5 Paradise Lost? Islamophobia, Post-liberalism and the Dismantling of State Multiculturalism in the Netherlands: The Role of Mass and Social Media (2/5) – Social Media and Religious Change

counts, including those based on cultural trauma (Eyerman 2008) and rapid
secularisation/de-pillarisation (van der Veer 2006).
First, how extensive was Dutch institutional multiculturalism? While this is
contested (Vasta 2007; Rath et al. 1999), a fair summary would seem to be that
while it never amounted to the Dutch states funding of a fifth pillar (zuil) for
immigrants to Dutch society (Rath et al. 1999: 59), the 1983 Minorities Memoran-
dum initiated a series of measures which meant that, by the late 1990s, the Neth-
erlands had one of the highest levels of institutional multiculturalism in the
world. These included extension of the same rights to public subsidy as other
identity groups in the areas of broadcasting, education and other aspects of
welfare, including subsidised broadcasting for Muslims in 1985 and Hindus in
1994, Muslim (1988) and later Hindu primary schools, and the involvement of
specified (ethnic and national) minorities in government consultations on a reg-
ular basis, formalised in the Law on the Consultation of Minority Policy (1997). In
employment, the Equal Treatment Act of 1994 established a powerful Equal
Treatment Commission, and in 1998 the Labour Market Stimulation Act provided
for the employment of corporate minority advisors to work with the national
employment service, with the goal of achieving more equal minority representa-
tion across the labour market. Hence the recent reversals represent significant
policy shifts.
So, was Dutch institutional multiculturalism too generous? As indicated
above, Koopmans (2010) points to international comparative data which associ-
ate lower integration with higher levels of welfare provision and institutional
multiculturalism. However, in the Dutch case, trend data points to a convergence
between minority and majority Dutch attainment on several indicators (educa-
tion, labour participation, Dutch language) between the mid-1990s and mid-
2000s, suggesting inc reasing integration (Musterd and Ostendorf 2009: 254).
So it seems difficult to explain increased hostility to institutional multicultural-
ism during this period purely on the grounds of policy failure, as integration (at
least on key measures) actually seems to have been improving.
Second, there are problems with some of the indicators Koopmans uses to
measure integration and se gregation. For example, he uses residential concen-
tration of minority population as a measure of segregation. Yet residential con-
centration alone tells us little about contact with the majority population or par-
ticipation in society. In fact, in the Dutch case, researchers have not found a
negative effect of living or being educated in areas/schools with high minority
concentrations on the social career, educational achievement or self-image of mi-
nority Dutch (Karsten et al. 2006; Gramberg and Ledoux 2005: 19 24). Rather, it
may be argued that high minority concentrations may be helpful, both for minor-
David Herbert
ities seeking resources to aid settlement, integration and cultural support and
for authorities seeking to address disadvantage (Simpson 2005: 665).
But if Dutch institutional multiculturalism does not seem to have failed so
spectacularly in terms of conventional measures of integration as to explain
the attacks on it, might another explanation be that it has undermined public
support by highlighting differences rather than commonalities between minority
and majority populations, as Sniderman and Hagendoorn (2007) contend? Draw-
ing on a telephone survey conducted in 1998, they provide evidence of majority
Dutch negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims, even before 9/11, Fortuyns
anti-Islam campaign (2001 2) and the killing of Theo van Gogh by a Dutch Mus-
lim immigrant in 2004. Thus a majority (53.6 %) agreed or strongly agreed
(30.5 %) with the proposition that Western and Muslim ways of life are irrecon-
cilable, almost 90 % agreed that Muslim men in the Netherlands dominate their
women, and 75.9 % agreed that Muslims in the Netherlands raise their children
in an authoritarian way. In addition, they found that a third of the Dutch pop-
ulation view immigrant groups as criminal, dishonest and violent a negative
image to say the least (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007: 48). This prejudice
is distributed across the political spectrum (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007:
70), while threat to culture is perceived as twice as important as any other single
factor, including individual or societal economic well-being (Sniderman and Ha-
gendoorn 2007: 89). Overall, they conclude that:
Substantial numbers of the majority intensely dislike immigrant minorities. There is noth-
ing subtle about their feelings towards minorities, or the positions they take based on them.
