Hidden layers: ulterior motives for contributing to UN peacekeeping missions

Memorial for the killed Belgian UNAMIR soldiers, Kigali (Rwanda) - by JA ALT, via Wikimedia Commons
Memorial for the killed Belgian UNAMIR soldiers, Kigali (Rwanda) - by JA ALT, via Wikimedia Commons

Memorial for the killed Belgian UNAMIR soldiers, Kigali (Rwanda) – by JA ALT, via Wikimedia Commons

 

By Iona Mulder – 

 

While UN peacekeeping missions have the intention and mandate to bring peace and stability, they come with a cost. Since the first mission in 1948, 3.599 UN-soldiers have died. Certain countries share the biggest losses in peacekeeping soldiers under UN flag: 137 soldiers from Ghana lost their life during a mission, 163 Indian nationals, 122 Canadian, 150 soldiers from Nigeria, 142 from Pakistan, 114 Ethiopian soldiers of which 29 in a relatively recent mission in Darfur, and this list is extensive. What motivates states to send their troops to foreign places to solve conflicts that are not their own? After the members of the Security Council decided to establish a peace mission, the challenge begins to bring together sufficient troops to enable the mission. As the UN does not have its own army, this responsibility falls on the shoulders of its member states. The question whether or not to contribute troops will lead its own political life in every member state country. A good example is the debate in the Netherlands in 2013 on the contribution to the UN mission in Mali. Some parties were against the mission; the SP and PvdSD were of the opinion that the aim of the mission was too ambitious, the PVV stated that it was the responsibility of ‘the Muslim countries’ to control the extremists in the north of Mali.

 

It seems to be expected that those states that are motivated to contribute troops are states that pioneer in the protection of human rights and who are not preoccupied with conflict within their own borders. However, over the last two decades, the opposite seems to be the case, as countries in Africa and Asia were the largest contributors of troops (more specifically Nigeria, Rwanda, and Ethiopia; Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan). These countries are not particularly known for their internal stability, now and in the past, or for their good human rights records. Why, then, do these nations make such effort to bring peace and stability elsewhere?

 

What these countries have in common is that they have little political power within the UN, which is mainly in the hands of the permanent members. Moreover, they share an ambition to expand their political influence in the UN and international politics in general. They believe that delivering troops to the peace keeping mission will develop their political network, creating a political credit that will result in more inclusive politics within the UN. Another motivation for these states to participate is that the UN provides a sum of money to cover the expenses of the missions, which will help to upgrade their army through the received training, the materials and salary. Besides these shared motivations, every government has its own incentive to contribute troops based on the political situation at national level.

 

Rwanda is one of the countries which in recent years contributed a relative amount of troops to UN missions. I will use Rwanda as an example to show how political situations at the national level can motivate the state to contribute to international peacekeeping missions. In 1994, Rwanda itself was subject of a peacekeeping mission to avoid escalation of violence between Hutu and Tutsi: the mission became one of the biggest failures in the history of UN peacekeeping operations. After the killing of ten Belgium blue helmets by Hutu militia, most of the contributing countries decided to withdraw their troops, leaving the Rwandan people to their fate. Between April and July 1994 an estimated of 800.000 people, mainly Tutsi, were killed. Finally, an army composed of Tutsi refugees, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), invaded Rwanda from Uganda, took over power and put a stop to the mass killing.

 

Since 2004 Rwanda has become one of biggest providers of troops to the UN and the AU (African Union). On their first mission, the 150 Rwandese soldiers received much respect as they were well trained, disciplined, and there is a broad inclusion of woman within their army. Within Rwanda, they are presented as national pride. During my research on how the current Rwandan government is legitimatizing its power, I found that the contribution of troops to the UN is an essential element of the government’s policy. The current government mainly consist of those associated with the RPF, its power in the country is legitimized by the effort to stop the genocide and create a climate of stability and security. At the international level, this legitimization is strengthened by the guilt of international failure to stop the genocide, which puts the RPF on a higher moral level than the international community. Many scholars have called this type of power legitimization “genocide credit”.

