Nicola Smith, Times (London), March 12, 2006
Two men kissing in a park and a topless woman bather are featured in a film that will be shown to would-be immigrants to the Netherlands.
The reactions of applicants — including Muslims — will be examined to see whether they are able to accept the country’s liberal attitudes.
From this Wednesday, the DVD — which also shows the often crime-ridden ghettos where poorer immigrants might end up living — will form part of an entrance test, in Dutch, covering the language and culture of Holland.
Those sitting the test will be expected to identify William of Orange and to know which country Crown Princess Maxima comes from (Argentina) and whether hitting women and female circumcision are permitted.
Muslim leaders in Holland say the film is offensive. “It really is a provocation aimed to limit immigration. It has nothing to do with the rights of homosexuals. Even Dutch people don’t want to see that,” said Abdou Menebhi, the Moroccan-born director of Emcemo, an organisation that helps immigrants to settle.
He added: “They are trying to find every pretext to show that people should not come to the Netherlands because they are fundamentalist or not emancipated. They confront people with these things and then judge them afterwards.”
Famile Arslan, 34, an immigration lawyer of Turkish origin, agreed. “I have lived here for 30 years and have never been witness to two men kissing in the park. So why are they confronting people with that?” she said.
She accused the government of preaching tolerance about civil rights while targeting non-westerners with harsh and discriminatory immigration curbs.
The new test — the first of its kind in the world — marks another step in the transformation of Holland from one of Europe’s most liberal countries to the one cracking down hardest on immigration.
Rita Verdonk, the immigration minister known as Iron Rita, has introduced compulsory integration classes, higher age limits for marriage to people from abroad and the removal of residency permits if immigrants commit petty crimes. She has also talked of banning the burqa.
The measures were prompted in part by outrage over the 2004 murder of Theo Van Gogh, who had made a film about the oppression of women in Muslim communities.
Applicants will sit the exam at one of 138 embassies around the world. They will answer 15 minutes of questions and those who pass the first stage will have to complete two “citizenship” tests over five years and swear a pledge of allegiance to Holland and its constitution.
The centre-right government of Jan Peter Balkenende, the prime minister, believes the tests will provide an objective way of assessing the suitability of applicants by gauging how well prepared they are to make the transition to Dutch life and their willingness to integrate.
Critics complain that people living in the mountains of Morocco or rural villages in Pakistan will not be able to make the long journey to cities for Dutch language lessons. According to Instituut Oranje, a Dutch language school, someone with a low level of education would require 250 hours of tuition, costing £1,200, to pass the tests.
The total bill of £1,495 — including £55 for a preparatory test pack and DVD and £240 for the exam — makes the process unaffordable for many.
Dirk Nieuwboer, a Dutch journalist based in Istanbul, said the multiple-choice cultural test included a question about how to behave in a cafe if two men at the next table started kissing. “There was another question about which former Dutch colony a particular spice came from,” said Nieuwboer. “Most Dutch people don’t know these things.”
However, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a socialist from the parliament’s immigration committee, said the film had been created to help prepare people for “open-minded” attitudes on issues such as homosexuality. “We have lots of homo-discrimination, especially by Muslim youngsters who harass gay men and women on the streets. It is an issue here.”
A spokeswoman for Verdonk said an edited version of the DVD would be available for showing in Middle Eastern countries such as Iran where it would be illegal to possess images of homosexuality.
(Posted on March 13, 2006)