Prejudice, our findings make plain, has the power to induce people to reject publicly the
most fundamental form of equality for minorities not equal outcomes or even equal op-
portunities, but equal rights. (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007:66 7)
But where does this negativity and hostility come from? First, they argue that
negative perceptions of the Other are reciprocated between majority and Mus-
lim minority populations, from which one may hypothesise a negative spiral of
mutual misperceptions (Entman and Rojecki 2001: 120). However, their evidence
on Muslim attitudes is undercut by the poor construction of the questions to
their Muslim sample and does not, in any case, provide much evidence of minor-
ity hostility (Herbert, forthcoming). So how else might majority negativity arise?
An important clue though not an inference drawn by the authors is
found in their study of the volatility of majority opinion. Part of their survey ex-
amined how much support could be generated for extremist policie s if a politi-
cian attempted to mobilize support for a policy beyond the pale, using the hypo-
thetical example of a legally segregated school in which majority and minority
children were forbidden to sit together (Herbert, forthcoming: 107). The research
5 Paradise Lost?
question was, How much support can be won for a policy [.] by appealing to
authority? (Herbert, forthcoming: 108). The hypothesis was that those who value
social conformity more highly would be more likely to change their mind under
some kind of appeal to authority than those with low social conformity scores.
They found that while appeals to authority produced a 4 % ch ange for low social
conformists, this rose to 18 % for high conformists. This finding is significant for
two reasons. First, it suggests that public opinion can be manipulated by chang-
ing the information available thus highlighting the role of the media in forming
public opinion. Second, it sheds light on how populist figures, such as Fortuyn
and Wilders, might influence public opinion through rhetorical appeals to au-
thority and be especia lly influential amongst certain segments of the population.
However, it is not only high social conformists who are subject to media in-
fluence. Sniderman and Hagendoorn (2007) also identify a body of opinion
amongst their respondents as critical liberal. This is a politically significant
group because they are relatively affluent and politically engaged, hence likely
to be disproportionately influential in political agenda setting, as compared
with those who simply dislike Muslims and immigrants and who tend to be
poor and politically marginal. Critical liberals express no global hostility to
Muslims as such, but object to (what they perceive to be) Muslim norms. In
spite of these objections, they tend to support the right of Muslims to follow
their own way of life in the Netherlands; there is more than a 90 % chance
that they will do so, almost the same as among those who do not object to Mus-
lim norms (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007: 38 9). Their differentiation be-
tween Muslims (no hostility) and their practices (disapproval) is quite robust
and holds up even under experimental conditions where interviewer reaction
is controlled for (so they tend to be low social conformists) (Sniderman and Ha-
gendoorn 2007: 35). However, compared with those with no objection to Muslim
norms, critical liberals are more than twice as likely to think that immigration
should be made more difficult (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007: 31), four
times as likely to regard Muslim immigrants as politically untrustworthy (Sni-
derman and Hagendoorn 2007: 41) and twice as likely to support assimilation,
with a more than a 50 % chance that they will do so (Sniderman and Hagen-
doorn 2007: 38).
The authors interpretation of these findings is that this group is basically
tolerant and would be natural supporters of a culturally diverse society, if it
were not for the undue attention drawn to cultural differences by a multicultural
ideology which insists on fundamental differences between majority and minor-
ity (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007: 42). But is this the most likely explana-
tion? First, it is difficult to see how multicultural policies could have sufficient
practical impact on the lives of critical liberals to make them question the polit-
David Herbert
ical loyalty of Muslims or wish to seek to restrict their immigration. Given their
residential locations, occupations and social class profiles, critical liberals and
Moroccan and Turkish immigr ants are unlikely to be in any regular contact,
let alone enough to discuss politics or observe domestic gender differentiation.
Indeed, one of the benefits of residential segregation research has been to reveal
just how isolated white groups, especially middle classes, are in empirically mul-
ticultural societies (Simpson 2005: 666). Therefore, it is important to attend to
the mediating processes through which groups opinions are formed.
