Tolerance by Degree

Amsterdam, where I studied abroad, is known for its liberalism. But the far right’s recent onslaught on Islam has bred intolerance.

They fear, irrationally, that Moroccan and Turkish communities perpetu­ally yield a backwards culture of anti-Western attitudes, violence toward women, homophobia and so on.

And those views of the far right are becoming more and more mainstream. Has Dutch society forgotten its roots as a champion of multiculturalism?

Multiculturalism’s principle assumption is that a society functions best when individuals are free to pursue that which makes them happiest. Sound familiar?

When Moroccan and Turkish migrant workers immigrated to Amster­dam in the 1960s, they founded their own communities, circulated their own newspapers and attended their own schools. Dutch policy endorsed these initiatives.

Along with Catholics and Protestants, these migrants comprised one more pillar of multicultural Netherlands.

While the former two religions certainly hold divergent beliefs, as history can attest, they share a common Western heritage.

Both strive for a sense of individuality. It was expected that Moroccans and Turks would in time organically adopt this view of happiness.

They did not. Shocker! Instead Moroccans and Turks maintained their social and religious identities alien to Dutch progressivism.

While multiculturalism claims to remedy the potential for intercultur­al conflict, all it seemed to do here was erect a firm psychological barrier between the two groups.

How could minorities possibly mix with a host culture when policy encouraged insularity? So when terrorist threats of late, however peripheral, struck Europe, it was sadly inevitable that tension would emerge. Of course, fanatics exacerbated peoples’ ill-informed perceptions on both sides, but multicultural policy made this possible.

I have been quick to laud multiculturalism as the cornerstone of a high-functioning society. Indeed, it contributed to the precipitous rise of America as a model of democracy.

But it deserves skepticism. Europe, unlike the U.S., was not built by immigration; that is a recent phenomenon.

National policies needed to devise programs geared toward enhancing cross-cultural understanding.

Multiculturalism only serves to engender an in/out-group mentality for both immigrants and citizens: a recipe for conflict.