Thursday, April 07, 2005

Ideology and Fashion

The Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende addressed a group in Amsterdam and condemned "disrespectful behaviour." Then he opened this can of worms.

Balkenende indicated he was a supporter of dealing resolutely with people who incite hatred, intimidate and use violence against others, schools or mosques.

Apparently in a reference to young right-wingers who identify themselves by wearing Lonsdale clothing, he added: "Let this be clear for people who, by their clothing for instance, want to identify themselves with reprehensible doctrines. But also for groups of immigrant youths who behave in an intimidating way". (emphasis added)

But what if the clothing in question is the hijad or niqab, the head scarf or the veil? Are those not "identifying reprehensible doctrines"? Certainly many Dutch think so. Here is where the Dutch government runs into a very difficult contradiction and resolving it will inevitably piss off one of the groups they do not want to anger.

If Muslims are allowed to wear "traditional" clothing then why can't native Dutch youth wear clothes with a particular brand name? Forbidding Dutch youth from wearing Lonsdale will only further radicalize them since the Dutch goverment will be seen as siding with the Muslims. And in any case, they will soon decide on another brand or symbol and will always be one step ahead of the hapless government. The nightmare for the authorities is that a concensus develops among the radical youth to use some traditional or religious symbol to identify themselves and their nascent ideology. Could the authorities legitimately prohibit youth from wearing crosses or symbols of the Holy Trinity?

On the other hand it is almost certainly too late for the Dutch goverment to forbid any of the so-called traditional Muslim dress among men or women. Or at least not without serious public unrest. So back to the PM.
"Those who try to incite angst in others tear at precisely what we are trying to build together in the Netherlands. This poison must not be allowed to spread," the Christian Democrat CDA leader said.
What mechanisms can he use to stop the spread? Obviously many people feel "angst" when they see groups of bearded Muslim men praying in the street. Other may feel "angst" seeing a group of youth Lonsdale youth walking down the sidewalk. What can the Dutch authorities do about this that will not increase the tension in Dutch society?