Few venues rival a Greyhound station’s odds for meeting peculiar individuals. Recently I was homeward bound after a nationwide trek when I chanced upon one of them at Portland, Oregon’s bus terminal. My final destination was a small town, a few miles north of the California border, and I was already bracing myself to endure the final hours of my journey beside an unwashed and garrulous traveler, as inevitably happens to me on bus trips. But my peculiar acquaintance of this trip proved instead to be singular for his conventional hygiene and intelligent conversation.
David was a Dutch student midway through a West Coast tour begun in Vancouver with a vague final destination in Mexico, making landfall in the major cities along the I-5 corridor. Fluent in English, Spanish, French, German, Attic Greek, and Latin in addition to his native Dutch, he turned out to be a sharp and engaging philosophy student. Not your typical Greyhound patron, so I took the initiative to suggest we sit together, and to my relief, he assented, no doubt noting the gleam of normalcy in my eyes and taking my full complement of teeth to be a good sign.As we settled into our seats and the bus left the terminal, rolling south through the bronzing landscape of the Oregon summer, I was able to offer him yet another pleasant surprise. Thanks to a subscription to the Economist, I was well informed about the minutiae of Dutch politics, and I believe I positively shocked him when I eagerly brought up the late Pim Fortuyn and his premature passing from the scene. It emerged that David had worked as an activist for the Pim Fortuyn List when he first entered university. But at 20, he was already jaded, having witnessed Professor Pim’s voice snuffed out by violent means from the compassionate Left, then the fratricidal sniping within the List, and finally what he perceived to be only token cosmetic acknowledgements of the validity of Fortuyn’s platform by the ruling Christian Democrats. David was no doubt surprised that as a brown-skinned immigrant to the U.S., I would be so enamored of a man portrayed as a reactionary by the mainstream press outside the Netherlands. But to my mind, Fortuyn fought to preserve the liberalism that has characterized Dutch society since its revolt against Spanish tyranny. Fortuyn’s genius was in part goading Muslim notables into being candid about their true feelings about the culture that gave rise to the social liberties that they so eagerly took advantage of.
Alas, this is a gloomy tale and not one of hope. David saw a dark future ahead for the Dutch nation, and moreover for Europe as a civilization. He told me what I had only read of: the prevalence of immigrants in the prisons, on the dole, and in the streets, as if this was the norm for any immigrant to the Netherlands. He described young activists, Dutch by birth, campaigning to make Arabic an official language and elevate the Islamic faith to the same status as the Reformed and Catholic Churches. He recalled walking through Rotterdam for hours without seeing another white person.
Of course the Netherlands has had immigrants for centuries. From Jews fleeing Iberia’s Catholic monarchs to Protestants escaping Queen Mary’s England, it has opened its arms to foreign peoples so long as industry and commerce were served. David pointed out that even today, non-white groups like the Ambonese from Indonesia or Hindus from Suriname have a place in Dutch society, different from “natives,” but accepted in some measure. But Muslim groups, like the Moroccans, bent on traditional continuance of the “old ways” in the heart of European hedonism are less easily assimilated into Dutch pluralism. Though less than 5 percent of the overall population, they are concentrated in port cities like Rotterdam, making their presence felt and asserting their right to practice a feudal lifestyle in a post-industrial society. It is not the freedom to engage in commerce and industry that draws them but a generous welfare state and asylum laws ripe for abuse.
Our conversation descended further into pessimism as David admitted that in his years at university he had encountered only one fellow student of Moroccan heritage. “They can never be Dutch after all,” he insisted offhandedly. And yet onward the march of demographics continues, as one nation turns into another. David foresees a day when Europeans flee their sinking fortress for North America, the young leaving the aged to the tender mercies of the new inheritors of the continent. I suspect huddling masses of flaxen-haired men and women from the shores of the North Sea were hardly the “wretched refuse” Emma Lazarus had in mind, teeming though those shores may have become.
Razib Khan runs the blog gnxp.com.