Anti-Racism in Amsterdam

Today, I attended an anti-racism rally in Amsterdam along with about 1,300 other people, most of them Dutch (all photos by Jessie Daniels).   The purpose of the rally was to draw attention to what German magazine Speigel calls the “risky stunt” of Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders and what protesters call “racism.”   Wilders “stunt” is that he has made a 15-minute film that is not yet released which reportedly juxtaposes excerpts from the Koran with beheadings and stonings on a split screen.  Wilders’ message is clear; he wants the West to resist “the threat of the growing Islamization of Western society.”   It’s this sort of rhetoric that has people in Holland gathering at the Dam, in central Amsterdam, protesting. 

To put this in context, it’s important to understand what happened the last time a Dutch filmmaker made a film critical of Islam.   This piece from the Spiegel magazine article summarizes it well:

“On Nov. 2, 2004, an Islamic fundamentalist murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, a descendant of the painter Vincent van Gogh, in broad daylight on a street in Amsterdam.

The killer, a 26-year-old Dutch citizen, the son of Moroccan immigrants, shot the filmmaker at 9 a.m. as van Gogh was riding his bicycle. He then slit his throat and, using a knife, pinned a note to his victim’s chest, claiming responsibility and explaining his motives. The killer’s true target was politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But she, unlike van Gogh, was under 24-hour police protection. The bloody act was also a declaration of war against Dutch society, which, as the murderer was convinced, was controlled ‘by the Jews.’   Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali had collaborated to produce a short film called “Submission,” which uses four real-life examples to illustrate the poor treatment of women in Islam.” 

The rise of Somalian-born and Muslim-raised politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali is also important to understanding the context of race, gender and anti-racism politics in Holland.  Ali, a former Member of Parliament in Holland (and current U.S. resident), is also a radical opponent of Islam based on gender oppression – her own experience and on behalf of other Muslim women – and what she views as the violent and intolerant core of the religion.    In the U.S., Ali has been deployed by the right-wing to put a more respectable (and visibly black, female, Muslim, African) face on anti-Islamic sentiments.   And, yet somehow, the advocacy for gender equality gets lost in all that rhetoric within most of the mainstream reporting about her.   Still, Theo Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are forever linked because of the note that Mohammed Bouyeri penned then stabbed into Van Gogh naming Ali as an enemy of Islam. Continue reading…

Bad News about Voters for Senator Obama — and for the US

      Recently, the Southern Political Report reported on a March 19, 2008 InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion poll of 807 Americans out of 1,051 who had heard of the Dr. Wright situation and Obama’s speech on racial matters (18 percent had not heard yet!).

First we should note that they were fairly careful in not asking loaded questiions:

We never mentioned the words ‘race’ or ‘controversy,’ or explained what all the fuss was about. Our first question was simply, ‘Are you aware of the situation regarding Sen. Barack Obama’s church pastor and the past public remarks he has made?’

Screening out those who had not heard of the Wright situation and Obama’s speech, they then asked, “Taking all this into account, are you more or less likely to support Obama for president? Less likely (52%) More likely (19%) About the same (27%) No opinion (2%).” The less-likely figure for white voters was 51 percent.

They also report that the negative percentage was especially significant for independent voters who were asked about their reaction to Obama’s speech:

By 56% to 13%, they said they’re less likely to vote for him because of the speech.

Like other recent polls we have cited previously, this poll also suggests a significant questioning of Senator Obama as a candidate, and a likely move away from him as a choice by some/many voters. His campaign has counted heavily on those independent voters. Once again, the effects of the racialized attacks on him are evident, and such attacks are now just in their first stages. What happens as new attacks emerge? These voter data also suggest his speech may not have helped him with some of the voter groups as much as he had hoped.

The Report’s interpretation and commentary also suggests how out of touch most white analysts of these and other racial matters are in the contemporary United States:

The charismatic Democratic presidential frontrunner likely has created a genuine problem for himself: In order to fizzle the flame that Rev. Wright ignited with his passionate, public racism, Obama had to forfeit the promise implicit in this campaign to date; that of moving beyond and above racialist rhetoric in American politics. On Tuesday, he changed course and said essentially the opposite: That we all need to face our unpleasant history. . . . In a year of great unease over foreign wars and a wilting economy, kicking the (lightly) sleeping dog of race in America may have been a mistake, unavoidable though it may have been.

So, now it is a tell-it-like-it-is, well-credentialed, well-informed U.S. intellectual and minister who is engaging in “public racism,” when of course it is whites who created the U.S. system of racial oppression that the pastor is critiquing. A great many whites, and their still racist views and discriminatory habits, and their unwillingness to provide remedies and redress for four long centuries of racial oppression, actually constitute the “problem.”

Researching or critiquing white racism from viable data is not “racism.” Racism is a systemic reality first created in the North American case in the 1600s by whites (who created 246 years of slavery followed by nearly 100 of the near slavery of legal segregation) and is still maintained by whites today. Clearly, the extensive racial discrimination (covert, subtle, and blatant) and huge racial inequalities in income, wealth, housing, and education still reported by African Americans and many researchers of all backgrounds is not worth noting well or dealing with publicly by most major media analysts and numerous other reporters and commentators–on the right, the left, or in the center–in the United States. I suggest that these dissembling commentators might start, for a change, paying attention to the extensive research on systemic racism, everyday discrimination, and whites’ negative racial views available in the contemporary social science literature.

The media and other pundit analysis of the Obama campaign, the attacks on it and on his speech, tell us far more about how much work is left to do in dismantling US racism than about the immediate reality of the Obama campaign. One cannot “move beyond racialist rhetoric” until the foundational reality of white-imposed racism is eliminated.