So apparently this idiot has fielded the idea that hijab-wearing women should be banned from using overland public transport and that the police should be tasked with removing women who wear the hijab from public transport (you can see the exchange on national public television here).
Now obviously this is a completely idiotic idea (which goes further in discriminating specific population groups that the treatment of blacks in apartheid south africa Ot the treatment of african-americans in the US before 1968) which is obviously in line with the fundamental principles of post-war Europe, but it is still kind of scary. It is people like Louis Bontes on whom the current dutch government is dependent for it’s majority. That is a sad state of affairs that probably says just about as much about the moral-integrity of PM Rutte and his cabinet as it says about the delusional ideas of the PVV.
What is striking about this latest proposal is that it does not even make sense by the PVV’s own rationale: Their last high profile intervention regarding the hijab, the idea to introduce a tax for women wearing the Hijab in public, still made some degree of sense (if you buy into their idea that the only reason why women wear the hijab in public is because they are forced by their husbands/fathers to do so to signal their ‘inferiority’). Of course that is utter nonsense, but in this scenario you could possibly argue that slapping a tax on this behavior would hurt the family income and as a consequence might make the men reconsider their behavior. Reasoning along these lines enables the PVV to package their xenophobic ideas and proposals as proposals aimed at promoting equality and freedom.
Now banning hijab-wearing women from public transport does not ‘promote equality’ no matter how you look at it. It would simply deprive Hijab wearing women from using public transport. This is clearly something that increases inequality and constitutes discrimination plain and simple. There are laws against that (for good reasons) and it is a shame that the current government does not realize (they probably do, but apparently they do not have the courage to take the consequences) that by playing their stupid ‘we have agreed to disagree’ game they are undermining the basic principle that all human beings are equal and should be treated as such by their governments.
Two days ago i finished reading ‘De Schijn-élite van de Valse Munters‘ the much-hyped book by Martin Bosma who is credited with being the strategic brain behind the rise of the populist/islamophobic PVV that is enabling the current right wing minority government in the Netherlands.
I am not exactly sure why i started reading this book in the first place, but i guess it was because i wanted to get a better understanding some of the reasoning behind the (often extreme and seemingly irrational) politics of the PVV. I had also hoped that the book would contain some level of analysis of socio-economic issues that could contribute to my understanding the unprecedented electoral success of the PVV and learn from that. In short, i think that i had hoped that Bosma would turn out to be a really smart strategic thinker from whom i could learn a thing or two. unfortunately, the book has been a huge disappointment in all of these regards.
To be fair, i do not think that Bosma intended to analyze the current status of Dutch society or provide insights into his (or the PVV’s) strategic thinking. For him the books seems to serve one single purpose: to discredit his political opponents on the left.
In essence the entire book consists of an endless collage of quotes from various sources (his favorite sources are post WWII social democrats and fringe lunatics whom he refers to as ‘islam-experts’). From these quotes he tries to weave together a narrative that is supposed to show that following the 1960s Dutch society has been taken over by a far-left elite whose primary concern is to surrender the Netherlands to hordes of muslim immigrants who’s prime concern is to establish sharia law/a caliphate.
To ‘prove’ his theory he relies heavily on his impressive collection of quotes but presents almost no empirical evidence other than a number of references to surveys that have found that ‘the dutch people’ do not desire immigration or any other of the policies of the elites such as subsidies for the arts.
As a result, the biggest part of his book is devoted to a rather absurd attempt to frame the current elites as far-left extremists. This culminates in an entire chapter that is devoted to explaining that Adolf Hitler was, in fact, a far-left extremist1. While Bosma’s almost physical rejection of what he identifies as far-left extremist politics is palpable, i am still a bit puzzled what he wants to prove here: defining his own political position primarily in opposition to (a grotesquely twisted description of) the positions of your opponents does not strike me as something you would do if you had a well developed understanding of your own position.
