Integration: Netherlands Searches for a "New Equilibrium"

Identifier: 
06THEHAGUE2577

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 THE HAGUE 002577

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TAGS: PGOV, KISL, NL, SCUL, SCOI, PINR
SUBJECT: Integration: Netherlands Searches for a "New
Equilibrium"

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The diverse opinions heard during November
3 meetings between Farah Pandith, Director for Middle East
Regional Initiatives, National Security Council, and Dutch
government and think tank representatives capture the debate
on what integration means for all of Dutch society.
Agreement on the causes of social isolation and
marginalization remains elusive. Recent political
developments further complicate the search for a collective
understanding of what "successful" integration would look
like in the Netherlands. END SUMMARY

2. (SBU) Expressing frustration with criticisms of the
Netherlands as intolerant, Emine Kaya, 2007 Eisenhower
Fellow and former Management Coordinator for The European
Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, questioned
religious discrimination as a legitimate barrier to
integration. Ms. Kaya believes there are few impediments to
religious freedom in the Netherlands; Islamic marriage,
Halal food, and Islamic education are all readily available.
She emphatically stated: "we have to be very clear what the
problem is: is it religion or something else?"

3. (SBU) Jan Schoonenboom, research fellow at Scientific
Council for the Government (WRR), argued an opposing
viewpoint expressing concern over growing right-wing
populism (the anti-immigration Freedom Party gained 8 seats
in the November 22 elections). He fears that populist
rhetoric could leave immigrants and Muslims much more
socially isolated and disaffected, encourage a "major
backlash" against Muslims in the Netherlands, and increase
the propensity for radicalization among Muslim youth. [Note:
Schoonenboom authored a controversial study earlier this
year that sharply criticized the GONL for its intolerance of
Islam.]

4. (SBU) Amsterdam Deputy Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb echoed
Schoonenboom's concerns about radicalization and populism
while arguing that both the Muslim community and the Dutch
government need to work together for successful integration.
Mr. Aboutaleb, a popular Muslim politician, argues that the
Muslim community must use claims of discrimination more
carefully as not all outcomes are the result of
discrimination. At the same time, he believes that there is
still a lack of political will on the part of government
ministries to address legitimate symptoms of marginalization
such as high drop out rates. Mr. Aboutaleb suggested that
progress may simply be a function of time: up until recently
many Dutch denied that the Netherlands was an "immigration
state" and it is still looking for "a new equilibrium" among
all members of Dutch society.

5 (SBU) In subsequent meetings GONL representatives have
suggested that barriers to full integration of Muslims may
be endemic to Dutch society itself. During a meeting with
an Interior Ministry delegation, Secretary General Jan
Willem Holtslag observed that "immigrant" children, of whom
many are born and raised in the Netherlands, are not viewed
by society as truly Dutch. The Dutch term "allochtonen" is
still widely used to denote first, second and third
generation immigrants. Literally translated it means "non-
Dutch." (Note: Legally, "allochtonen" refers to anyone
with at least one non-Dutch parent. Some commentators have
noted that, by this definition, Queen Beatrix and much of
the Royal Family should technically be classified as
"allochtonen.") Government officials are increasingly aware
of such impermeable boundaries: during a separate meeting,
Saskia Tempelman from the Ministry of Justice insightfully
pointed out that "categories [e.g. "allochtonen"] create
consequences."

6 (U) Fatma Waheb-Wassie, also from the Ministry of Justice,
explained that "in the Netherlands the expectation is to
just be normal and things will be fine." It was later
explained that being `normal' in Dutch is to blend in with
the crowd and not distinguish oneself through dress,
achievement or other difference. One Dutch contact shared
the Dutch saying, "the cornstalk that sticks out above the
rest gets cut down."

COMMENT: Integration and Identity
---------------------------------

6 (SBU) Dutch society, once famous for its social tolerance,
continues to struggle with its identity in the midst of a
growing perception of increasing intolerance toward
immigrants. Recent political developments - such as the
proposed ban on burqas and the popularity of hard-line
Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk(VVD)- highlight the
uncertainty of what it means to "successfully" integrate.

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Lack of a collective understanding of what constitutes
"Dutchness" further complicates integration: what
characteristics and behaviors indicate membership of Dutch
society.

7 (SBU) Dutch integration presents a paradox: Social
categories such as "allochtonen" underscore the division
between immigrants and broader Dutch society. Many
immigrant groups still identify more closely with the
nationality of their country of origin, even after
successive generations. This is reflected in the dress,
behavior and language that set them apart from "native"
Dutch. In the face of continued pressure to conform, it is
likely that immigrants will continue to fight for symbols of
their identity.

ARNALL