Connect to share and comment

A Dutch identity crisis?

While support for anti-immigrant parties grows, young minorities celebrate their nationality.

THE HAGUE — An artistic satire of The Netherlands hanging at European Council headquarters shows a country that has finally lost its battle with the North Sea. The only landmarks to survive the waves are a tightly packed jumble of minarets.

The depiction resonates with the Dutch, who are turning to anti-immigration politicians in increasing numbers as they worry that the country’s identity is being submerged by immigrants and Islam.

But the annual Queen’s Day celebration — when hordes of Dutch head into the streets to party, dressed up in the colors of the royal House of Orange — does not show evidence of an identity crisis, rather a society rejoicing in its diversity.

This year’s holiday on April 30 was marred when an unemployed security guard drove into the crowd cheering Queen Beatrix in the city of Apeldoorn, killing himself and six others. Before the tragedy, the festivities in the country’s big cities gave an indication of the multicultural society that the Netherlands has become.

Caribbean and Asian kids in orange baseball caps and Stetsons mingled with the crowds bopping to live music from outdoor stages around The Hague. An orange-clad North African dancer entertained passers-by on a street lined with Chinese, Indonesian, Portuguese and Japanese restaurants while a few blocks away, a trio of blond grade-school musicians played Bach outside the centuries-old parliament building.

“This is normal. We are living in the Netherlands, so should be expressing the same feelings as the Dutch,” says Ali Bis, chatting outside a Turkish cafe decked in orange and the red-white-and-blue colors of the Dutch flag.

But recent surveys show the Party for Freedom, or PVV, has emerged as the kingdom’s most popular party ahead of June’s elections for the European Parliament. Support has grown since PVV leader Geert Wilders was expelled from Britain as a threat to public security, and a Dutch court launched legal action against him for inciting hatred and discrimination.

A distinctive figure with a shock of platinum blond hair, Wilders is best known for his movie “Fitna,” which denounces the Koran as a “Fascist book.”

Wilders contends that Islam is not a religion but a dangerous “totalitarian ideology.” His campaign has built on concern over crime among the youth from immigrant neighborhoods and fears of Islamic extremism. Those fears have grown after the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 by a Dutch-Moroccan angered by a movie about women in Muslim society.

There are almost a million Muslims in the Netherlands, a nation of 16 million. Most are of Moroccan or Turkish origin — the descendants of workers who arrived during the 1960s and 1970s.