All of this does not make Bosma the most stupid member of parliament ever (dutch, google translation here), but after reading through his book i am relatively certain that i overestimated his intelligence and the analytic rigor quite a bit. Now this is almost certainly a good thing…
If you want to understand this you simply have to listen to the below excerpt from a planet money interview with Mark Zandi the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics and contrast that with the petit bourgeois, xenophobic attitude towards immigration that is prevailing in Europe:
and again, fundamentally we are fine. we can’t loose the sight of what makes our economy really tick though and that is: the most educated population, the best infrastructure and most importantly of all that we continue to attract the best and brightest from all over the planet, because as long as we can do that we are gonna be just fine.
John Hooper’s report from Coccaglio near Brescia brought together much of what is wrong with modern Italy in one seasonal package, all perfectly presented in extravagant wrapping paper and tied up with a great bow in the way that only Italians can manage. Christmas in Coccaglio, Hooper reports, is being marked by a house-to-house search for illegal (ie black) immigrants. The search, which is sponsored by the local Northern League-controlled council, has officially been dubbed Operation White Christmas and finishes, ho ho ho, on 25 December. One Coccaglio councillor has said Christmas is a feast of Christian identity, not a celebration of hospitality. The whole crackdown has been complimented and backed by Silvio Berlusconi’s government.
Over the last couple of days there has been a disproportionate amount of attention for a albino migrant named Moszy who, back in march, arrived together with 60 other a African migrants on the Spanish island of Tenerife. Moszy, who is said to have fled his native Benin where he was frequently abducted and used in magic rituals, has requested asylum in Spain, and it appears that the spanish government is willing to grant him refugee status. Now i am all against abducting people and using them in magic rituals (and possibly killing them in ‘grisly ritualistic killings’), but it appears to me that the media coverage is bordering a little bit on the absurd:
The price for the most absurd headline (so far) goes to the Croatian news agency ‘Javno’ claiming ‘Spain Saves Albino African from Sure Death‘ (which for some reason is buried in World > World Report > Bizarre [sic!]). Of course spain did no such thing, to the contrary: Spain (together with the rest of the EU countries) did everything it could to get Moszy (and the other 60 passengers of the boat that took him to Tenerife) killed. In its ongoing attempt to keep (black) Africans in Africa, Spain has forced migrants attempting to get into europe to take longer and more dangarous routes (from Nouakchott to Tenerife it is more than 1000km across the open Atlantic Ocean). This has resulted in many deaths that generally receive much less media attention than one albino arriving in Tenerife.
According to the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelblad, Moszy’s asylum request has been backed by a spokesperson of the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid, arguing that sending him back to Africa (as it is foreseen for the other 60 passengers) ‘would put his life at rist’. Makes me wonder if sending back the other 60 passengers who barely made it onto Spanish soil does not put their life at risk? Chances are that they will make another attempt to get to Europe and if past experience is any indicator some of them will pay for this with their lives. But you do not hear the CEAR spoksperson or the media talk about their lives being in danger. But then they did not have the privilege of being born with white skin either, so why should they care?
Finally finished reading ‘Denken in een tijd van sociale hypochondrie‘ (‘thinking in times of social hypochondria’) by the Dutch sociologist Willem Schinkel a couple of weeks ago. By the standards of Dutch sociologists, Schinkel is fairly young (31) and relatively famous (he was one of the 6 summer guests appearing on VPRO’s zomergasten in 2008 [torrent-file here]) which however does not mean that there are any english language references or translations of his work or available on the net (hence all the quotes in the remainder of this post, have been translated by myself and might contain translation mistakes).
