amhali, who at a party in van Gogh's memory, the night before his funeral, warmed up the crowd with a rant against unbelievers that stopped, midsentence, with "Wait a minute! Sorry! Wrong speech!" Those friends still sit in cafés or around dinner tables and tell "Theo" stories, all of them outrageous and sure to enrage somebody or some group, but none of them something you expected to get murdered for in twenty-first-century Amsterdam.

Every country that sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq has had to accept the likelihood of some sort of terrorist attack, and Holland was no exception. But by most accounts the Dutch were expecting a catastrophic attack on public space-on parliament, in The Hague, say, or on a plane or in an airport. They might easily have had one. Mohammed Bouyeri, the man who murdered van Gogh, had applied for a job at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, the third-biggest airport on the Continent, and came so close to getting one that he had actually gone out and got the uniform. Fourteen of his friends have since been arrested on charges involving terrorism; nine were convicted, and six are now serving sentences of as much as fifteen years. But public attacks almost by definition would have claimed Muslim as well as Dutch lives, and might even have united the country in the kind of living-togetherand-getting-on-with-it-is-the-bestrevenge response of the Spanish, after the commuter-train bombings in Madrid, in 2004, and the British, after the London bus and subway bombings, last year. What's clear today, seventeen months after van Gogh's gruesome death, is that the Dutch are neither getting on with it nor living together very well.

People who speak out are frightened. Benschop told me about Web sites for high-school and even grade-school children that were used by Bouyeri and members of his jihadist cell to announce van Gogh's murder in advance, and to threaten Hirsi Ali. He says that similar sites are now spreading the jihad to thousands of Dutch Muslim children. Barely pubescent girls use them to pledge their devotion to the cause; they post pictures of themselves shrouded in burkas. Teen-age wanna-be martyrs compare the virgins they will meet in Heaven; they argue about whether those virgins will emerge intact from each deflowering or be replaced by "fresh" ones. The Web sites are part of a new European network of what Benschop calls "lite terrorists"-young cheerleaders of the jihad, ready to give refuge and protection to people who actually are terrorists. "Virtual civil war was declared on those sites," Benschop told me. Today, there are anywhere from fifteen to twenty jihadist groups, most of them Moroccan, in Holland. As many as twenty men and women, among them liberal Dutch Muslim writers and politicians and teachers, are now under full-time police protection because of death threats that arrive in the morning mail or circulate on the Internet, waiting for their victims to find them.

It could be said that each European country misreads its immigrants in its own way and that way becomes a kind of self-portrait. France assumed that it could turn millions of poor North African workers into French republicans by conferring citizenship on their children at birth. Germany practiced jus sanguinis, and never even opened the possibility of citizenship to its two million Turks until the late nineties. But it's safe to say that no country was as smug as Holland in its particular misreadings, or as unmindful of what the Harvard historian Oscar Handlin once called "the history of alienation and its consequences."

In Holland, the official euphemism for immigrants and their children is allochtoon, and it is used even for children born in Holland, who have the right to Dutch citizenship when they turn eighteen. There are three million allochtonen in the country now-a little under twenty per cent of the population. Muslims, two-thirds of them Moroccans and Turks, account for nearly a million. Turkish labor recruitment began officially in 1964, with a contract with Ankara, and Moroccan recruitment in 1969, with a contract with Rabat; it lasted until the oil crisis of the early seventies. The Turks who came were mainly peasants from the Anatolian plains. About a quarter of the Moroccans were Arab fellahin; the rest were Berbers, most of them tribesmen from the mountains of the Rif, on the country's northeast coast. The Rifians had attitude. They had managed to remain unpacified in all but name during Morocco's forty-four years as a French protectorate, when the Rif was known, to both Arabs and French, and even to other Berbers, as part of the bled es-siba, the land of dissidence-though no one seems to have informed the Dutch. Most of them were illiterate and even more stubbornly unworldly than the Anatolian peasants who had come before them. It wasn't so much that they didn't adapt to Dutch culture and Dutch law; they kept to themselves, they spoke in their own language, and, apart from their jobs, they hardly knew there was such a thing as Dutch culture or Dutch law.

