When Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and Its Discontents in the Netherlands

When Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and Its Discontents in the Netherlands

When Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and Its Discontents in the Netherlands

When Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and Its Discontents in the Netherlands


In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered on a busy Amsterdam street. His killer was Mohammed Bouyeri, a twenty-six-year-old Dutch Moroccan offended by van Gogh's controversial film about Muslim suppression of women. The Dutch government had funded separate schools, housing projects, broadcast media, and community organizations for Muslim immigrants, all under the umbrella of multiculturalism. But the reality of terrorism and radicalization of Muslim immigrants has shattered that dream.

In this arresting book, Paul Sniderman and Louk Hagendoorn demonstrate that there are deep conflicts of values in the Netherlands. In the eyes of the Dutch, for example, Muslims oppress women, treating them as inferior to men. In the eyes of Muslim immigrants, Western Europeans deny women the respect they deserve. Western Europe has become a cultural conflict zone. Two ways of life are colliding.

Sniderman and Hagendoorn show how identity politics contributed to this crisis. The very policies meant to persuade majority and minority that they are part of the same society strengthened their view that they belong to different societies. At the deepest level, the authors' findings suggest, the issue that government and citizens need to be concerned about is not a conflict of values but a clash of fundamental loyalties.


Our concern is the collision between Western European values and Muslim values. Our focus is the Netherlands because it has under- taken the most ambitious policy of multiculturalism. the premise of multiculturalism as a principle is respect for the pluralism of cultures. Yet its thrust as a public policy has been to legitimize and subsidize one particular expression of Muslim culture—ironically the one most at odds with the pluralistic spirit of liberal democracy. Our findings are thus not about multiculturalism in the abstract. They are about what actually happens when issues of group identity are made a focal point of public attention and political argument in the inevitably rough and ready tumble of real politics. We believe, but are not in a position to prove, that our results travel to other countries.

The most important advantage we had in doing this study was doing it too soon. There is a sequence to social science research: a dra- matic event happens—say, September 11—then a wave of studies follows; an understandable sequence since events are dramatic in part because they are unexpected. But then there is a predicament: we can- not tell how things have changed because we do not know how they were; and not knowing what has changed and what has not, we are not able to determine why what has happened, happened.

In this study, the sequence was just the opposite. the political up- heaval over Muslims and multiculturalism in the Netherlands oc- curred in 2001; our survey of the concerns and values of the elec- torate was conducted in 1998. We will show that the strains between Muslims and Western Europeans were evident before the upheaval. the beliefs of each about the other were not a product of September 11—quite the contrary, they provided the basis for reactions to it.

The Netherlands is celebrated for its tolerance, but it has been struggling with the challenge of diversity. We have worked to under- stand what this struggle teaches about the strengths and limits of lib- eral democracy. We take advantage of a number of experiments and . . .

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