Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Faith and Death: The Dutch

Buruma, who was born in the Netherlands in 1951 is more interested in the prejudices revealed and the doubts cast on the workability of what only 10 years ago was considered Europe's most easygoing society.

The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga called his countrymen a "satisfied" people, an observation Buruma quotes more than once. But where Huizinga stressed bourgeois virtues like independence and self-regualtion, Buruma is more attentive to the bourgeois vices of complacency and smugness. The Netherlands has always had a class of so-called regenten, he explains, prominent citizens seen either as moral exemplars or as jumped-up know-it-alls.

In colonial times, they were captains of trade. For much of the 20th century they were Protestant, Catholic and socialist leaders. Since the 1960's, the regenten have been multiculturalists, proponents of the European Union and guardians of an official memory of World War 2, the horror and shame of which, writes Buruma, still hang over Dutch life "like a toxic clound." The poplulist Pim Fortuyn, assassinated in 2002, derided Dutch opinion leaders as the "left-wing church."

Buruma deplores this "offensiveness projected as a sign of sincerity, the venting of rage as a mark of moral honesty," and he considers it very Dutch.

Certain Muslim immigrants and their Dutch-born children- who, together, make up about a million of the Netherlands" 16 million people-did not get it. Muslim teenagers celebrated on the streets in the city of Ede on Sept. 11, 2001. In 2003 another gorup played soccer with wreaths laid for the Dutch war dead. It was not just the clulture they discomfited but the counterculure too.

Bouyeri, known to his friends as "Mo, strikes Buruma as less a revolutionary than a "confused and very resentful youny man," distinguished only by his mind-boggling sense of entitlement.

Bouyeri had been convicted of slashing a policeman's neck with a knife-he got a 12 week sentence. The largesse and leniency of European governments are a temptation, to "milk the state."

Like ex-Communists, they are trying to warn the liberal West that its enemy is in deadly earnest, even though they reckon that their potential allies have fallen "so deeply into the pit of moral decadence that they could never be counted on in the war against the forces of darkness."

The many freedoms we take for granted are not a triumph over decadence but another name for it.

excerpts from Faith and Death, NY Times Book Review, 9/10/2006. Christopher Caldwell