The Origins of Dutch Tolerance (and why Geert Wilders is a threat to it)

Dutch Tolerance and Multiculturalism

A quick walk through the streets of Amsterdam shows you just how multicultural she is. From Surinamese restaurants to Moroccan vegetable and fruit shops, Argentinian steakhouses, Italian pizza places and a lot of Asian restaurants. There are gay bars and nightclubs, coffee shops and brothels scattered all around the city, as Amsterdammers go about their everyday businesses like it’s nothing. This is one of the best traits of the Dutch, the spirit of “live and let live” or simply put, “Dutch tolerance.”

Unfortunately, after years of building a reputation as a very tolerant country, tolerance has come under threat due to the rhetorics of a group of right-winged politicians who mask their racism and bigotry with their so-called respectability of traditional “Dutch” values. They claim to support the Dutch populace and traditional European values while threatening the very thing that makes the Netherlands stand out in a positive way – Her tolerance!


Origins of Dutch Tolerance

With more than 800 years of history, the Netherlands is a country with fascinating sights and wonderful people. From old Gothic churches to magnificent museums filled with artworks from true artistic geniuses, a collection of beautiful flower gardens envied by other countries, and of course, their world-famous canals. It’s no secret that this tiny country has always been a haven for those running from war, seeking refuge and looking for a safe place to escape conflicts. The search for refuge isn’t the only reason why people have moved to the Netherlands, as many have “landed on her shores” in search of “economic refuge” as migrants looking for job opportunities and better living conditions.

For years, the Netherlands has been a haven for free thinkers – creative minds who fled persecution in search of freedom to be themselves. In a manner of speaking, this is a country filled with rebels. Rebels in the sense that a group of people rose up against the Catholic Church by embracing the Protestant Movement. They also rebelled against the Spanish by fighting for their freedom and creating a Monarchy that has lasted to this very day. They challenged the “status quo” by legalizing the use of soft drugs, prostitution, gay marriage and even euthanasia.

The Dutch have always been free thinkers, liberals and tolerant folks. A great deal of historical evidence proves that in the seventeenth century (the Dutch Golden Age), the Dutch Republic was the only country in which freedom of conscience was enshrined in the law, resulting in the influx of refugees of all possible religious backgrounds. It was a “known paradise” for authors and philosophers who found here in the Netherlands, the opportunity to publish works that would see them be branded heretics and maybe burned at a stake. Even the teachings of John Calvin and Martin Luther found fertile soil in the Republic at that time. Imagine what would have happened to these Protestant preachers, if they had openly spoken against the Catholic Church in the Italian City-States or maybe in a country like Spain?

The Dutch concept of tolerance

The Dutch concept of tolerance is one that is as old as time. It dates back to the end of the Eighty Years’ War, after William of Orange, had just been crowned King and as a Protestant monarch decided to let the Catholic minority have the freedom to practice their faith as they saw fit. It was all in the spirit of “live and let live.” If you know how much hatred there was between Catholics and Protestants in the history of Europe, you’d understand how it was no small feat for a Protestant Dutch King to grant freedom of religion to a Catholic minority. This was really a big deal and it would never have happened in countries like France, England, Rome or majority of the Italian City-States at that time. This not only laid a foundation for tolerance in the Netherlands, it planted the seeds that would grow over time to become the identity of a nation that would approve of gay marriage, legalisation of soft drugs and prostitution.

So, how does this affect Geert Wilders and his Political Party?

A lot of us know who Geert Wilders is and what he stands for. Wilders is the man who has more often than we can count, called for the Qur’an to be banned and has proposed a tax on wearing headscarves. And he is also the first politician ever to stand trial on charges of ‘incitement to hatred’. Geert Wilders, instantly recognizable for his blond hair, is one of Holland’s most controversial politicians and, some argue, Europe’s most dangerous man. This is a man who has no love for Islam, Muslims and of course, Moroccans.

Why the hatred for Islam, Muslims and Moroccans?

Just like every other European country, the Netherlands also went through her period of industrialization. A period when machines replaced manpower and steam engines became the order of the day. Factories sprang up everywhere as the owners were in dire need of workers to man the engines. This led to Dutch recruiters travelling to distant lands such as Turkey and Morocco in search of workers.

Fast-forward to the 1970s, a need for more workers led to more migration from the Muslim world as a huge number of able-bodied young men and women came from Turkey and Morocco. Dutch society received them as guest workers and expected them to eventually return to their countries of origin. Unsurprisingly, having experienced a higher standard of living in the Netherlands, only a handful of these guest workers actually returned home. The ones who stayed made arrangements for their families to join them, and as a result, their numbers only grew. This gave birth to the Turkish and Moroccan communities in the Netherlands and even till this day, some (white) Dutch natives still consider them “guests” who need to go back to where they came from.

