Immigration: what is happening in the Netherlands?

Immigration was never compatible with the European nation state, which pre-supposes ethnic and/or cultural homogeneity. In the Netherlands, it resulted in polarisation into two separate and hostile populations. Under these circumstances, democracy will ultimately result in the expulsion of immigrants, and the restoration of the national community (as it was envisaged by 19th-century nationalists). Developments in the Netherlands are summarised here, as a relevant comparison for Britain. For more detail, see The nationalism of Pim Fortuyn.

The Netherlands is a polarised society, and its polarisation is now its central feature. The increasing residential and educational segregation is a symptom of this polarisation, rather than its cause. The country is inhabited by two groups - or more accurately, a group and a category. The first is an ethno-national group, a classic European nation who call themselves 'Netherlanders'. They see the Netherlands as their national homeland (the nation takes its name from the landscape, the English word 'Dutch' is a corruption of Deutsch). The second is a negatively defined category (permanently resident non-Netherlanders), which has no internal cultural or social unity. They are universally described as the 'allochtones', and by now they identify themselves by that name. The term is borrowed from biology and geology, it means 'of external origin'. The best English-language equivalent is 'immigrant minorities'. Both first generation immigrants, and their descendants, are allochtones. The ethnic Netherlanders are also, but less often, referred to as 'autochtones'.

Both designations are acquired at birth: they are not derived from, or altered by, citizenship. There is no procedure, by which an allochtone can cease to be an allochtone. Officially, anyone with one or both parents born outside the Netherlands is an allochtone. The social definition includes foreign grandparents as well - in fact anyone of recognisable foreign descent. Netherlands Antillians are citizens of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but also allochtones. So are non-whites born in Indonesia and Suriname, when those were still colonies.

Group self-definition by ancestry, and the claim to a national homeland, are standard elements of European nationalism. That has remained unaltered since the 19th century, and still underlies the legitimacy claim of all EU member states. In the standard definition, the ethnic nation is formed by descendants of the past inhabitants of the national homeland. Netherlanders use that definition and call the group 'volk', and so do Germans. Most other nations in Europe have a similar self-definition, and an equivalent term. It is a demographic fiction - there are no genetically isolated human populations in Europe. Besides, the present national territory is an ill-gotten gain, which once belonged to the Duke of Cleves and the Prince-Bishop of Liège, among others. Statistically, the present-day Netherlanders do not coincide with the descendants of the inhabitants of the United Provinces. However, it is pointless to quote statistics at nationalism, which is about collective memory, shared identity, and shared emotion. It is pointless to question the accuracy of the 'Fatherland History' (as it is officially described). It is also pointless to tell Netherlanders, that they ought to have a more inclusive definition of themselves as a nation. They don't, and 25 years of official multiculturalism failed to alter that.

Because of the rigid national self-definition in de-facto biological terms, 'assimilation' in the sociological sense has completely failed. Hyphenated identities, such as 'Polish-American' or 'British Asian', are absent in the Netherlands, and there is no 'melting pot' ideology either. In fact Britain and Ireland seem to the only EU countries, where multi-ethnic national identities are are seen as an option. No surprise, since this type of national identity originates in Anglophone immigrant states, the United States, Canada and Australia - where it is also bitterly disputed. Allochtones in the Netherlands therefore remain allochtones. Naturalised citizenship is increasingly regarded as non-permanent, to be withdrawn at any time, on any criteria the government may set. At individual level, no Netherlander would call a person with two Moroccan parents a Netherlander. (Certainly not if they were called Fatima or Mohammed: Islam is a marker of foreignness).

