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Where next for multi-culturalism in Europe?

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Where next for multi-culturalism in Europe?

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It was after his death that Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh’s name became known around the world. His murder unleashed a debate on the viability of the Dutch model of multi-culturalism and integration. Theodor Holman worked with van Gogh for 20 years. He believes his assassination opened a Pandora’s Box: “At that moment, you were insecure when you walked on the street, you could be attacked,” he said.

“Freedom of speech has totally disappeared. It is not that it is not allowed but you don’t dare to say what you want to say. So you kill one person and a whole society here in Holland has suddenly collapsed.” The reaction was immediate. Mosques were burned in van Gogh’s name and angry anti-Islamic graffitti appeared. Appeals for calm on all sides went unheeded. So does the Dutch model have a future? Last week’s local elections sent a clear message of dissatisfaction to Jan Peter Balkenende’s coalition government. Many of the angry voters were immigrants. They now represent more than 10 per cent of the Dutch population. After steady rises, conditions surrounding entry became stricter in 2003. Of the 16 million people who live in the Netherlands, around a million and three quarters were born overseas, mainly in Turkey, Morocco and the former Dutch colonies. The unemployment rate for immigrants is still up to four times higher than for those born in the Netherlands. Too often it is only the lowest paying jobs that are available. There is also a lack of education, according to Ila Kassem, president of an Islamic association in favour of integration. He said: “We’re talking about problems concerning young people, about problems which are caused by children. Although they’re born here, they are lagging behind because of their lack of language skills; they’re not doing as well at school.” Rotterdam is forecast to have a majority of non-native people by 2017. Earlier this month, the city council approved a plan to close its doors to poor and unemployed newcomers. It is a far cry from the liberal attitude many associate with the Netherlands.