Years have passed and the first generation of migrant workers from Morocco and Turkey have all probably died but their children still reside in the Netherlands – as Dutch Citizens. And why not? Their forefathers helped and played a crucial role in building this nation and making her what she is today. A few (white) Dutch natives still see them as guests and while a lot of them make sure to keep it within their thoughts, politicians like Geert Wilders “awaken their bigotry” by asking them if they want “fewer Moroccans” or not. His reason for doing this is that he sees the Moroccan community as the cause of the rise in crime in different parts of the country. There’s also the issue of Islam which he considers an enemy.

The truth is, there is criminality in the Netherlands and honestly, crime has no nationality, colour of skin or ethnic group. People commit crimes for different reasons and just as there are criminals with Moroccan ethnicity, there are also criminals with Dutch ethnicity.

Contrary to Geert Wilders’ belief, that the crime problem in the Netherlands is as a result of too many Moroccans, I have to state that it is not a Moroccan problem, but a “communal” one. We as a community, need to raise our children better to be exemplary members of society and not criminals. Unfortunately, some parents fail at raising well-behaved children and that has totally nothing to do with their ethnicity. Instead of attacking a particular group of people, Wilders should be looking at ways to work together with the populace to tackle the issue of crime and develop new methods of motivating young people to be better members of society. Any parent, irrespective of their ethnicity, will tell you that it is not easy raising children and making sure that they know right from wrong. And Wilders’ stance on Islam is also absolute nonsense because Islam has never hindered anyone from being law abiding or good citizens in the Netherlands. There will always be a few “bad eggs” in every group, that’s for sure, but it has nothing to do with the group as a whole.

Dutch tolerance

Dutch tolerance is quite popular and is very much talked about in countries like the U.S, Australia, Canada and even in the Asian continent. A lot of countries look up to the Netherlands as an example when it comes to promoting religious freedom, free speech, gay-friendly communities and the separation of Church and state. Cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven, pride themselves as multicultural cities where people of all colours and ethnic backgrounds are accepted with open arms. I once asked a 5-year-old Dutch boy what his favourite food was and he said, “Bami and Nasi.” The funny thing is, Bami and Nasi aren’t typical Dutch delicacies. They are Asian delicacies that have been ingrained into the fabric of Dutch society and is so deeply ingrained that even the generation of today do not know where they came from.

At Dutch schools, children from Muslim, Christian and Atheist homes are able to study side by side in the same class. Some are even best friends and are taught to be tolerant and be there for one another irrespective of religious beliefs or colour of skin. They are taught that judging others based on their religious beliefs or colour of skin is called discrimination. If they must judge a fellow human being, let it be based on nothing but the content of their character. It is no surprise that Dutch children understand the true meaning of tolerance at a very young age and sadly, this is what Wilders is trying to destroy! He is the latest in a line of right-wing European populists who claim to be protecting the people against a “dangerous” enemy. This was exactly the same thing Hitler claimed he wanted to do – Protect the German people from the threat of the Jews! Other recent examples apart from Wilders are Jean-Marie Le Pen of France, Jörg Haiders of Austria and Umberto Bossi of Italy.

Thierry Baudet

There is also the case of Thierry Baudet. Another hate spewing Dutch politician who happens to be a racist conservative and white supremacist posing as a politician. A eurosceptic who strongly opposes multiculturalism, and also heads a political party called, the Forum for Democracy, which many believe to be a much bigger threat than the PVV. The reason is that members of the Forum for Democracy tend to have an unhealthy fascination for racial differences while pointing out how European culture is superior to other cultures.

I find it quite unfortunate that the very values that hold a multicultural nation like the Netherlands together are what Geert Wilders, Thierry Baudet and their “fear-mongering” parties threaten with hate speech. I find it even more surprising and heartbreaking that people vote for them! They keep talking about of fear. Fear of Muslims, fear of refugees, fear of anything that threatens their positions of patriarchal “white privilege” and some people actually buy it. In truth, these men are just bigots, homophobes, neo-liberal and spoiled elitist, white nationalist, sexist and racist crybabies who are scared of a culturally diverse Netherlands. No country can advance or grow and develop when she’s afraid of the unknown. Diversity and solidarity drive nations towards progress and economic growth. Fear only gives birth to nothing but fascism.

Recent Events

Recently, Geert Wilders’ party (PVV) released their party program for the year 2018 to 2022 and the “fight against Islam” seems to be top of their agenda. Further listed on the program were;

  • The close down of all refugees shelters
  • Deposition of the Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb on grounds of being Moroccan and a Muslim
  • No more subsidy to art, culture and sustainable development of the environment
  • Support for ethnic profiling
  • Close down of all mosques in the Netherlands etc.

So should we be wary of Geert Wilders, Thierry Baudet and the likes?

