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The problem of them-and-us thinking

‘It's empty talk, nothing but political posturing,’ says Prof. Leo Lucassen about Minister Lodewijk Asscher's plan for a participation contract for migrants. ‘It will never happen.’ Lucassen, Leiden specialist in History of Migration, discussed Asscher’s Integration Letter on the NTR programme De Halve Maan (The Half Moon).

Wrong signal, wrong analysis, wrong solution

Lucassen: ‘The signal sent by Minister Asscher is that there is a big difference between Dutch people and immigrants, and that it is the task of the government to reduce this difference. And of course politics is also always about one’s constituency and winning more votes.’ Lucassen notes that Asscher’s letter has a tone of ‘see, there are problems’. He disagrees both with the analysis and with the solution. His colleagues at the Leiden Faculty of Law consider Asscher’s plan to be unfeasible, if only from a legal perspective.

Whether or not you belong

There are indeed differences in norms and values, but such a contract is not the solution, according to Lucassen. ‘Our core values are strong ideas about matters such as women, religion, homosexuality, about whether or not you belong. But culture provides too limited a perspective, because class also plays a role, in the form of a lower social class which affords little upward mobility. Migrants usually enter the Netherlands in this lower social class, and they remain there. This situation is different from other places, such as England, where the lower social class is primarily white.’

US much more liberal

Lucassen notes: ‘At the same time, we have in the Netherlands a second and a third generation of migrants who have overcome the current problems plaguing mostly young Moroccans and Antillians. This successful group is demonstrating against ‘us vs. them’ thinking on internet.’ This kind of thinking does not provide a solution; in fact, according to Lucassen, it is precisely where our problem lies. Thinking in terms of us vs. them, and in the meantime expecting ‘them’ to want to belong. Lucassen would like to lead the way to a different concept of migration in society, just as in the USA. ‘Once you have a Green Card and you have taken the Oath of Allegiance, you belong and that’s it. This means that the USA is much more liberal. As long as you obey the law, that is, otherwise the government steps in.’

Having something to offer

Lucassen: ‘So there is another way. We could say that once migrants have entered the Netherlands, they are in. And if there are problems, then we can deal with them: these are the rules here, this is the constitution, and you have to follow it. But we are also saying that you are not allowed to have a different opinion, while in the meantime, of course, even our own opinions differ. The core values are often those of a small intellectual elite. You can test that out by walking into any random vocational school classroom and asking them about homosexuality.’ Lucassen thinks that you cannot just demand things, you also have to have something to offer. He refers to stand-up comedian Johan Goossens, who knew how to manifest his homosexuality in education. People thought highly of him because he proved to be a reliable counterpart for young people who often already felt marginalised.

(25 February 2013)


Global interactions of people, cultures and power through the ages is one of the six themes for research at Leiden University

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