The immigrants' isolation had little to do with neglect, benign or hostile-Holland is a rich welfare state, and was even then quite egalitarian in its dispensations. Their isolation had to do with what passed for up-to-the-minute social policy, and that policy was enshrined not by some heady multicultural sixties or seventies left but, officially, in the early eighties, by a Christian Democratic Prime Minister and steel industrialist named Ruud Lubbers and a center-right government. Lubbers-four subsequent years as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees notwithstanding (he left under a cloud of sexual-harassment charges)-was not much interested in making Dutchmen out of Muslim immigrants. "My job then was modernizing the Dutch economy," he told me when I drove to Rotterdam to see him. He wanted to keep the country's new workers working, and not disrupt their lives or exhaust their patience with official encouragement to mingle with their new neighbors. "Our theory was that people in a multicultural society needed space to preserve their own culture and their own language" is the way he put it. "I am a Christian Democrat-not French, not étatiste. Emancipation doesn't take place only in the public sphere."

It was an old Dutch theory. Lubbers called it "our typical Dutch twist" on social peace, and he had a point, since the Dutch had been dividing themselves into "pillars" (meaning the pillars of different faiths holding up the country) since the Catholics and the Protestants stopped fighting in the seventeenth century and decided to live "separately" together. By the early twentieth century, pillar society was for all practical purposes institutionalized. Holland had a Catholic pillar, a Protestant pillar, and a "humanist" pillar-each with the right to its own neighborhoods, unions, hospitals, and schools, and, in time, its own state-supported media. You could grow up Catholic, like Lubbers, in a big Dutch city and inhabit an entirely Catholic world; you could grow up secular and liberal, like van Gogh, and never look at a paper or watch a channel that wasn't yours.

Pillar society was permissive. It let you alone. You didn't have to love your neighbor, or even accommodate to your neighbor, only to "tolerate" him and occasionally come together with him in places where the rules were clear, like parliament. It had nothing to do with the hybrid adventure of contemporary urban life, and, inevitably, it was crumbling before the Rifians and the Turks arrived. The Catholic pillar all but collapsed after Vatican II. But the ethos, and the legal structures, of separateness persisted, and it was the first and often the most enduring lesson about living in Holland that immigrants learned. In the nineteen-seventies, when recruitment stopped and the Muslims who stayed were allowed to import their families, the world those families entered could, with very little effort, be made to resemble home.

The man responsible for Lubbers's Dutch model for efficiently integrating immigrant labor was a cultural anthropologist named Rinus Penninx. When I met Penninx in the fall, he had just retired after twelve years as the head of the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies, at the University of Amsterdam. But in the early eighties he was a government policy planner, on loan from the culture ministry to the Minister of the Interior. His report on immigration policy became official in 1983. ("I took my own advice as a policymaker," is what he says.) It remains a singularly shortsighted document, but at the time it was considered a beacon of multicultural correctness. It assured the immigrants' right to "socioeconomic equality," to "inclusion and participation in the political domain," and, finally, to "equity in the domains of culture and religion"-which is to say, the right to be "authentically" themselves. Authenticity was a nice folkloric fiction-"integration, not assimilation," Penninx calls it-but it wasn't going to prepare a Berber from the Rif for life in a modern European city, and it certainly didn't allow for the fact that choosing a Rifian life in, say, Amsterdam wasn't the same as choosing a wine bar if you liked wine, or a marijuana café if you preferred reefer.

Paul Scheffer, a well-known Amsterdam intellectual often mentioned as a potential Labor Party candidate, once told me that the country had "let its immigrants rot in their own privacy." "We said, 'Leave the children their language of origin, leave them their own history, because they're going back.' It became a mantra. Twenty years went by and they didn't go back, and it was still a mantra. But, once you accept that multicultural argument against teaching them our history, you are excluding them from collective memory, from an enormous chance for renewal. So generation one tried to re-create the fantasy world of home, and generation two had no cultural context, no identification, either with its parents or with the culture here. September 11th gave many of them their narrative. To the extent that radicalization-radical, international Islam-is linked to preventing integration, that may be very difficult to control."