 

This “genocide credit” is essential for the Rwandan government for two reasons. First of all, it has made Rwanda a “donor darling”. The relatively rapid recovery of the country after the genocide and continuing economic growth has been made possible due to vast sums of donor money that were pumped in the reconstruction of the country. Now, twenty-two years after the genocide, around half of Rwanda’s national budget is still generated by donors. Much of Rwanda’s national stability is therefore dependent on the continuity of this flow of donor money. Secondly, another effect of this genocide credit is that for many years after the genocide, it was seen as politically incorrect to critically examine the Rwandan government’s policy. As a result, the international community has overlooked or ignored the fact that the Rwandan government’s policy is not as pretty as it seems at first sight.

 

A decade after the genocide the “genocide credit” started to crumble, making space for international criticism on the Rwandan government. More and more foreign countries were criticizing Rwanda for not respecting democratic values and human rights. Moreover, as many countries point out, is that the government’s reconciliation program is resulting in censorship and social inequality. It is here that the peacekeeping missions come into the picture. The Rwandan government needed to revitalize the “genocide credit” by reconfirming its high morale. The peace keeping missions provide the perfect opportunity to do so; contributing to peace and security in the rest of the world, stop genocide from happening in other countries, and help Africa to solve its own in problems. The contribution to the UN peacekeeping missions is thus a way to repaint a positive picture to the world and distract the international community from the negative elements of its national policy. It can be stated that the Rwandan government is abusing the peacekeeping mission to restore its power.

 

The question that remains: is practicing politics by means of UN peacekeeping missions by definition a bad thing? I am of the opinion it is not, only if the motivations of the contributing countries contradict the aims of the peacekeeping missions itself. More importantly, the contribution to peacekeeping missions by relatively smaller and less influential countries can provide a tool for nations to develop political power to oppose the power of the permanent member of the UN – making the UN more inclusive and democratic. The positive contribution of these countries should not be uncritically accepted as a reflection of their national politics, as there is more to it than good intentions. The case of Rwanda is the perfect example.

 

Stuck: mental health and future perspectives of undocumented refugees & migrants in the Netherlands

Photo: Bas Baltus
Photo: Bas Baltus

Photo: Bas Baltus, ASKV/Steunpunt Vluchtelingen, Amsterdam

 

By Arja Oomkens -

 

“Before I was afraid to die, now I am afraid to go crazy.” 

 

During the Basic Rights Festival for undocumented refugees and other migrants I hosted a workshop about the right to education. Many people who fled their country of origin and did not (yet) receive a residence permit, joined in with expectations of learning more about their rights. Because in practice the right to education is difficult to access, we focused instead on their obstacles and possibilities in the Netherlands. One young woman, I will call her Igna, who has been here for more than 6 years, summed up the feeling of many people around the table: “We have been here for years, feeling frustrated because we can do nothing with our talents, so we stay in bed, anxious for what the future holds for us.”

 

In the Netherlands, tens of thousands undocumented refugees and other migrants are currently stuck in similar situations as Igna, without a clear future perspective. Among them are people whose residence permit has expired, refused asylum-seekers, victims of human trafficking who are afraid to press charges, or stateless people who cannot return to their country of origin. They have either lost or have not received a residence permit. Theoretically speaking, these people have three options: obtain a residence permit; return to the country of origin; or migrate to another country. In practice, though, many people remain undocumented, and, unable to work or study, become increasingly frustrated, anxious, and stuck.

 

This stuckness, as Igna lamented, often increases the occurrence of stress, anxiety, and depression, which is complicated by the often already traumatic pasts many undocumented people face. In an interview, the Dutch psychiatrist Rembrant Aarts, who works with undocumented people, points out that:

 

“Psychiatric complications impede on the ability of people to make clear choices about the future, such as a decision to start a new asylum procedure, to return to the country of origin or to migrate to another country.”