However, before turning to the media directly, other explanations of Dutch
cultural wars require review. Using a theory of cultural trauma derived from
the recent work of Jeffrey Alexander, Ron Eyerman argues that to gain a deep
understanding of reactions to the murder of van Gogh one has to grasp the emo-
tional effects of significant events in Dutch history, at least since the Second
World War (2008: 167). Dutch identity has been constructed, he argues, from
narratives that reflect the complex legacy of that conflict (suffering, resistance,
collaboration, loss of most of the Jewish population), the loss of colonial posses-
sions and forced repatriation of Dutch civilians, pride in economic recovery and
success, and the failure of Dutch UN peacekeepers to protect the Muslim popu-
lation of Srebrenica in 1994. He contends that the significance of these events is
best understood through this theory of cultural trauma, defined as a tear in the
fabric of the social order precipitated by a shocking occurrence that sets up a
meaning struggle that demands repar ation (2008: 163). Van Goghs murder by
a Dutch Moroccan Muslim can thus be read as another event in this historical
series, finding supporting evidence in Fortuyn and van Goghs comparison of
Islam with fascism.
Eyermans account is useful in highlighting the importance of an analysis of
Dutch identity in understanding the public response to the traumas of the early
noughties, but there are at least two critical problems with his argument. One is
timing: as Sniderman and Hagenhoorn (2007) show, the Dutch public showed
widespread suspicion and dislike of Muslims at least as far back as 1998, before
these traumatic events. The second is selectivity: he presents a highly selective
account of the formation of Dutch identity. In particular, while the traumatic
loss of colonies is mentioned, the legacy of specifically Dutch and more gener-
ally European colonialism for Dutch perceptions of Muslims is not. Neither is
the very dramatic change in Dutch public at titudes toward gender roles and sex-
uality since the 1960s, nor the similarly dramatic decline in church attendance
and the public influence of Christian religion, whether Catholic or Protestant,
from the same date.
5 Paradise Lost?
Fortunately, each of these factors has been taken up by van der Veer (2006).
Noting that most discussions in the Netherlands [] have been about the nature
of Islam and global terrorism, he argues rather that:
What needs to be explained is the aggression of the Dutch against a Muslim minority that
forms some 7 percent of the Dutch population and is by and large a socially and culturally
marginal group (van der Veer 2006: 112).
He locates the origins of this aggression in the legacy of the 1960s, a turning
point in Dutch culture, during which Holland [sic] was transformed from a
highly religious to a highly secular society (van der Veer 2006: 118). The verzuil-
ing system of tightly integra ted pillars ̶ when I grew up during the 1950s and
1960s, I was raised as a Protestant, and we had our own church, political
party, sports teams, schools, shops and welfare organisation (van der Veer
2006: 118) ̶ fell apart. He identifies the key factors in this collapse as the sexual
revolution, the student revolt, and the rise to power of postwar babyboomers
(van der Veer 2006: 118). Seen in this context, the Dutch problem with socially
conservative Muslim immigrants, with their restrictions on young people, head-
scarves, demands for prayer rooms and regular mosque attendance, is that:
Muslims stand for theft of enjoyment. Their strict sexual morals remind the Dutch too much
of what they have so recently left behind. There is indeed very little difference between
strict Christian ideas about sexuality and enjoyment and strict Muslim ideas about these
matters (van der Veer 2006: 119).
Mepschen et al. (2010) add another layer to this cultural analysis by arguing that
Dutch gay politics ceased to be queer (that is, oppositional) when Dutch homo-
sexuals achieved equal civil rights in the 1980s; as a result, Dutch gay society
has been largely assimilated within Dutch heteronormativity, enabling the mo-
bilisation of Dutch gay identity in the cultural othering of non-European immi-
grants, especially Muslims, in a process they describe as the instrumentalisation
of gay rights:
In order to criticize Muslims as backwards and as enemies of European culture, gay rights
are now heralded as if they have been the foundation of European culture for centuries
(Mepschen et al. 2010: 965).
So is the reason for widespread Dutch aversion to Islam and Muslim culture its
social conservatism, which reminds the Dutch of their recent, religious and so-
cially conservative past? The World Values Survey would seem to provide
some support for at this contention.
David Herbert