Six years ago, Scheffer pub-lished a long essay called "The Multicultural Drama" in the daily NRC Handelsblad, and broke what amounted to a national taboo; he acknowledged that the Dutch, like everybody else in Europe, had an immigrant problem. The relief-and the denial-was enormous. The left, which had come to power in 1994, had long since taken up Lubbers's multicultural model, not for its economic uses but as a kind of ethnographically moral mission. Immigrant problems were not discussed by tolerant liberal people, especially by people from a socialdemocratic party like the Labor Party. They belonged to right-wing tabloids and old Dutch farmers from the Catholic south who had arguably never seen an immigrant, not to someone like Scheffer who actually cared about immigrants and about what happened to them in Holland. "I said there is a division in our society," Scheffer told me. "We had been too self-congratulatory to see it. I said that we were basically a conformist society, that we were unprepared for cultural alienation, and that we couldn't be open to immigration until we admitted the problem and worked it out. I said it was our fault. The immigrants are not leaving. It's their responsibility to make something of it . . . but we have to share the guilt. The idea that 'physical segregation is everything' was a fallacy. We were a daily bombardment of shock to them, but we had this wonderful negligence, this almost unbearable innocence about being a beacon."

People in Amsterdam say that for months no one with an audience talked or wrote about anything else. By then, nearly fifteen per cent of the city's population was Muslim. There was a small but comfortable Muslim middle class; there were Muslims working in the arts, in the universities, and in city government. Even working-class Muslims-most notably the Turks-were in the main cautious if disgruntled citizens. But sixty per cent of all first-generation Turkish and Moroccan workers were unemployed, and what Scheffer called "the subtle exclusion of the welfare state" was no longer enough to obscure the malaise in immigrant neighborhoods. The idea that Dutch society came with a price-that its laws and its mores, secular and democratic, were part of the hard bargain with reality that an immigrant had to make-wasn't going to solve the unemployment crisis. But Scheffer said that if everyone, Dutch and immigrant, actually acknowledged that there was a price it would be a way for some of those workers to begin to enter the world around them, and make their malaise a common cause, and not simply a statistic.

The old left split on the subject of Scheffer's essay. Job Cohen, Amsterdam's Jewish mayor and easily the most popular Labor politician in the country, insisted that in most ways the Dutch model of patience and tolerance and cultural respect was slowly but surely working. (His Muslim alderman, Ahmed Aboutaleb, thought that the problem was much simpler. When local Islamists railed against Dutch "decadence," he pointed out that there were plenty of planes to Casablanca, and that anyone that unhappy in Holland was free to take one.) Cohen is a conciliator. "Keeping Everything Together" is his slogan. "Lief, leuk, laf " (sweet, nice, cowardly), his critics say. I had heard that the imam of Amsterdam's most radical Moroccan mosque refused to meet Cohen or even reply to his invitations, but when I asked him about it one morning at City Hall he said only that in Holland religious life was "private," and at any rate not his domain. "I can't just call a meeting and you have to come," he said. He reminded me that, by Dutch standards, Amsterdam was an exceptionally cosmopolitan city, "always pushing limits," and that people tended to forget that the gap between immigrant culture and Dutch culture, and expectations, was in some ways greatest there. "It isn't so easy being happy . . . in this very cold society," he told me. Later, he said-I thought with a certain relief-that maybe the time had come to "formalize" citizenship training. He was right. A year earlier, Amsterdam's gay-pride parade, a local fixture since the mid-nineties, had provoked an explosion of threats on the city's Moroccan Web sites. "Let me get my hands on them, those faggots," a man named Mohammed Jabri had written. They defile the street with their "hairy behinds," he said. They "infect my Amsterdam."

Mohamed Rabbae, a Dutch-Moroccan Arab who came to Holland to study in 1966 and stayed to become the first Moroccan elected to the Dutch parliament, has been a voice for accommodation on both sides of the divide. I visited Rabbae at his home in Maarssen last fall. It was Ramadan, and he was fasting, but he had put out a platter of dates-a traditional Moroccan welcome-and sat patiently while I ate them. He said that the problem for him as a liberal Dutch Muslim was not that people were suddenly arguing about multiculturalism and Islam but that the "collegiality" in their arguments had disappeared. He agreed with Cohen, but he also seemed to agree with some of what Scheffer said, and when I asked him about van Gogh he told me, "He was a humorist, he was against Muslims, but in Holland you get to finish your act." He thought that in the past few years people had lost the will "to manage the way they communicate with each other"-had even forgotten that in civilized societies "there is always a frame in which you criticize." He said that the humiliation that comes from discrimination has run very deep in Muslim immigrants since van Gogh's death. "Of course, as a liberal I defend free speech. But, as a Muslim, I have to defend Islam. I am less than libertarian when it comes to prejudice."

