Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Neoliberal Xenophobia: The Dutch Case

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Neoliberal Xenophobia: The Dutch Case

Article excerpt

This article argues for the need to identify and grapple with the complexities of the relation between xenophobia and neoliberalism. In the case of the Netherlands, the rise of xenophobia is part of a larger process of a mostly market-controlled reclaiming of symbolic forms of collectiveness in an increasingly atomized society. The 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker-provocateur Theo van Gogh played a crucial role in cementing a "culturalist," anti-Islam regime of truth. The analysis of the van Gogh murder informs about how, in the atomized market society, the search for new forms of togetherness has translated, in the Netherlands, into a turn to the ethnos, with fantasies of purity and the moralization of culture and citizenship. Where the neoliberal project has, largely unnoticed, abolished the collective standards and solidarities of the post-World War II era, the faces of immigrants have served as ideal, identifiable flash points for new repertoires of belonging and othering.

KEYWORDS: neoliberalism, xenophobia, uncertainty, collectiveness, Netherlands

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He was an asshole, but he was my asshole.

--A Dutch writer and columnist, referring to the murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh

Throughout Europe, xenophobic and culturalist repertoires have become prominent across the entire spectrum of politics. Generally, this xenophobic turn is understood as reactive to September 11, to the Madrid and London bombings, and to the increased influx of non-Western, "illegal" immigrants. This is certainly true in the Netherlands, which recently seems obsessed with "protecting" the indigenous against the foreign. What we will argue, however, is that neither radical Islam nor immigration numbers is responsible for why the Netherlands, once considered so progressive and open-minded, is now among the most restrictive and punitive in the European Union when it comes to asylum, integration, family reunification, and deportation policies. (1) We propose to look beyond salonfahig truisms about the new culturalism as a product of "ethnic entrepreneurs" or as the outcome of media regimes of representation. While the mobilizing properties of these phenomena must be recognized, the crux is something different and more fundamental. What we argue for is the need to identify and grapple with the complexities of the relation between xenophobia and neoliberalism: in the case of the Netherlands, the rise of xenophobia as part of a larger process of a mostly market-controlled reclaiming of symbolic forms of collectiveness in an increasingly atomized society.

In that regard, we aim to do two things in this article. First, we intend to conduct an autopsy of the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker-provocateur Theo van Gogh by a twenty-six-year-old djellaba-clad Dutchman of Moroccan heritage, an event that played a crucial role in cementing a culturalist, anti-Islam "regime of truth" in the Netherlands. Second, we try to explain this shift in public discourse by connecting the forces of "globalization" with specific local events and processes characterizing Dutch society.

Van Gogh's Murder: The Immediate Framing

A powerful, defining opening to the culturalist ebullition-to-come forced its way into Dutch living rooms the very evening of the deed:

  Something terrible has happened today. Today Theo van Gogh was
  murdered. Society is shocked. Everyone present here tonight is
  shocked.

The words of the Dutch minister of integration, Rita Verdonk, spoken above the clatter of pots and pans, blowing of whistles, and shaking of rattles by a crowd of some twenty thousand gathered on Amsterdam's Dam Square, engaging in a "Noise Protest" against an act that was already being characterized not as a response to van Gogh's politics but as an assault on Dutch tolerance and freedom of speech. Verdonk, nicknamed Iron Rita for her tough stance on immigration, savored one of her finest moments when, within hours of van Gogh's murder, she climbed the stage and addressed the crowd. …

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