The result is two separate and often hostile populations. Sharply diverging reactions to violent incidents (such as the killing of Theo van Gogh), illustrate the polarisation. Violence between individuals from each group is still rare, but violent racist threats are very common on the Dutch-language internet. The tensions result from the combination of immigration, exclusionist national identity, nation-state, and democracy itself. Democracy is a bad thing, when the population is polarised by ethnicity or religion. Liberal-democratic theory assumes that the voter is rationally self-interested, but millions of voters may instead be obsessed with the Jews, the Pakis, or the Papists. Democracy makes the state into their instrument, and this 'perversion of state' is among its worst defects. Given stable majority hostility to a minority, as in Northern Ireland from the 1920's to the 1960's, democracy becomes an institutionalised vendetta. The immigrant minorities in the Netherlands would almost certainly be better off if the army seized power, or if the EU abolished elections and introduced direct rule from Brussels. Neither of those is likely, but violence is. It could take the form of immigrant riots, like those in France in 2005. It might mean a 'pogrom climate', with continual attacks on minority homes, schools, and shops. It could consist of tit-for-tat killings of random individuals from each group, as in Northern Ireland. Most likely, it will be in the form of Islamist terrorism. In historical perspective some form of violent transition is not only inevitable, but necessary. There is no other historical 'exit strategy' from the present untenable structure of Netherlands society, in fact a stand-off. This stand-off would not exist without immigration, and a widespread refusal to accept that fact has made things worse.

The European nation state, the homeland of a nation defined by ancestry, is fundamentally incompatible with mass immigration. Since 1800 tens of millions of people were killed, in the process of converting Europe into a continent of nation states. Allowing another ethnic group to live in the national homeland, makes a mockery of the national ideal. Netherlands nationalists repeatedly compare immigration to the German invasion in 1940, and the comparison is accurate in the sense that every immigrant is an invader. Every immigrant 'occupies' a small part of national territory and economy, and many immigrants make a conquest. If one-tenth of the Netherlands population becomes Turkish by immigration, then it is as if one-tenth of the country had been given to Turkey.

It is a taboo to emphasise this, but immigration is unavoidably a geopolitical and territorial issue. Hostility to immigrants is the logical consequence of their claim to the national territory: at the very least they are collectively unwelcome. The Netherlands is intended for the Netherlanders, and not for immigrants like myself. Britain is intended for white Britons of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic stock, and not for Bengalis and Poles. I think that's a good reason to abolish both nation-states, and indeed all the nation-states in Europe, since that form of state is racist by definition. But even immigrants who don't reject the nation-state, are inevitably locked in enmity with the national majority. Most prefer not to think about that.

The demographic and cultural impact of immigration is another taboo (for the intellectual and political elites). Across western Europe, hundreds of urban communities have undergone a process comparable with the 100% replacement of the Germans in East Prussia in the late 1940's. That transformation never went through the political process. If, for instance, Harold Macmillan had gone round working-class areas in 1958, saying 'We intend to remove at least 90% of you, and replace you with foreigners', British voters would have banned all immigration. Hypothetical history - but by now the 'white' majorities in Western Europe do know what immigration means. They have begun to take belated revenge on the immigrants, and that is what is happening in the Netherlands.

If you cannot accept that immigration does real damage to the indigenous nation, you can not begin to understand the populist-xenophobic fury in the Netherlands, Belgium, or Denmark. Continued immigration will ultimately destroy any nation state, and Netherlands nationalists often compare the multiculturalist political elite to the traitors and collaborators under the German occupation.

Forgiving the 'traitors', and welcoming the 'invaders', is not an option for the resentful electorate of the xenophobic populists. It is an even deeper taboo to suggest an explanation, but there is one. Almost certainly a significant proportion of the European population, possibly around 20%, is clinically xenophobic. They are suffering from a diagnosable medical condition, related to other situational phobias. The DSM-IV classes all phobias as 'anxiety disorders', but that may not be the whole truth about xenophobia. The genetic predisposition to phobias, and evolutionary biology, suggest that xenophobia is inherited. Defensive reactions to outsiders would have been advantageous during a long period of human evolution, and many people may carry a 'xenophobia gene'. Certainly, some pre-existing combination of aversion and aggression would explain mass pogroms, where large sections of the population try to kill members of a minority.

There is no research on the medical aspects of xenophobia, because it is such a taboo. In the Netherlands, a 2006 survey by Motivaction found that a quarter of the population has "extremely negative" attitudes to allochtones, and 10% are "exceptionally racist". The explicit racists feel superior to allochtones, say that Netherlanders are more intelligent, openly approve discrimination, and oppose mixing between both groups. Xenophobic attitudes are not limited to a 'tiny minority'. Europe may have to accept that one-fifth of the population is medically incapable, of living in the same society as foreigners. They would remain a constant threat to the lives of immigrant minorities, because they are suffering acute stress from the 'foreigners' around them, and that could flip over into violence at any time. If you lock an arachnophobe in a room with spiders, for days on end, then sooner or later they will stamp on the spiders. So unless a genetic therapy is developed, the only solution seems to be, to move the millions of xenophobes into some form of 'white homeland', comparable to the proposed Afrikaner Volkstaat in South Africa. The point is not to turn the nationalist ideology on its head, but to cope with a permanently and inherently aggressive population group. Their electoral impact disables the function of the state as a force for good, and threatens to convert it into a Xenophobia Agency.