Some people on the left are much more defensive than Rabbae. They maintain that the old multicultural model is the only model that can work in Holland. (The leader of the Green Left Party calls herself a "human-rights universalist" when it comes to culture.) A new generation of social scientists at schools like the University of Amsterdam argues that the mandate to "mix" into something called the Dutch community is an insult to the communities where immigrants already live. Amsterdam's born-again Marxists, many of them Muslim students, insist that the problem in Holland isn't veils or burkas or any of their other "symbols of cultural emancipation"-they call those "bourgeois Western preoccupations"-or even the imams who say to go ahead and beat your wife. The problem, they say, is class, capitalism, and old-fashioned colonial contempt.

I asked a Moroccan feministcum-radical activist named Miriyam Aouragh for her opinion. Aouragh had been part of a clique of angry students and teachers "with a relationship to the Middle East" who staged a protest when Hirsi Ali came to the University of Amsterdam last fall to speak at the formal opening of the academic year-an occasion that Aouragh describes as "dead white men, but younger." She told me that Holland was caught in a xenophobia that had as much to do with dismantling the welfare state as with anything immigrants did or wore or said. "If you are Muslim and want to be a star, say terrible things about other Muslims" was how she described dissidents like Hirsi Ali. She told me about a high-school student who had written a newspaper column calling Rifians "stink Berbers," and who "got lots of threats but plenty of attention, plenty of applause, for her racist talk, and became a feminist icon." She said it was very Dutch to blame the victim.

It all came down to the question of victims. The left thought of immigrants as victims, the right thought of immigrants as victimizers, but, as Scheffer put it, the gulf between a moral code that says wife-beating is right and one that says it's wrong is pretty much unbridgeable, and perhaps the best thing the Dutch could do for immigrants was to begin to apply the same standards they applied to themselves.

Here is another Dutch story. In 2002, the Turks in an old working-class Amsterdam neighborhood called the Baarsjes submit plans for a big new mosque. Their plans come from a firm of Jewish architects in Paris. They include a minaret of a hundred and forty feet, and the old Dutch people in the neighborhood complain. They say that a minaret of a hundred and forty feet will dwarf their church steeples, that it will mean the end of "Dutchness" in the Baarsjes, that it will announce to the world that Islam is taking over Holland. One former alderwoman is so distressed that she sues the city, which quickly opens negotiations between the minaret people and the steeple people. It wants to keep the steeple people happy-which is to say, voting Labor-and at the same time it sees a chance to reward progressive immigrant behavior. Four years later, the mosque elders reach an agreement with the city. They will allow women to enter the mosque through the front door (this was not a given), and they will limit their calls to prayer to Fridays; the minaret stays at a hundred and forty feet. Permission is granted, construction finally begins, but the complaints continue. The question of who wins this multicultural round is still open.

The Baarsjes is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. Half the people are allochtonen, and the local mayor-the closest equivalent would be a New York borough president-is a Labor mainstay named Henk van Waveren, who has put in eleven years trying to accommodate them all. His constituency includes not only the Turkish mosque and a Pakistani mosque but also the Moroccan mosque whose "thorny imam," as he puts it, is said to refuse to meet with Job Cohen. Van Waveren himself has never met the imam. The imam, he tells me, does not speak Dutch.

Van Waveren has realistic, if earnest, expectations. He thinks that, at this point, the most he can do for the Baarsjes is simply to "diminish the feeling of uncertainty" that came from so many years of Holland "having the wrong answers." He told me, "How many extremists can there be here? What I want is to unite the sheep." His projects are modest. He "rewarded" the eleven Moroccan fathers who were briefly persuaded to patrol a particularly dangerous street, a job that consisted mainly of chasing their sons inside after ten at night; he encouraged the Orthodox Jew who was tired of getting sworn at on his way to shul and wanted to organize Jewish-Moroccan street-soccer matches; he drummed up funds for a new community center with a proper soccer field. He says that the problem in neighborhoods like his is simply getting the sheep-Dutch as well as Muslim-to stand up and be counted.

