Interview with Leon de Winter "The Dutch Are not Afraid of Islam"

From French riots last autumn to language requirements at German schools, integration is at the top of the European agenda at the moment. Holland too has problems. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with best-selling Dutch author Leon de Winter about minority problems there.

Author Leon de Winter: "All of these problems start in the living room."

Author Leon de Winter: "All of these problems start in the living room."


Mr. de Winter, Dutch Integration Minister Rita Verdonk made headlines here in Germany recently with her demand that only Dutch should be spoken in public in the Netherlands. Has "let's do away with foreign languages" become the new motto of a country that for years has served as the model of tolerance?

De Winter: Ms. Verdonk was falsely quoted. You can't force people to speak Dutch. How would you be able to control it? What she did say is that it is important that all people speak Dutch. There are too many foreigners here who can't speak our language.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is that one of the reasons that the unemployment rate is so high among immigrant youth?

De Winter: Yes, 40 percent have no job. But you also have to know that 40 percent of the Moroccan women living in our country are illiterate. How are they supposed to be in any position to provide their children with a decent education or to explain to them how an extremely tolerant society like the Netherlands functions? All of these problems start in the living room.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is that why the percentage of ethnic minority youth who finish school is so low?

De Winter: Too many people drop out before graduating from high school. Many want to begin their vocational training after finishing primary school -- but that's too early. At that point, they don't have the same basis as the country's other youth.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are people failing to integrate because they aren't put in a position where they are required to speak Dutch?

De Winter: That is exactly what we are discussing in Holland right now: Why does the country offer official forms in Turkish and Arabic? Why don't we force people to learn Dutch?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Now politicians are practically tripping over each other in their efforts to make policy proposal that would force integration: reeducation camps for unemployed youth or language tests for people who want to immigrate to Holland. Can those lead to success?

De Winter: Those are all pretty hopeless proposals for saving a generation that has already been lost. The parents of these children were never obligated to take charge of their own destiny. The state allowed them to live here and it paid their rent.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So the mistakes were made much earlier?

De Winter: Yes, the problems began when the first guest workers arrived in Holland -- as soon as we let people from the third world come here to work in our rich country, we had a guilt complex and somehow saw them as sacred victims. We then let them bring their wives and children over without having any clue that we were importing integration problems with which we had no experience.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So are you saying that the Netherlands, famous for its tolerance, is not a melting pot for immigrants?

De Winter: No, that's the United States. A social welfare state like the Netherlands can never be a country of integration. Only a country like the US, with its weak social net, can integrate large groups of immigrants without problems. Immigrants there are forced to take two or three badly paid jobs just to survive. That would be incompatible with European moral values. But after one or two generations in the US, these people are integrated in society.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen recently warned of the danger that unemployed immigrant youth in the city could riot as they did in Paris. Is Amsterdam a powder keg?

De Winter: I was shocked that a politician like he, who is generally cautious in his statements, would say something like that. It's an indication that the situation is much more serious than we previously assumed. But even (in Amsterdam) you have the same causes: a lack of education and training and a lack of discipline. These youth are no longer getting any guidance and they have no idea who they are supposed to behave in society.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In that context, what roll does Islam play in the Netherlands?

De Winter: The mantel of Islam is often used describe the disquiet and frustration these young man have. Much of it is a normal part of development -- hormones and puberty play a natural role. That has nothing to do with religiosity. I wouldn't say that the Netherlands has suddenly become Islamophobic. These problems also exist in other countries. The Dutch aren't afraid of Islam. We just have too little work for them and that's why many are leaving.


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