 

Another study by Faiza Siddiqui, Ulf Lindblad and Louise Bennet indicates that these symptoms actively rise among refugees and migrants due to economic insecurity and physical inactivity. This study is relevant for the Netherlands, because a specific Dutch law (the 1998 Koppelingswet) inhibits undocumented people from doing any kind of (volunteer-) work, and restricts access to education for anyone over eighteen. With this law, the government tried to discourage undocumented people from staying illegally in the Netherlands. In practice, the effect is contradictory to the purposes of the government, since most undocumented people remain stuck precisely because they cannot do anything, instead of leaving because they cannot do anything. Due to insecurity and inactivity, they face increased anxiety and stress, which obstruct the ability to think constructively about their future options, prompting many to ‘stay in bed’ as Igna put it.

 

Recently, research by Amnesty International and Stichting LOS (May 2017) into the lives of undocumented people in the Netherlands sought to address the socio-psychological issues around the lack of security and activity. Sabine Koppes points out that the specific conditions in The Netherlands, in the form of having nowhere to go and having nothing to do, leads to many different forms of stress and mental health problems. Koppes interviewed 84 refugees and migrants about their experience of being undocumented in the Netherlands. The quoted reactions by the interviewees form vivid examples of the hardship of undocumented existence:

 

“Boredom, having no idea about future living conditions, makes you crazy.”

 

The human dignity and future perspective of undocumented people in the Netherlands is closely linked to the trauma, stress, and anxiety they experience. Mental health issues that arise because of inactivity cannot be left unaddressed. Providing basic shelter simply is not enough, if the pressing issue of mental health because of inactivity looms ever larger.

 

ASKV/Refugee support focuses on activation through education (based on personal talents) and entrepreneurial skill-development for undocumented people. There are a variety of courses to follow, such as furniture building, web-design, and hairdressing. As a project coordinator, I have experienced several attitudinal and behavioral changes among participants. For example, one student found renewed energy to start a new legal procedure for a residence permit, and another felt renewed self-confidence to start his own barber shop in his country of origin. If a lack of access to security and physical activities leads to anxiety, depression, and a general inability to think about the future, activation through education and entrepreneurial skill-development can increase the ability to consider the future and to get a grip on daily life.

 

It is clear that the official prohibition on work and education for people over eighteen does not support return, but creates a situation in which undocumented people become stuck – exhausted by the idea that the future is unsafe and insecure. To protect human dignity, and to truly provide perspective for those who are stuck, like Igna and so many others in the Netherlands, their ability to actively think for themselves about their own future must be the leading principle.

 

 

 

 

Longing for a Lost Ideal: The Historic Struggle for Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

Dome of the Rock

 

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock, April 2017. Picture by Laurien Vastenhout

 

By Laurien Vastenhout

 

During last month’s Pesach, tensions raised in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. Religious Jews had sacrificed a lamb close to the Temple Mount, an area administered by a Muslim religious trust. A few weeks before, the Israeli High Court had upheld the police decision to block a Passover reenactment on the archeological site close to the Temple Mount. Instead, the group was allowed to have the ceremony at the heart of the Jewish Quarter, outside the Hurva Synagogue, only a few hundred meters way from the Temple Mount. Despite some setbacks– the electricity went out for more than two hours, no famous rabbis attended, and the priests ‘ran out’ of blood from the lamb even before they reached the specially prepared vessels – the activists still rejoiced. This was the first time the reenactment had taken place so close to the Temple Mount. At the end of the same month during Yom HaShoah. Jewish Temple Mount activists hung a protest placard at the entrance to the Temple Mount, protesting against its closure to Jews on Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day. This article examines why the Temple Mount continues to be a recurring source for controversy and struggle, both to Jews and Muslims.