Immigration is now close to being the most important political issue in Holland, or, you could say, the only winning, or losing, issue. Pim Fortuyn's murder, in 2002, effectively ended eight years of Labor government in The Hague. Fortuyn was killed by an animal-rights activist, but it didn't take long for a lot of voters to decide that the murder must have had something to do with immigrants-and with Labor's being "soft" on immigrants. Dead or alive, Fortuyn remained the most popular politician in Holland. He had been a gift to the right. Flagrantly homosexual-he once claimed that he "understood" Moroccans because he'd slept with so many Moroccan boys-he provided the right with an entirely unexpected chance to court gay voters and, at the same time, to launder its xenophobia into a righteous stand against Islamist homophobia. It was a chance that the left had never even thought to seize.

Holland has been run by a coalition of the right for the past four years. There is a Christian Democratic Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, but the Liberal Party-a conservative free-market party edging to the anti-immigrant right-controls many of the ministries that have to do with foreigners. The Minister for Immigration and Integration is a former prison warden named Rita Verdonk, whose solution to any problem involving immigrants is to throw them out. She has introduced legislation that would allow the government to deport "foreigners"-many of them second-generation Dutch citizens-after one criminal infraction. And she has been trying to enforce an old Labor law to process and rule on asylum-seekers' applications within one week of their arrival, and is limiting their time to appeal to only a week. She has said that she has no choice, given that Europe cannot agree on a common asylum policy. The image she sells is of Holland as the European Union's refugee dumping ground.

There are thousands of asylumseekers in limbo in Holland, and their situation is tragic. Verdonk has sequestered many of them in holding camps, where they wait for deportation along with drug smugglers and criminals caught entering with false papers. Last fall, when eleven detainees died in a fire (the third) in a makeshift and demonstrably unsafe holding prison at Schiphol airport-poor fireproofing, no system to automatically open cells in an emergency-Verdonk went out of her way to praise the guards, who, according to most reports, did very little at first to save them. She claims that she has never heard a real complaint from an immigrant, though when I showed up at her office last fall there were police everywhere, a hole in the office window, and a lot of whispers about a possible Muslim sniper. (A month later, the Ministry announced that no bullet had been found.) In January, when the city of Rotterdam came up with a "citizenship code" that involved a pledge to speak only Dutch in public places, including on the street, Verdonk called it a model for the whole country and suggested that speaking Dutch be made compulsory. She recanted quickly, but, as of March 15th, anyone applying to immigrate to Holland will have to pass an exam in Dutch, and watch a video about gay couples and nude beaches.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was once an asylum-seeker. Everybody knows her story-the beautiful young Somali who endured a clitoral circumcision and an arranged marriage to a distant cousin she had never seen, fled to Holland, studied hard, "discovered the Enlightenment," and became as famous as Queen Beatrix. But it is also the story of the failure of liberal Dutch imagination-and, from the point of view of Dutch politics, the failure of the social democrats who were her first, and perhaps her natural, political home. Hirsi Ali joined the Labor Party in 1997, at the age of twenty-seven, and worked at a Labor think tank doing research on immigration. But the truth was that, for many on the left, she was a refugee who had made good, and who should be grateful to them instead of embarrassing them with pronouncements about the incompatibility of democracy and orthodox Islam, and about deporting radical imams and disciplining Muslims who took their children out of school. She wasn't a multiculturalist, and she had nothing but contempt for the Dutch model. She thought that Dutch "tolerance" was a kind of Western weakness. She said that Muslims who wouldn't attempt to assimilate didn't belong in Holland.

Labor did nothing to absorb her, to temper her rage with any political wisdom or to take her experience of Islam and learn something useful from it or to give her the political voice she needed. The Party thought she was too angry, too politically incorrect. And she was zealous, like all converts, including converts to Mill and Hayek. She told people like Job Cohen that they were wrong when they said, If I treat you well, you will not be my enemy. She said that radical Islam would always be their enemy. She told the Muslim feminists, who had offered to support her if she promised "not to say anything about Islam," that "the oppression of women is built into Islam." It was probably only a matter of time before the right took up her cause and began to court her. She was their token stranger, their "good" minority, as improbably useful as a Pim Fortuyn-a Muslim anti-Muslim feminist poster-girl celebrity with a shelf full of human-rights prizes and a book of essays published in eleven languages. In the fall of 2002, she joined the Liberal Party and two months later ran on its list for parliament. The company was not, sadly, always on her level. With van Gogh's death, she became the next designated victim, and she remains that, even with Bouyeri in prison. She moves under heavy guard, in a kind of psychic quarantine.