The book is rather long and at many times hard to read as he cultivates a way of writing that is obsessed with tracing every single observation/thought/proposition back along the entire back-catalog of philosophers & sociologists. This of course is common among theoretical social science scholars (and probably the reason why most people don’t read these kind of books) but in his case it seems to serves a special purpose: Distancing himself from all pre-Schinkel sociology and declaring most of it worthless. According to Schinkel, Niklas Luhmann (who’s theoretic work already constituted a fairly radical departure from the works of many of his colleagues and predecessors) was the last of the line of ‘old Europeans’ all of whom worked based on a misleading concept of ‘society’. Schinkel, who borrows heavily from Luhmann’s work1, comes to the conclusion that even Luhmann was wrong where it comes to conceptualizing ‘society’ (Schinkel uses the term ‘society’ (‘maatschappij’/’samenleving’ in Dutch) exclusively in quotes) and that it rests on him to demonstrate that there is no empirical entity called society:
We therefore leave behind the fictional character of ‘society’ and exploit it. A ‘society’ is a creative fiction, a map that pretends to be a landscape. Or at least a map that pretends to be a map of a landscape – within the metaphysics of society thinking has never advanced further than this. It is the fiction of a ‘together’ and co-existence, and therefore we now refer to ‘society’ as a certain kind of confiction. We are talking about the fiction of a ‘con’, and ‘with’ or ‘together’ […] The observation ‘society’ is such a confiction. This term is a fictive representations (representation fictives) and has a fonction fabulatrice which we will call a fiction function in this context. ‘Society’ is just one example of such a confiction but conficties exist in all types and sizes and at different levels of aggregation. A ‘neighborhood’ is a confictie, as well as a ‘club’, a ‘nation’, a ‘people’. […] The ‘society’ is a fiction which must be believed in. (page 286 f.)
Throughout the book Schinkel continues this arrogant way of writing/reasoning but for me he manages to get away with it: The entire book seems to be torn between two main objectives: One the one hand he tries to develop his own sociological grand theory (including an appendix of 20 or so pages to explain the terminology that he introduced in order to do so) and on the other hand he delivers one of the most powerful analyses of contemporary Dutch ‘society’ that i have come across since i am in the Netherlands/stopped studying sociology (which – to those not familiar with my biography – is a direct casual relationship). For me, this second aspect of the book is much more interesting than the first (and makes it a must-read in the current political discourse in the Netherlands). His analysis is not limited to Dutch ‘society’ alone and he places the current Dutch obsession with [integration] (the term is used in brackets throughout the entire book) within a wider analysis of late/developped capitalist ‘societies’ at the beginning of the 21st century2:
The only remaining collective project after the demise of the credibility of the projects of the Enlightenment and Modernity is thus what we call Operation Obesity. This concerns a residual-organicistic discourse that conceptualizes ‘society’ in terms of growth. In this discourse, unguided but necessary growth has taken over the position of progress within the project of modernity. For society Operation Obesity results in all the accompanying feelings of guilt that are characteristic for overconsuming obese people: concern about weight, fitness and health, guilt with respect to those less fortunate and the environment. Where it comes to the politics of [integration] this manifests itself in adressing the problem of [integration] spcifically growth inhibitors are observed. “Integration policy revolves around the words ‘modern citizenship’ and ‘economic participation’. By this the government means that citizens feel involved with each other and with society.” In short ‘the society’ is largely defined in economic terms. […]. The words “goal of integration policy is a society in which everyone actively and fully contributes”, must therefore be taken literally: ‘Society’ is compromised by those who ‘work’ in economic terms. (page 379 f.)
