The Political Expat: Getting engaged

Recently, while wracking my brains to come up with a theme for my first article with IamExpat, I picked up my needles and began the form of meditation known as "knitting." Soon, the soothing click-clacking of the needles allowed a recent conversation with my friend H to surface.

H and I had been discussing the Netherlands’ swing to the right, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric of so many of our politicians, Geert Wilders in particular. We agree: Geert and his rhetoric are dangerous. Not because of what he says, because we are both fervent believers in the right of free speech. And not even because he claims this right for himself, then becomes incensed at being the target of someone else exercising that same right.

No, we think he and his rhetoric are dangerous because the support of so many of his followers is based on ignorance about what their country would look like, should his policies continue to gather support. And on so many people thinking they are safe from becoming the target of his rhetoric while he cleans up the mess they’ve gotten themselves into by being so bloody "tolerant" for so long.

For now, I will skip my rant on tolerance vs. acceptance, and just argue that nobody is safe from the anti-immigrant mood sweeping the Netherlands (and Europe).

And because of this, I would argue expats need to engage in what is going on around us, and educate ourselves about how this and other politicians are shaping our and our neighbours’ future in the Netherlands.

Geert’s main target is immigrants (Muslim immigrants, specifically) and you may call yourself an expat - but you are an immigrant - or allochtoon, in Dutch - according to the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS). The CBS only counts whether you were born here (autochtoon) or not (allochtoon). Or whether one or both of your parents were born elsewhere (allochtoon). They make a further distinction between western and non-western immigrants.

This is useful information to have when the populists need to discriminate between desirable expats and undesirable immigrants. Or in other current terminology: Western and non-Western immigrants.

"Wait," you say, "these are the Tolerant Dutch we’re speaking of, right?" Yes, they are: tolerance is why Geert claims that Islam is a political movement not a religion (because it is intolerant to discriminate against a religion), and why "western" and "non-western" are such usefully mushy terms (because the Dutch cannot reconcile being tolerant with saying "the dark-skinned ones").

The fact that they have been able to make so many of us feel safe from the bigotry and fear-mongering through our designation as expats, is why H and I believe Geert and Co. are dangerous. Because feeling safe allows us to check out of the discussion. And it allows some of my gay friends to support Geert, as he denounces their Muslim neighbours.

"Oh, no!" they say. "We do not mean our neighbours! Only the ones who are gay-bashing." Yes, this "safe" reminds me too much of 65 years ago, when the Berlin Jews thought the fact that they counted themselves German would save them from the fate of the “others” being carted off.

And more recently in America, where light-skinned African-Americans sometimes try to set themselves safely (or so they think) apart from darker skinned brethren…but still do not get the jobs or the condos.

Friends: nobody is safe from the domino effects of discrimination and fear-mongering. When you hear a slur, and keep silent, you are endangering your own future here, and that of your allochtoon children. When you have the right to vote in local elections (many of us do), and do not, you are allowing right-wing policies room to grow.

No matter where you are from, how long you plan to stay, or where you are going next, you need to read the local newspapers, listen to the evening news, and / or talk to others who do. You need to get engaged.

Because nobody lives in a vacuum, the Netherlands is not as small and insignificant as your Dutch friend claims, and what happens here is probably happening in your next country of residence too.

Take Geert, for instance. Do you think he is that different from Marine Le Pen, Timo Soini, or Sara Palin?

Donna DuCarme


Donna DuCarme

"Creative Facilitator" Donna DuCarme splits her time between the Netherlands and Scotland, and loves them both for very different reasons. Her training is in theatre, her work is in various...

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