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Exclusive | The Dutch Paradox Part Two

Exclusive | The Dutch Paradox Part Two

Gay bashings and sons of Arab immigrants -- as Jurriaan Teulings investigates, Dutch gays are caught in the middle of a cultural clash. And that's not all bad news.

Boris van der Ham, a member of parliament for D66, a party that was key in advancing the same-sex marriage bill, adds, "the secularization of Muslims in the Netherlands is moving very fast." These gay bashers are hardly pious Muslims, and, he says, "no imam in his right mind will tell his congregation to go out and beat up gays." More than a religious issue, it appears to be cultural.

Now the curious thing is that Dutch gay men seem to be caught in the middle of a cultural clash. Which is somewhat of a mixed blessing. Young Moroccan men lash out at a society that is increasingly intolerant of them by targeting something that many have come to see as an important value in Dutch culture: gay rights and visibility.

In reaction to this, many who are poised against the "Muslim threat" -- real or imagined -- to Dutch values now embrace "their" gays as if they are canaries in a coal mine, the first victims of impending Muslim extremist doom. Being liberal on the gay rights issue, interestingly, has thus become a popular theme with right-wing parties.

Even the conservative Christian parties are now, if a bit reluctantly, joining the center and the left wing on these issues. Members of Dutch society that used to be at best indifferent to gay issues are now outraged by reports of gay bashings. Of course you can question the sincerity of some of the parties that use the issue for political gain, but the paradoxical result of the rise in gay bashings is that in many ways Dutch society has never been more gay-friendly.

"Homosexuality has become a key issue in debates on the multicultural society and religion in the media, Van der Ham says. "These are signs of a fast-moving emancipation process."

Boutkan points out he is getting a lot of support from the Moroccan-Dutch members of neighborhood councils, who largely support gay rights and visibility. The city of Amsterdam for its own part has been keen on maintaining its liberal atmosphere. Boutkan sits down every six weeks with the city council to exchange information, special directives have been issued for the police, and surveillance around gay areas has been intensified.

In March of 2008, Ronald Plasterk, the Minister of Education, Culture, and Science, signed a gay-emancipation agreement with the four largest cities of the Netherlands, allocating to each city a yearly sum of 200,000 euros to deal with specific issues of visibility and acceptance of the local gay communities, augmenting current efforts that provide workshops on sexuality in schools. And in May the city of Amsterdam announced that fighting homophobia is its number one priority. "Nowadays, if there is a problem, the police are able to respond quickly," Boutkan says.

In spite of the media hype, most local gay men don't feel unsafe. And tourism is still strong. "We have no indication that the number of gay visitors has decreased as a result of [homophobic] incidents," states the Amsterdam Tourist Board, citing a survey conducted in 2006?2007. It might not be a good idea to kiss and hold hands in an Arab neighborhood, but most gays have always habitually adjusted their behavior according to the cultural sensitivities in various enclaves. The idea of Amsterdam as a gay utopia has always been a bit overhyped. It's a cosmopolitan city with cosmopolitan problems, and it pays to be streetwise, just like everywhere else. But here at least, if you run into problems, the law will always be on your side.

On August 2 half a million people came to watch Amsterdam's gay pride parade. Remarkably, though largely ignored by the media, one old-fashioned constant had returned: There were no incidents of antigay violence. None at all. And that is very good news indeed.

Part One | Part Two

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