To some extent that is the inevitable fate of nation-states with high immigration. If the national identity is non-inclusive, then a xenophobic political culture is inevitable, as in the the Netherlands. The majority of Netherlanders may not be rabid xenophobes, but they simply don't want to share their country with immigrants. That drives the current national obsession with the related issues of national identity, immigration, integration, and Islam. Hysterical is the only appropriate term for the constant stream of proposals aimed at the allochtones. Some became official policy, such as the misleadingly named 'citizenship tests' and courses. These are called 'inburgering', literally in-citizen-isation, and the wider process is called 'integratie', but both are widely understood as indicating cultural assimilation. The exams don't directly confer citizenship, and immigrants can't evade them by not applying for citizenship. They are imposed by the Immigration Service IND, by local councils (through social security benefit, which they locally control), and through embassies, for those seeking to immigrate by marriage (the only legal route for non-EU citizens). In one form of 'inburgering', resident 'non-western allochtones' must pay € 6000 for a course, and answer questions such as 'Were the ships of the United East India Company intended for trade or fishing?' Exam failure is punished by a fine.

Few of these courses would in fact help an immigrant to assimilate: the vindictive tone of the proposals makes it clear that they they are intended a a collective punishment, and above all to deter immigration. Other typical 'integration' proposals include some form of ban on speaking foreign languages - in schools, when travelling on public transport, or on the street. One suggestion was to fine immigrants who speak a foreign language at the doctors. A school in Amsterdam fines parents, if their children speak foreign languages with a certain radius of the school. Other recurrent themes are bans on Islamic headscarves or burqas, and boot camps for immigrant youth (now backed by the cabinet).

It's minority-bashing, but that's democracy. It is also democracy, when elected representatives seriously propose forced abortions and forced sterilisation for Antillian teenage girls. That proposal came from Pim Fortuyn's local party, Leefbaar Rotterdam, which won a landslide victory in 2002. They lost support in the 2006 municipal elections, but they never withdrew the proposal, and they still got 30% of the votes. If a national majority of voters back such proposals, then democracy means implementation. (Human rights law won't stop it: the proposal is legally based on the 'rights of the child', since black teenage mothers are pre-supposed to batter their children). The British trade union leader Bill Morris once complained of "a bidding war about who can be nastiest to asylum seekers". That certainly describes politics in the Netherlands, but then democracy is meant to be a 'bidding war'. Political science defines modern democracy, as the allocation of political power through open competitive elections, under multi-party political pluralism. The parties that best bid for voter support are elected, and consequently the government broadly reflects the will of the people. Since the 'will of the Netherlands people' is that the Netherlands is reserved for themselves, and since they are still the majority, the inevitable consequence of democracy is the expulsion of the immigrants.

Several years ago the Balkenende cabinet seriously considered compulsory genital inspections for Somali girls. The proposal was ultimately toned down, to 'more intensive supervision by school doctors'. But the Somalis got the message: thousands moved to the UK. Return migration has started among second-generation Turks as well. Immigration is not a given, and it is not an inevitable consequence of globalisation. The Netherlands has shown that if a government is nasty enough, immigrant minorities can be pressured out. A western democracy can stop, and then reverse, the flow of immigrants: the Netherlands now has net emigration. The Netherlanders see the democratic process as a defensive instrument against the allochtones, and they are increasingly, if vaguely, aware, that it might be effective in removing them. A drastic reduction in the number of allochtones, and a de facto return to the ethnic composition of the 1950's, are a real possibility in the Netherlands. That scenario could be repeated all over Europe, unless there is a drastic re-evaluation - and ultimately abandonment - of the liberal-democratic nation state.

Why destroy the nation state?