 

Wandering around the area of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, one can find Jews who are collecting money for ‘the reconstruction of the Temple’. After they have donated money, tourists receive a small red bracelet in return. However, it seems as if many of these tourists do now know that a reconstruction of the Temple unequivocally means that the Dome of the Rock, the Islamic shrine with its characteristic golden cupola, has to be removed first. The Dome of the Rock dates from the 7th century when Caliph Abd al-Malik erected the glorious octagonal building (by then not yet capped by the golden dome). The building is said to house the rock on which Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice. Also, this was the place where the prophet Mohammed rose from the earth on a winged steed to meet Abraham, Moses and Jesus in heaven. The rock, as the story goes, wanted to follow, but as Mohammed pushed it back to earth, he left a footprint on it which is still to be seen today.

 

The construction of the Islamic shrine followed centuries of power struggles within the city between, amongst others, Christians, Romans, Jews and Ottoman Muslims. On the exact same place, Herod’s Temple had been standing centuries before, which in turn had replaced the First Temple, Salomon’s Temple. Salomon’s Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. In 70 C.E. Herod’s ‘second’ Temple*, by then the largest and most awe-inspiring religious monument in the world – glittering with gold and shining white stone –, was destroyed by Titus, the Roman Supreme Military Commander. After two destructions, the Temple would never be resurrected again. To Jews, similar to Muslims, the site is a Holy place. Inside the first Temple, in Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant was located, constructed during the Israelites’ wandering in the Sinaï desert and an important symbol of the Jewish faith. The Ark symbolises the only physical manifestation of God on earth as its construction had been commanded by God to Moses. Although the contents of the Ark have been debated, there is a general consensus that it contained the tablets with the Ten Commandments. To Jews, the Temple is therefore much more than just a building. As a result, the last destruction in 70 C.E. has incited an unprecedented sense of longing and feeling of religious loss.

 

The destruction of the last Temple has become a symbol of human search for a lost ideal. The rituals that have taken place at this site are recorded in an extraordinary level of detail and show the religious importance and centrality of the site. No wonder that the capture of Jerusalem during the Six-Day-War in 1967 and the subsequent capture of the Temple Mount by the Israelis aroused feelings of excitement. Up until then, the site had been ‘lost’ to the Jews. At the end of this war, Israeli Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan proclaimed that the Israeli government wanted to preserve religious freedom for all faiths in Jerusalem, handing over administrative control of the Temple Mount compound to the Jordanian Waqf – a Jordanian appointed Islamic body – while the overall security of the area was maintained by Israel. Jews could visit the Temple Mount, but were not allowed to have religious services at the site as this is now considered a prayer site for Muslims. This is still the reality today. It should be noted here that Orthodox Jews are not allowed enter the site until the Messias comes **. This is why the Rabbi has forbidden them to enter the site, as a sign at the entrance to the Mount indicates. This clearly illustrates the different ways in which the Temple Mount is approached by various Jewish groups in Israeli society.

 

Throughout history, the site has incited actions that experts refer to as ‘the Jerusalem Syndrom’ – a religious madness which comes to a head in the shadow of the Temple Mount. In 1969, a non-Jewish Australian tourist set fire to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, situated on the Temple Mount, claiming he was ‘the Lord’s Missionary’. In 1982, an Israeli soldier went on a shooting rampage in the Al-Aqsa mosque because he hoped to become King of the Jews by liberating the spot. The recent actions can be seen in this light as well – extremist groups try to enlarge their authority on the site and feel it is their right to use the site as a place of religious enactment and remembrance. Despite, or because of, their perseverance, rules at the Temple Mount are strict and seem to have become even stricter over the past years – one is not allowed to bring any religious objects to the site, nor to pray on the Temple Mount.

 

The longing for the lost Temple has resulted in the establishment of Talmud Schools, where scholars are being trained in the rituals of priesthood in case a new Temple is built. Some Rabbis also claim they know the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant which was located in the First Temple until its destruction. Although organisations such as the “Jerusalem Temple Foundation” or “the Temple Institute” have been in a constant battle with the state of Israel, the recent acquittal of the youngsters who protested at the closure of the site during Yom Hashoah, might indicate that government policies are shifting.

