Tuesday, October 6, 2009

About import brides and grooms in the Netherlands

The choice of a partner is not the government's business

It is a dangerous thing to try and stem immigration by intervening in people's right to choose who they share their lives with.

There is no question the Netherlands is dealing with an integration problem. The days when this was being denied, hushed up or contested are long gone. As the publicist Paul Scheffer demonstrated in his book The Unsettled Land, immigration has always been a source of conflict. In our culture of live and let live, imposing standards and values is not an easy thing. During a radio interview on Saturday Scheffer made the case for more clarity in the matter: equality between men and women is an inherent part of our culture that should be propagated. Freedom of religion in the Netherlands also implies freedom of religious criticism - for everybody.
This has implications for immigrants who didn't grow up in this culture. Standards and values from the country of origin about contact with non-believers or the place of the woman cannot be imposed on others in the Netherlands. Offensive cartoons and open homosexuality do not have to embraced by all, but they are allowed should be self-evident. Defending these freedoms is a solemn duty.

Last Friday the Dutch cabinet decided to tighten the integration and education criteria for foreign marriage partners. In doing so the government wants to stem the flow of so-called "import brides or grooms", especially those who are at risk of finding themselves in a dependent and isolated position in the Netherlands. It also wants to discourage marriages of convenience, forces marriages and marriages between first cousins. This is done from a social perspective, but also to prevent fraud, crime and polygamy.
There is a long list of problems related to immigrants who desperately cling to the culture of their country of origin. It includes not just arranged marriages, but also teenagers being left behind in the country of origin at the end of the summer vacation - a particularly cruel act.
On the face of it the cabinet's policy on import brides is a good example of normative clarity, which clearly states what is important to Dutch society. But between norms and reality there are many practical objections and acquired cultural rights. For this reason we should always be on guard whenever the government wants to intervene in people's private lives.
Who we share our lives with or want to marry is an individual choice. The motives for doing so are by definition not a matter for the state. Historically speaking, arranged marriages, whether based on calculation, necessity or opportunism, are no exception to this rule. Social standing and religion have always played a role in marriage, not to mention security or prosperity.
For this reason it is dangerous to try to stem immigration by imposing standards that belong to family law. Every citizen has the right to a family life, as determined by the European Convention on Human Rights. Who he wants to share that family life with is his business, and the government should respect that. But that (new) citizen will also have to adapt to life in the Netherlands, because the days when our standards and values were vague or undefined are also long gone.

Day Opening - October 6


The combined housing and parking complex of the VM Bjerget which is covered with roof terraces with gardens. Everyone should do themselves the pleasure of ‘climbing’ the mountain by the stairs that lead up to the 10th floor and from which there is a wonderful view over the city of Copenhagen This is a complex that puts you in a good mood. In 2008, VM Bjerget was crowned the best housing complex in the world.