In other words the process of [integration] that is primarily defined and debated in cultural terms is – above all – a mechanism that attempts to ensure the as total as possible inclusion of migrants into the economic system. He argues that migrants (and other outsiders) are not placed outside of ‘society’ but that they rather form the (economic) underside of the system that perceives them as outsiders. Schinkel is certainly not the first one to point out that the concept of [integration] implies that that migrants are somehow languishing in a place other than ‘society’ and he devotes much energy (and many pages) to illustrate the more or less obvious point that there is no place outside of society where those that are expected to [integrate] could be located (the moment they are identified as objects in need of [integration] they are already part of ‘society’). Consequently he concludes that the persistent demands to [integrate] are primarily aimed at reproducing the position of migrants as ‘outsiders’:
When it comes to [integration] of the n-th generation migrants the bar is raised so high, that the result is a permanent somewhat weak state of [integration]. This is illustrated by the themes that make up the curriculum of the current naturalization courses: A pre-modern conviviality sentiment (voormodern gezelligheidssentiment – ‘What do you when your neighbour has her birthday?’), a responsible eco-consumerism (‘to what category of waste do frying fats belong?’) – things characterizing the Dutch ‘Judaeo-Christian-Humanist culture’. This is also evident from the [integration]attempts from neighborhoods such as the ‘greeting zones’ and the ‘street contracts’ mentioned in the intermezzo that intend to promote a sentimental disciplined ‘street contact’. [Integration] is everything except in-corporation (the real and literal inclusion in the social body). […] [Integration] is thus also the symbol of the utopian ‘self’ observation that is based on a provincial petty-bourgeois community-rhetoric. In fact [Integration] reflects an observation that is contrary to the postmodern hyperindividual constantly looking for connection-opportunities, mobility, self-transformations and reinventions. […] That the ideals of naturalization and [integration] are so petty-bourgeois and confer so little integrity, has everything to do with their ridiculous nature in a time of ‘self’description crisis on a global scale. (page 390)
For Schinkel this ridiculous vision on [integration] is functional. The constant pressure on migrants to participate in the ‘host society’ needs to be read literally: They can only become part of the imagined ‘society’ if they contribute their labour to the economic project of perpetual growth without progress (‘Operation Obesity’). At another point in the book (and i think that was the example from the current Dutch debate around integration that for some reason most disgusted me) he quotes from a website providing information at migrants that are expected to [integrate] in Dutch ‘society’ through taking ‘citizenship’ courses:
See: www.hoemoetikinburgeren.nl [pk: the site is not active anymore and forwards to www.hetbeingtmettaal.nl. A pdf (see excerpt below) with the content of the site is still available here] On this site we find the following vision as a normative decoration: “During the naturalization course, I met a couple of nice people. I am still in contact with one girl. She is Vietnamese and she also works for Shell. We speak Dutch with each other.” Typical migrants trying to become citizens work at Shell, or: directly see ‘how we live together in the Netherlands’: preferably working for Shell. (page 394 footnote 63)
For example in this crucial passage on page 211: “Dat differentiatiedenken dat zich oriënteert aan hand van het systeem/omgeving-schema gaat precies aan die grenzen voorbij door een sociaal systeem (bijvoorbeeld een ‘maatschappij’) te conceptualisieren als iets dat alleen bestaat in een bepaalde verhouding tot een omgeving van dat systeem en dat bovendien mogelijkerwijs functionele relaties onderhoud met die omgeving. In geval van het onderscheid systeem/omgeving is de omgeving een ‘unmarked space’ die verder geen informatie biedt. Maar word de omgeving systeemintern gethematiseerd als bestaande uit andere systemen en gaat het om wat Luhmann ‘Systeem-zu-System’ relaties noemt dan is ook de ander kant van de vorm iets dat gemarkeerd kan worden. Kortom het onderscheid systeem/omgeving betrekt een systeem altijd noodzakelijkerwijs op iets buiten dat systeem en ondertekend daarmee dat systemen. hoewel ze autopoietisch en dus operatief gesloten zijn , nooit bestaan onafhankelijk van een systeemomgeving.” ↩︎
At another point in the book he makes a rather interesting observation about the process commonly called globalisation: “De Globalisering was bovendien het meest anti-filosofische dat het westerse denken had kunnen overkomen: en immanent geheel van niks anders dan banale connecties. Een geheel zonder buitenkant ook, met alleen maar nog interne omgevingen. een ruimte van eeuwige herhalingen van steeds iets anders: andere connecties. Een ruimte die niet te bezetten is, maar waarin ieder zich slechts kan redden door kwetsbaarmakende connecties aan te gaan. Het gaat hier om de teloorgang van van iedere historische taak en de implausibiliteit van iedere filosofische constructie , zoals bijvoorbeeld Sloterdijk die ondernomen heeft, om die te herstellen.” (page 386) ↩︎
I spend last weekend at ars electronica speaking at the symposium on a new cultural economy curated by Joi and hanging out with an amazing bunch of people. Did not see much of the exhibitions, but at least managed to see the cyber arts 08 exhibition in the OK center and found another nice CFL for my collection. Most of the works were rather underwhelming. One of these exceptions was ‘Salat‘ by Johannes Gees which was documented at the OK center. Salat (the arabic/quranic term for prayer) consisted of a series of interventions that Gees did in the summer of 2007 in Swiss Cities. He constructed so-alled sound bombs that consisted of adapted megaphones combined with a time controlled the mp3 player that – once activated – would play the pre-recorded call to prayer of the muezzin of the grand mosque in mecca at prayer time.
