Opinion: Looking the other way

POSTED: 10/19/15 12:25 PM

How are we dealing with Muslims, Christians, Jews and homosexuals in a multicultural society like the Netherlands where there are big differences between all these groups? The same question could be asked for St. Maarten with its fractured population, consisting for 80 percent – or there about – of immigrants from elsewhere. Harry Walstra, employee at a health care insurance company, describes in an op-ed in the Volkskrant how the Netherlands became world champion in looking the other way.

“In the seventies, the Netherlands had world class soccer players like Van Hanegem and Cruijff, in the eighties toppers like Gullit and Van Basten, and with Bergkamp and Kluivert the Dutch had two other stars in the nineties. More recent are Van Nistelrooij and Robben. In spite of all this, the Netherlands never managed to become world champion,

Fortunately – depending how you look at it – the Netherlands is able to call itself world champion in another field: looking the other way.

Frits Barend and Henk van Dorp wrote in 1979 in Vrij Nederland that the Dutch soccer world looked the other way during the Second World War. Jewish referees, managers and players were expelled and later during the war taken away to annihilation camps; but the stadiums were full.

When soccer journalist Simon Kuper published the Hard Gras special ‘Ajax, the Jews, the Netherlands’ in the spring of 2000, his conclusions and experiences perfectly matched those of Barend and Van Dorp more than twenty years earlier. Looking the other way trumped everything in soccer-playing Holland during the war. Placards with texts like “Forbidden for Jews’ were faithfully installed.

Anno 2015 the Netherlands still seems to look the other way when there is trouble. For decades supporters have been singing anti-Semitic songs in soccer stadiums. And for decades there have been meetings and talks about this, but significant measures were never taken.

On the fields of amateur soccer there seems to be an increase rather than a decrease in the number of anti-Semitic incidents.

Off the pitch there are unfortunately more and more incidents. Sonja Barend, a niece of Frits Barend, is a strong supporter of the multicultural society, but in the meantime she seriously questions the feasibility of such a society. In Vrij Nederland she speaks about a Palestine-commemoration at the Dam in Amsterdam where she saw how protesters hunted down a Jewish boy who was wearing a yarmulke.

It is possibly that people do not only look the other way with anti-Semitism, but that they look the other way across the board. Paul de Leeuw said in an interview that homosexual couples would be wise not to walk hand in hand in certain parts of Amsterdam. But okay, as long as men do not walk hand in hand in Amsterdam and as long as they do not upset others by wearing a yarmulke, then nothing is wrong. Right?

These examples from Amsterdam of anti-Semitism and homophobia date back to 2002 and 2011. Are these incidents or a trend? Are we getting closer to each other or are we drifting further apart in the future?

Even if the examples of anti-Semitism and homophobia were incidents, it remains sad that in a city where Jews and homosexuals were taken away during the war, similar incidents take place years later. It is also annoying that people massively looked the other way in the nineties during the problems with integration. Why? Was it politically incorrect to mention such problems? Are you then no good and are you by definition suspect? It must be possible to mention positive and negative matters pertaining to integration.

A correct registration of problems and an adequate follow up in case of problems (also with incidents during the current sheltering of refugees) seems the right and positive way to promote integration. In that case, the Netherlands will not remain world champion looking the other way and for the current crop of soccer players a world championship is not in the making either. At least, the Dutch have Daphne Schippers.

So what are the lessons here for young country St. Maarten? Are we also looking the other way when it is convenient? There has been an outpouring of sympathy and support for the victims of Tropical Storm Erika in Dominica, so we are not bereft of all human feelings. But how do we handle our domestic issues?

Do we look the other way when it is, for instance, about citizens that suffer from mental illness? When it is about the plight of struggling seniors? When it is about facilities for the handicapped, the underprivileged youth and – not unimportant – about bridging the gap between all the different groups of citizens that together form the population of St. Maarten?

A recent example that we are on the same page as the Dutch in looking the other way is a remark Elton Jones made about the possible appointment of Emil Lee as the minister of public health, social development and labor. That remark did not address Lee’s professional capabilities – or the lack thereof – but his ethnicity.

That is, in our mind, a sad and dangerous approach, especially if you witness the political quagmire that our local politicians manage to create over and over again. It’s time to take a step back and consider the real problems, instead of making them up out of thin air.

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