"The left was mugged by reality," she told me one afternoon, over tea at a hotel in Amsterdam. (The place, even the city, had been switched three times, for safety.) I had seen her on television that morning, in conversation with the Mayor. Cohen had brought up the asylum-seekers trapped in the airport fire, and she had suggested that, on humanitarian grounds, the ones who had survived the fire should be allowed to stay. When the debate was over, she told me, she had felt obliged to call her party to explain, though it wasn't at all clear if the Party was placated. Hirsi Ali is intelligent and graceful, and I imagined how hard it must have been for her to discover that her adopted country, her Enlightenment country, was mired in a rhetoric of "tolerance" that was really, perhaps, just another way of saying that people were "different," that people never changed. She has been in Holland for thirteen years now, and in some ways she is the mirror of those years.

The night before the anniversary of van Gogh's murder, I went to an evening of short debates on the subject of Islam in Holland-the first of a series of commemorations that ran the gamut from private "Theo reminiscences" to memorial services that half the politicians in the country scrambled to appropriate. The debates were held at a cultural center on Keizersgracht called the Rode Hoed, or Red Hat. I knew it as a casual, companionable place-the sort of place you chose to rendezvous with a friend or read the paper over a cup of coffee-but that night you had to pass through two security checkpoints to enter, and I counted twenty security guards and armed policemen on duty in the lobby. Their job was to protect Amsterdam's black-clad intellectuals from an Islamist attack, and, more to the point, to protect Hirsi Ali, who was on the program, and another Muslim dissident named Afshin Ellian, a Dutch-Iranian professor who, like her, was under serious death threat. But there were no black burkas in the audience and, conspicuously, no practicing Muslims scheduled to debate. There was not even a practicing anti-Muslim, apart from Hirsi Ali and Ellian.

Gary Schwartz, an American-born art historian who immigrated to Holland as a graduate student and is now considered one of its foremost Rembrandt scholars, had come to the debates with me, and, after looking around for a few minutes, he remarked that it was going to be a predictably "Amsterdam" occasion. He thought it would have been much more interesting if the organizers had managed to include one of the country's right-wing populists-say, Geert Wilders, a flamboyant but straight version of Pim Fortuyn whose claim to serious attention had mainly to do with the number of threats he received. "Maybe I'm profiling the crowd," Schwartz said, "but this won't be a testing of the issues," or even an airing of what he had once called feelings you couldn't describe but knew you didn't want to have. He thought it likely that no one outside the closed circle of the Rode Hoed would be listening anyway. "People like Mohammed Bouyeri aren't interested in the Dutch situation," he said. "They listen to the Saudis, to Osama; they don't care about what the Dutch do or say to 'resolve' the problems of the terrain they live in." The moderator that night, Cees Grimbergen-the host of a popular weekly discussion show called "Around Ten"-told me that fifty of his last hundred and seventy broadcasts had been devoted to "ordinary people arguing" about multiculturalism and integration. He said that he'd never invited Theo van Gogh to join them. As he put it, "Lenny Bruce is not a Dutch tradition." When he took the mike and peered out at the five hundred faces in his Rode Hoed audience, he asked, "Who here has a season football ticket?" One person raised his hand.

In a way, Holland was like that night-frozen in discussion. Nobody seemed to know what to do beyond policing the discontent and keeping the crackpots at bay. You could feel the tension in Amsterdam then. You could no doubt feel it in February, when the country's big newspapers reprinted the Danish cartoons, and by all accounts you can feel it now. After fifty years of insistent official harmony, the hatreds on both sides of the cultural divide have surfaced. No one is burning mosques or churches or schools-which they did in the first weeks after van Gogh's murder-and even the demonstrations during the cartoon crisis were small and peaceful. But the Internet is still awash in hate mail. So perhaps it isn't surprising that the country remains preoccupied by what happened to Theo van Gogh and what the politically correct position toward people who live in your midst but feel free to kill you should be. Friends who a few years earlier would walk you through a neighborhood like the Baarsjes, with its shrouded women and its state-funded Islamic school and its defiantly secretive mosque, and call this a "multicultural success" or a "model of tolerance," have begun to suspect that that peculiarly Dutch myth of a democracy integrated but not assimilated might be not only a contradiction in terms but a dangerous fiction. But, like everybody else in Europe, they have no adequate answer to the question What now?
The New Yorker

RSS feed
Suggestions and comments please to