Gees secretly placed these sound bombs on church towers in Basel, ZÃ¼rich and Sankt Gallen and documented the reactions by passers by on video. While the work itself is certainly not the most original (apparently similar things have been done before), Gees had the luck of being sued by an overzealous Swiss christian who claimed that he had insulted objects of religious worship (which is a criminal offense in Switzerland) and as a result the police impounded one of the sound bombs and opened a case on him. After a while the public prosecutor came to the conclusion that there was no criminal wrongdoing involved. Now this being a proper legal case the public prosecutor had to write down the reasoning in the document that declared the case closed. At ars electronica Gees had displayed copies of the official documents from the public prosecutor alongside video stills and one of the sound bombs (see picture above). The interesting aspect of the installation is the way the public prosecutor attempts to get a grip on this artistic intervention in legalese. I cant find the text of the documents online but here is a short snippet (in german) that i could reconstruct from one of the pictures i took:
Im vorliegenden fall käme allenfalls die Tathandlung in Form von Verspotten in Betracht . Die Verspottung selbst gilt nach herrschender lehre als Unterfall de Missachtung und beschreibt Äusserungen, durch welche die angegriffenen religiösen Überzeugungen als lächerlich dargestellt werden (Stratenwerth, Schweizerisches Strafrecht BT II Straftaten gegen Gemeininteressen , Bern 2000 Â§39 N 5). Indem der Angeschuldigte den Ruf des Muezzins erschallen liess, ist eine Verspottung der religiosen Überzeugung des Geschädigten Richard Scholl, welcher gemäss Anzeige an das Stadtrichteramt Zürich vom 13. Juli 2007 der evangelisch reformierten Kirche angehört, nicht ersichtlich. Mithin wird durch das Verhalten des Angeschuldigten die glaubensbezogene Überzeugung des Geschädigten als Christ nicht in unsachlicher weise herabgesetzt oder lächerlich gemacht. Das heisst der Gottesglaube des Geschädigten wird nicht tangiert. Es gilt festzuhalten dass vielmehr sich Angehörige der islamischen Religion, mithin gläubige Muslime, durch die Aktion des Angeschuldigten in ihrer Ãœberzeugung in Glaubenssachen – Achtung vor dem Mitmenschen und seiner Überzeugung in religiösen dingen – hätten verletzt fühlen müssen, zumal der ruf des Muezzins in der hiesigen Geselschaft bis dato nicht zum Alltags- bzw. Ausleben der islamischen Religion gehört. […] Dennoch vermag der Ruf des Muezzins das Durchschnittsempfinden eines vernünftigen Durchschnittsbürgers (sic!) nicht in schwerer Weise verletzen. Ebenso wird durch den Gebetsruf nicht die christliche Überzeugung der Geschädigten tangiert, da der gläubige Mensch in seinem Innersten und seiner religiösen Entscheidung nicht beeinflusst wird.
