Sunday, July 18, 2010

The source of integration difficulties

The last couple of years The Netherlands has turned from a tolerant country into a country full of anti-immigrant sentiments. This reaches beyond the actual immigrants, it also affects second generation youngsters, in particular the groups of Turks and Moroccans living in Holland for the greatest part of their lives. Most of the anti-immigrant sentiments are fed by fear, spread by the rightwing political movement and by the media, which found a scapegoat to put the blame on for economic, religious and cultural crises. We can conclude that it's not even against immigrants but against the group of muslims in Holland. The socalled integration problem has rooted somewhere down the 60s of the last century.
In the decade following the end of the Second World War The Netherlands has known a period in which lots of inhabitants moved to other places in the world, like the US, Canada and Australia. Halfway down the 50s the industrial activities in Holland increased enormously, and a shortage of labor force arose. At first the Dutch looked at countries like Italy and Spain to get laborers. The next group, at the beginning of the 60s were the Turks and Moroccans. The initial thought was to have them in Holland for only a couple of years before they would return to their country of origin. With this in mind, no effort was but by either the Dutch government or the immigrants ("guest laborers") to integrate and have them take an active role in Dutch society. The Dutch didn't have programs to teach the language and habits of the country, the immigrants did their jobs and spent their free time together with fellow immigrants and prefered to live close to eachother instead of mingling with the original Dutch inhabitants.
After a while Turkish and Moroccan families were reunited in Holland and started a new life for them and for their children. The government slowly started to acknowlegde the permanent stay of their guest laborers, who meant a lot for the wellfare, but it seemed too late to launch integration programs. The cultural differences were quite large. Though it seemed easier to treat all groups equally, the Dutch started to emphasise the differences, which encouraged the majority of the immigrants to feel shut out of society. Together with this phenomenon, the immigrants themselves held on to their values and habits which they took with them 20 or more years before, when they arrived in Holland. Though in Morocco and Turkey time went on and everything got more modern, the immigrants stuck to their old patterns.
From 2001 things got worse. The second generation (children of the original immigrants) got adolescents or adults. They were brought up by parents that were attached to ancient values, and on the other hand they had to survive in a community with a completely different set of values. Together with the more grim attitude in the Dutch society some of them chose to put their backs to society and, encouraged by fundamentalist imams they became together with rightwing groups the symbol of polarisation.
I expect this problem to persist for a long time. It is too late now to reach the group of people that has developed an aversion for Dutch society, but keeps living in it, by active (compulsory) integration programs. On the other hand, the general opinion is to act repressive ("all criminal muslims should be thrown out of the country"; "burqas should be forbidden"), which works counterproductive. A gentle way of acting seems to be the best way, but it needs understanding and effort from both sides...
It is time to let go of prejudices and put our hands together.
Let actions speak louder than words, but start whispering first.

Day Opening - July 18

Bodrum Castle, Turkey