 

Without doubt, the Temple mount is a symbol that goes to the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Over the past years, the Israeli government has at times closed the entrance to the Temple Mount, claiming that the atmosphere was too tense. In doing so, they withheld Arabs to pray at the site which, in turn, led to serious political tensions and protests. Far more than a physical site, the Temple Mount, on which the Temple itself is ironically absent, has become a spiritual and political site, loaded with meaning. It is a monument of the imagination for the Jews and a the oldest existing religious Islamic monument which is, after Mecca and Medina, the third important religious site to Muslims.

 

*  Depending on whether your count Zerubbabel’s Temple a building in its own right. In 538 BC, Zerubbabel, the leader of the tribe of Judah, was part of the first wave of Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem. He immediately began with the rebuilding of the lost Temple of Solomon. However, he had much fewer resources.  There was a group of Jews in Jerusalem who were rather disappointed with the Temple. To their minds, it did not even begin to compare with the splendor of Solomon’s temple.

** Religious Jews do not consider Jesus as the Messias and are still waiting for the coming of the Messias.

Film Review: A Good Wife – The Family Life of a War Criminal

Film poster to A Good Wife (Dobra Zena)

 

Film poster to A Good Wife (Dobra Zena)

Film poster to A Good Wife (Dobra Zena)


By Koen Kluessien and Marieke Zoodsma 

 

Perhaps one of the most disturbing (moving) images from the wars in the former Yugoslavia are those shot on the so-called Scorpion Tape. The tape is named after the paramilitary unit that produced the video, Škorpioni – who curiously named themselves after their favorite weapon, the Škorpion vz. 61 machine pistol. The Scorpions, founded in 1991, were a Serbian nationalist paramilitary group consisting of several hundred armed groups who were involved in multiple combat operations during the wars. The full-length 2-hour tape depicts the activities of the unit between 1994 and 1995, with the Trnovo murders in July 1995 as its disturbing climax. It shows how members of the unit transport six Bosniak men who were captured after the fall of Srebrenica, physically and mentally abuse them, and finally execute them. In Serbia, where a culture of denial about (Serbia’s involvement in) the war crimes is widespread, the video caused huge commotion after it was made public in 2005 during the trial of Slobodan Milošević, leading to several arrests of those Scorpion members captured on the tape.


So, one might ask, who kept the tape for all these years? Who knew about its existence and why did that person come forward with it after ten years? A Good Wife (Dobra Zena)
, one of the featured films of the Movies that Matter Film Festival 2016 and now On Tour, questions such as these are cleverly intertwined in the storyline. The film shows the family life of one of the members of the Scorpion unit, several years after the war. It is reminiscent of the ordinary life of a mobster that is told in the HBO series The Sopranos, in which the story focuses on the criminal activity of mafioso Tony Soprano but primarily aims to depict the everyday life of his family. This is also the aim of A Good Wife: instead of outlining the life of Serbian paramilitary Vlado (who even has an uncanny resemblance to Tony Soprano: fat, slightly balding, and with an appearance that breathes authority) it focuses on his wife Milena. The film asks the question what the family members of a paramilitary – or a mobster for that matter – know, and more importantly, want to know.


According to sociologist Stanley Cohen, this paradox of both knowing and not-knowing lies at the heart of the concept of denial (read here Marieke’s article on current day examples of denial and Koen’s article on genocide denial by Serbian politicians). Denial is intrinsically partial as some information is always registered. What is important is what one does with that information. Milena knows her husband was in the military during the war and we see her watching the news about the aftermath of the mass atrocities committed by Serbian units. However, she does not ask him any questions, not even when she sees him getting heavily agitated after watching a human rights activist comment on the war crimes on the television. She has a suspicion but does not have an “enquiring mind”, as Stanley Cohen would call it.