In the end the case against Gees was dropped but he was ordered to pay CHF 900 in legal costs because he ‘could have asked for permission’ before placing the sound bombs. As if someone would have given him that permission…
I can’t help but wonder what this might foretell for local economies based on guided tourism around the world. For instance, a small group of American tourists comes through your village, eating PowerBars and looking at handheld GPS devices. They don’t go to any restaurants; they don’t ask any questions of anyone; perhaps they don’t even rent a hotel room. For all economic purposes, it’s as if they were never there. They were more like surreal poltergeists wearing Vasque boots, reading Jonathan Safran Foer on a Kindle. What better way to avoid meeting Namibians! Just use their electrical grid to recharge your gadgets, pay no taxes, and leave.
I’m left imagining the inverse of this situation, of course, in which a small group of Namibians shows up in London. They ask no questions, eat at no restaurants, and avoid all hotels â€“ before going off to wander round the countryside, sleeping in tents. It would all seem rather mysterious.
‘Mysterious’ is definitely to soft of a term here: in post 9/11 reality ‘mysterious’ is synonymous with ‘suspicious’ which, (especially if you are not white and handle high tech gadgets) is very likely to result in 90 or so days of detention without charge.
“Detention is a very serious measure in a democratic society – governments deprive people of their liberty when they are convicted of a serious crime,” said Katrine Camilleri, a refugee lawyer in Malta with the Jesuit Refugee Service, which on Dec. 18 published a report on conditions in detention centers in the 10 newest EU states.
“These people have committed no crime, and though human rights law allows for detention in very specific cases, even then you can’t detain people forever. Even 18 months is a very long time; it destroys them,” said Camilleri, who has just been honored by the UN refugee agency for her work in the face of arson attacks on her car and home.
The smallest centers hold a few dozen people; the biggest, more than 1,000. A network of them has quietly taken form with little scrutiny and few established norms, sometimes reusing old sites, like Rivesaltes in the south of France, which was one of the biggest French internment camps for Jews during World War II.
So one thing you notice when you are in Finland is how incredibly white the place is. there are almost no black (or brown) people to be seen. I think when i was in Helsinki for the last time in june 2006 i saw 3 black people in 3 days.
So we brought up this observation over dinner yesterday and were informed that there are lots of black people but that one would need to go to ‘Mogadishu Avenue‘ to actually see them. Mogadishu Avenue, we were told, is the nickname of a street (Meri-Rastilan tie) in the eastern suburb of Meri-Rastila. Apparently the neighborhood (which has inspired a television series of the same name, which was filmed elsewhere, because the actual neighborhood is too tidy to convey the underlying idea of multicultural tension) got this name because it is the primary area of residence of members of the Somali community in Finland.
But then only a mere 20% of the area’s population are immigrants (mainly Estonians and Russians though) which seems to be shocking in the Finnish context. So special that according to the international edition of Helsinki Sanomat…
… taxi drivers driving through the area still have fun counting the number of dark-skinned faces they see.
But then the taxi driver who drove me back to Helsinki from Meri-Rastilan (because i was stupid enough to take the last outbound metro and there is no obvious other public transport back to the city) didn’t count the number of black skinned faces. instead he did not say a single word during the entire ride (very finnish) and i suspect him of having been a bit drunk (very finnish as well).
In fact the amount of black people in Meri-Rastilan by no means justifies calling the place Mogadishu Avenue. The highest concentration of black people in Helsinki can be observed in the foyer of the Tennispalatsi cinema hall in the center (thanks for the tip Kari-Hans). Earlier tonight it was full with lots of extremely well dressed (compared to the average Finn) Somali teenagers hanging out there. Not sure if any of this (the stylish clothes or the hanging out) was in any way related to Eid Ul-Fitr or if this is where these youngsters usually spend their Friday nights.
photo by: Jukka Ritola taken from this gallery with more pictures from ‘Mogadishu avenue’.