Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

On Jane Kramer's "The Dutch Model"

Jane Kramer wrote a piece in The New Yorker on April 3 called "The Dutch Model," with the subtitle "Multiculturalism and Muslim Immigrants."
Having lived in the Netherlands for 23 years, and as the holder of a Dutch passport, I could not help but read this article with slightly more concentration than I’d have had if Jane Kramer had written about Albania. (Although Albania is a fascinating country and I say this without irony. I’d love to come back after death as an Albanian author.)
Jane Kramer’s article is well-informed, filled with the usual suspects and contains nothing new for anybody who has followed the stories about immigrants in the Netherlands or the rest of Europe.
Some of her more general assertions seemed to me awkward, such as, “The West is still under attack for being itself-–secular, democratic and libertarian--but the fatwas no longer arrive from the mosques of Qum of Cairo.” Well, I’m not completely sure that the West is under attack, and more importantly, I’m afraid that many people in the West itself happen to disagree with Jane Kramer’s definition of the West. Quite a few politicians in the US, and in Europe for that matter, are not so happy about the secular and libertarian character of society.
Another assertion by her is that “The Dutch are not confrontational.” Maybe not, but are the Germans confrontational (post '45)? I would also say that the Americans are not confrontational. At least, the New Yorkers I have met aren't. Unless you consider the question, “What do you do for a living?” confrontational. (Some people from the UK would.)
One more of Kramer’s assertions: “What’s clear today, seventeen months after van Gogh’s gruesome death, is that the Dutch are neither getting on with it nor living together very well.” Maybe, but when are people living together very well? It depends, of course, on the person to whom you're speaking, but I believe that daily traffic jams are of greater concern to most Dutchmen than the murder of Van Gogh.
Which is not to say that Jane Kramer is not a fine journalist. She is. Although she never bothers to write a sentence that keeps the reader awake. That’s as confrontational as it gets today.
Yes, we are going to witness some explosions in the next decade or so. I’m afraid these explosions won’t take place in the Netherlands. (A pity for Dutch literature.) But before one declares, “We are under attack,” let’s define what we mean by attack, and more importantly, who exactly are “we”?