Alienation and demonization are often heard reactions to distance oneself from the cruel actions of perpetrators of mass atrocities. It is easier to see perpetrators of mass violence as intrinsically evil people. They can thereby remain the so-called “Other”; something that stands so far from us that we do not truly have to understand it. A Good Wife excellently depicts the opposite. It provides the audience with a unique insight into the ordinary life of a war criminal, when the violence is over and life turns back to “normal”. Yes, Vlado is easily annoyed, has a bad relationship with his eldest (progressive) daughter, and is still an overt believer of the nationalist Serbian cause – but furthermore comes across as the average husband. We see him buying jewelry for Milena’s birthday, sitting at the head of the dinner table, and going out together with friends. As the film progresses, however, coping techniques cannot hold back his lingering trauma and it starts to affect his family life.


The key scene in the storyline of A Good Wife is the moment when Milena finds a copy of the Scorpion tape in one of her husband’s drawers. Unaware of what the tape actually contains, she turns it on and sees her husband and his comrades commit the above-described crimes. Heavily upset she turns it off. The leading question of the film remains, now that she cannot deny the involvement of her husband in these crimes, what will she do with the evidence?

 

The actual Scorpion tape was found by Nataša Kandić, a human rights activist from Belgrade, who tracked down one of the Scorpion members that was in possession of the tape. There had been twenty copies, but when Slobodan Medić Boca (the commander of the Scorpions) realized that the images could be used against him, he ordered the destruction of the footage. However, one Scorpion who was not present at the executions and did not have good relations with his former comrades made an extra copy and hid it in Bosnia. On the same day, the tape was sent to the Special Prosecutor for War Crimes in Belgrade and to the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTY. When the video was played in Serbia, it was the first time Serbia was confronted with a crime committed by Serb forces in Bosnia.

 

Serbian politicians later acknowledged the crime. At that point it seemed like the Serbian “state of denial” was about to change and Serbians would be ready to deal with their past. Indeed, many people still give credit to the tape for “sending shockwaves through society”. Unfortunately, the truth is slightly different. Quickly the discourse changed back to usual statements showing the unwillingness to confront the past. The taped killings were relativized by pointing out crimes committed against Serbs that were still unpunished. When asked why the video had not had more effect, Dejan Anastasijević, a journalist for the newspaper Vreme, responded: “Public opinion [has been] cemented by now – it’s been 10 years. All I can say is that the capability of the human mind of refusing to face unpleasant facts keeps on amazing me”.

 

A Good Wife depicts the family life of a war criminal as if they were your neighbors. Hopefully, it will also prove to be not only a thought provoking film filled with well-written symbolism and moving actors but also a step forward in taking down the wall of denial in Serbia.

 

 

Elections in the Netherlands: what the outcome of the Dutch Elections says about the universality of human rights

Demonstration for the rights of refugees in Lausanne, France on 15 September 2015  (cc-by-nc-nd)
Demonstration for the rights of refugees in France on 15 September 2015  (cc-by-nc-nd)

Demonstration for the rights of refugees in France on 15 September 2015 (cc-by-nc-nd)

 

By Arja Oomkens -

 

“Will you consider the rights of children when you vote this week?”

- “Sure! Who are you going to vote for?”

“I don’t have a residence permit, so I’m not allowed to vote.

- “Really, how come? Your Dutch is perfect!”

 

Last week, Anood (22) campaigned for children’s rights before the final debate on the Dutch parliamentary elections in The Hague. Her goal was to encourage young adults to go and vote, and for them to consider their impact on the protection of human rights. She described to passersby her daily reality of feeling Dutch while living in fear of being sent back to Iraq – a country that she has no connection with, because she grew up in the Netherlands. She hoped to engage youngsters to think about the significance of their vote: “Especially during elections, citizens cannot avert their eyes. Every vote makes a difference.”

 

In 2008, Anood fled with her family from Iraq to the Netherlands. Nine years later, she has a high school degree and studies biology in The Netherlands, speaks fluent Dutch, and has built up a large network of friends. And yet, every day Anood wakes up with the possibility of being sent back to Iraq. How is it possible that she still has no residence permit?

