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What Geert Wilders and the Ottomans have in common

Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill April 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. Wilders was joined by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) to talk about Islam. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Upon the break-up of The Beatles, John Lennon wrote a song called God, a kind of pessimistic surrender to nihilism after the idealism of his quests for spiritual fulfilment and his idealistic Beatles years, came to an end at the same time.

The Netherlands, the culture that once sheltered Spinoza and the first western European society to embrace the idea of freedom of religion, has now surrendered to nihilism.

It is not difficult to understand why this surrender to nihilism has come about. Many of the shibboleths upon which contemporary Dutch society is built, have crumbled. Many of the modern Dutch ideals have failed.

The Netherlands is a country where certain regions remain highly religious and it is one where big cities are filled with legalised drugs and prostitution. However strange this contradiction might seem, it is one which the Netherlands has just about been at peace with in the modern era.

The Netherlands is a country that has prided itself on tolerance and open borders, but increasingly finds itself ill at ease with what this has looked like in real life, as opposed to mere theoretical pontificates.

Now, a man who is correctly known as a tyrant, a supreme egotist, an irrational individual and political Islamist, has done more to expose the contradictions of Dutch society than he has done to weaken Turkish society. The contradictions he has exposed may be insurmountable, unless the Netherlands radically reconstructs its present legal and cultural realities.

Although Erdgoan appears to be as powerful as ever in terms of his iron grip on Turkey, as Ataturk wisely said, “They go as they come”. When Erodogan finally bites off more than he can chew and with such men this is almost inevitable unless he dies or retires suddenly, Turkey may indeed have a Kemalist backlash that many are hoping for.

Holland’s future path is far more murky because it is mired in contradiction whereas Erdogan’s Turkey is a more straightforward clash between Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman, strongman political Islam versus the secular Kemalism which defined the Turkish state and Turkish cultural identity  from the 1920s up to Erdogan’s consolidation of power.

After years of  legally allowing and indeed welcoming foreigners into The Netherlands,  many mainstream Dutch politicians seem unwilling to live up to their end of the bargain.

The foreigners that came to the Netherlands came to a land of free speech and multi-culturalism. The foreigners did not invent such laws, the Dutchmen and Dutch women did so.

Now, generations later, many Dutch people do not like what they see. In many ways it is too late to undo the changes that Dutch leaders brought on as a result of their own policies.

If one has selective free speech laws, then free speech is dead. One cannot say that Dutch people can speak freely about issues ranging from Protestantism versus Catholicism versus atheism, but that Moroccans legally living in Amsterdam cannot pray to Mecca in public or that Turks legally in Rotterdam cannot make public speeches about Turkish political affairs.

It would be hypocrisy to have selective free speech and call it a right. The Dutch are however, welcome to have free speech as a privilege for some and not for others, but this of course would mean having several classes of citizenship, which isn’t unheard of in world history.

Prior to and in some instances even after the Tanzimât reforms of the 19th century, Ottoman Turkey had what we can retrospectively label as multi-tiered levels of citizenship or more accurately, subjecthood.

Ottoman society was divided into Millets, legal units wherein each confessional community had their own degree of autonomous law making. Leaders of Orthodox communities, Armenian communities, Jewish communities etc, had leaders who would determine the local/community destinies of their own people within the Ottoman Empire.

In exchange for this, non-Muslims had to pay a jizya (religious tax for non-Muslims) to the Ottoman state. It was a tremendous source of revenue for the Ottoman Empire. Additionally, non-Muslims had to acknowledge the legal supremacy of Islam in the wider legal system, although at times local autonomy worked surprisingly sufficiently in day to day legal disputes.

In today’s Dutch society, it is both possible and legal to prohibit non-EU migration. If the Netherlands withdraws from the EU and from associated border agreements such as Schengen, it will be possible for The Netherlands to end all immigration should they wish to. It is their legal right.

The more immediate issue though is what to do with non-Dutch individuals living legally in The Netherlands?

The legally simple solution would be to have one law for all. This is how things work at present, but Dutch people are largely unhappy with it, as it means that Turks can use their free speech rights to wave Turkish flags in public and give speeches about Turkish politics with the same legal ease as a Dutch protestant preaching about Christ or a Dutch atheist displaying pornography.

If the popularity of politicians like Geert Wilders is any indication, many in The Netherlands are happy to have Protestants and pornographers in public, but not politically minded Turks. This is their right to favour both moral ends of the native cultural spectrum over foreign cultures, but legally things will need to drastically change in order for Dutch people to see this come to pass.

Legally, it is very difficult to kick people out of a country who have the legal right of residence. It is almost impossible to kick out citizens, even if they hold the passport of more than one nation. Ethically, many think it is wrong to withdraw one’s legal rights in such circumstances anyway. I am not passing judgement on any of these issues, I am simply listing manifest realities.

So if the same free speech and freedom or worship laws for all is unacceptable to people like Wilders (who speaks for a large portion if not the majority of modern Dutch society) and kicking all non-ethnic Dutch people out would be too fraught and likely violent, where does that leave The Netherlands?

It logical leads to the concept of various tiers of citizenship/legal residence. It leaves the Netherlands with, a Millet system. Under such a system, Dutch Christians and atheists and given the philo-Semitism of Wilders, Jews as well, would be able to have the full rights of free speech and worship.

Likewise, Muslims whether Arab or Turkish or Indonesian would not be able to pray publicly, not be able to build mosques and not be able to engage in political demonstrations, however peaceful, in support of Muslim politicians from foreign lands, men like Erdogan.

If these proposals seem hyperbolic, they are not. Wilders wants to do all of this, but I don’t know if he’s thought the legal and philosophic implications through.

If the Netherlands leaves the EU and its associated conventions, it could do this as a sovereign state. It could create its own Millet system in all but name. Of course there would be differences with its Ottoman Turkish counterpart.

If Wilders is to be believed, the legal and fiscal autonomy of the Dutch Millets would be far more restrictive than those in pre-Tanzimât Ottoman Turkey. But that would be his right if he became the head of government in a sovereign Dutch state.

In regretting the collective decision to allow for mass multi-faith and multi-ethnic immigration for decades, the Dutch have found themselves backed against the wall. The small, sub-sea level Kingdom may become a bite-sized Ottoman Empire after all. The road paved by Dutch nihilism has ironically led an exasperated people not on the road to Damascus but to Ottoman Constantinople.

The irony is confounding to say the least.

What do you think?

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