 

In 2012, the newly elected members of parliament were posed similar questions. This resulted in arrangements being made for a so-called Child Pardon Act. The aim of this act was to grant residency to children who had resided in the Netherlands for at least five years. For the first months of 2013, this policy worked reasonably effectively. But after May 2013, the criteria became so strict that hitherto 95% of children’s applications have been rejected.

 

The main reason for rejection is the fact that the legal status of children depends on the actions (or inactions) of their parents or guardians. For example, children who apply for the Child Pardon Act are rejected if their parents do not “cooperate” with the authorities by leaving the Netherlands. When parents are awaiting appeal in their own asylum-procedure, they are expected to leave the Netherlands during this period, and take their children with them. For this reason, the Child Pardon Act did not offer a solution to Anood, and more than thousand other children. These children are punished based on the unreasonable criteria their parents have to fulfill.

 

The Child Pardon Act is an illustrative example of the overly strict and inadequate immigration law and policy in the Netherlands. Being too restrictive, it unfairly excludes children who have resided in the Netherlands for over five years, leaving them with no clear future perspective.

 

It also illustrates how political (and public) support for the rights of refugees, and in effect human rights, has eroded over the past few years in the Netherlands. The outcome of last week’s elections confirms this. Despite Anood’s plea, the results show that the majority of Dutch citizens did not vote for the universality of human rights. For various reasons, many Dutch citizens see their own rights eroding and are inclined to vote for right wing parties that promise their protection. While Prime Minister Mark Rutte made some highly controversial statements during his election campaign, his political party still became the largest in parliament. In his most widespread election-statement, a letter to “all Dutch citizens,” Rutte stated: people “who come to our country […] misuse our freedom and spoil everything” must either “behave normally, or go away.”

 

This normalization of the use of discriminatory language is a cause for concern. By alluding to immigrants in his election-statement, Prime Minister Rutte generalizes all immigrants as belonging to the same group, blaming them for all sorts of disturbances in Dutch society. First of all, from a legal perspective, this is problematic since the protection of human dignity and non-discrimination are considered universal and fundamental in European and international law, whereas Rutte implies that such rights are rather relative. Second, the normalization of such discriminatory language has great implications on a societal level, as it constructs and reinforces a social hierarchy between people, and groups of people, and furthers polarization. In the run up to the elections, Dutch-Moroccan producer Abdelkarim El-Fassi pointed out how he experiences this polarization on a personal level. While he grew up in the Netherlands and has always been open-minded, the current political debate makes him want to withdraw into the Dutch-Moroccan community.

 

To create space for understanding individual situations, such as the situation of Anood and her family, steps must be taken to condemn the normalization of discriminatory language. One option is via legal avenues, such as the Dutch court that found far-right leader Geert Wilders guilty of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans – although this arguably worked out to his advantage. Therefore, most importantly, discriminatory language must be condemned by public opinion. A first step in this direction is to engage in personal contact. In doing so, individuals and groups move closer to each other, and towards a more cohesive society – as a recent study by Dutch news website De Correspondent aptly illustrates. Through an open and active attitude of Dutch residents, and by having voices like Anoods be heard – as well as the many other diverse voices of people in similar situations in the Netherlands – it becomes easier to sympathize with one another.

 

“Citizens cannot avert their eyes,” Anood said during the election campaign. When open communication and condemnation of discriminatory language becomes the norm, there is no need to fear for the devaluation of human rights as universal values. As the conversation between Anood and a man on the street in The Hague shows, there is a great discrepancy between the urgency of the plight of refugee and immigrant children in The Netherlands and a general understanding of their situation. Because of the open conversation Anood initiated there in The Hague, this man can put a face and voice together with a clear example of the inadequacies of Dutch immigration policy. But not all people in situations like Anood’s are fluent in Dutch or have a platform to tell their stories. Hopefully, her example can serve as an opportunity to open up the debate; to move beyond the current rhetoric, and inform people of the restrictive immigration policies enforced throughout the country on people like Anood, who have as much right to be here as any other Dutch person.