The answer is definitely a Yes! By cunningly hiding distinctly illiberal policies in a liberal package, Wilders and Baudet are rewriting the rule book for populist strategy. Their hatred of Islam comes along with a “honey covered” talk of freedom and liberties. The one clever thing about Wilders is that he portrays himself as a champion for liberty and freedom. He has already picked his enemies, “Islam and Muslims” and has taken the position as the “liberator” of the Netherlands. His goal is to feed hate to the people and wake up their bigotry as he seeks to recruit them to his side. Baudet presents himself as an upholder of traditional and real European values. He believes himself to be the man who can help the Netherlands close her borders, keep the populace safe from the “enemy” and create an environment that is favourable to white Dutch citizens. This is absolutely dangerous to the tolerance in the Netherlands.

Don’t forget that different people, irrespective of their colour of skin or religious beliefs have contributed (and are still contributing) positively to the growth and development of the Netherlands. A lot of Dutch nationals of Moroccan ethnicity have brought pride to the Netherlands in football, music, comedy, athletics, academics, science, politics etc. Think about people like; Khalid Boulahrouz, Ali B, Najib Amhali, Ahmed Aboutaleb, Ibrahim Afellay, Wassila Hachchi, NaĂŻma Azough, Karim El Ahmadi, Khadija Arib etc. There are many more who may not be as famous as the ones named here but do contribute positively in their own small way to their respective communities.

Be wise. Be Openminded. Be tolerant.

Here’s an idea:

Try to ignore a person’s colour of skin, their religious beliefs, sexuality, tattoos or whatever makes them different from you, talk to them and get to know them. Talking to them will make you realise that they aren’t really that different from you. I find it rather unfair that you should pass judgement on people you don’t know based on something you’ve heard about them from others. Remember that we are all the same because we are all flesh and blood. In truth, there is no difference between an African, a European, an Indian or Native American. Whether people are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs or Atheists, it shouldn’t have to matter because they still bleed red just like you and me. Humanity should always come first!

So dear bigot, until you can show me a human being whose blood isn’t red, please try to bury your bigotry and make an effort to talk to people and understand them. You will be very surprised at the amount of “human kindness” you’d find. You can hit me up for a debate anytime, any day, but let me make this clear; Diversity in the Netherlands is a strength and never a weakness. It is a strength born of tolerance, the same tolerance that Geert Wilders and his party are a threat to.

Be wise. Be Openminded. Be tolerant.

Chuka Nwanazia
Chuka Nwanazia
A renegade wordsmith, freelance writer, poet, and digital marketer based in Amsterdam. Besides writing, he extremely enjoys traveling around Europe in search of old and rare books, writing poems while riding the train to nowhere, performing at poetry events, spending too much time reading books, contemplating the meaning of life, preparing tasty dishes and desserts, and searching for the perfect bookshelf.


  1. I agree with the conclusions of the aurhor, but it is hard to take someone seriously who knows so little about Dutch history. The Netherlands did NOT have a king until 1815, and William of Orange died in 1584, only 16 years into the 80-years’ war. Any 12 year old should be able to tell you that.

    • Hello Jan,

      If you carefully read the article, you’d notice that I didn’t include any dates or years. When I said William of Orange, I wasn’t referring to William the Silent, I was referring to William I of the House Oranje-Nassau. Me referring to him as William of Orange doesn’t mean that I don’t know the history of the Netherlands. If I wanted to refer to the William who died in 1584, I’d refer to him as, William the Silent, because that’s what we call him in English speaking countries. Whether it’s William the Silent or William the 1st, they are all from the House of Orange. Anyway, the William I was referring to in the article, was William I of Orange. I’m pretty sure you know who I’m talking about.

      Thanks for reading the article. Much appreciated.

  2. Hi Chuka,
    I read your article and I agree with you that the Netherlands is basically a very tolerant nation and how accepting she has been of people who had to flee from elsewhere. I disagree in the way you make it sound as if it is all up to the local Dutch to make life sweet and easy.
    For example, in the case of the Islamic population and their history as guest workers; the men gradually brought back brides from the home country. Families tended to congregate in certain areas and neighbourhoods and therefore were able to hang on to their own language and culture within the Dutch society. The women especially have had difficulty to adapt, assimilate and become part of the surrounding society unless they were educated and learned to speak the language. (I know what I am talking about for I have been, among other things, a TESOL teacher). Back in the late Nineteen Seventies and Eighties it became clear that some tipping point had been reached in some of these neighbourhoods (e.g. in R’dam and Paris) for the newcomers were beginning to set their own rules in those neighbourhoods, excluding the locals unless they adapted to their rules. I find it understandable that at some point the influx of strangers was happening so fast and in such great numbers that the locals began to feel threatened.
    I venture to say that the controversy of the Geert Wilders’s and the like stem from these times. It is fear of becoming overwhelmed, just the same as the fear that the Muslim immigrants had (and perhaps still have?) that their culture and belief suystem is being corrupted by Dutch values and behaviour.
    I am an example of Holland’s colonial offspring and due to circumstances have lived in a number of countries. I can tell you that there is not a place on earth where, when locals reach a point of saturation and hospitality becomes an expectation by the newcomers, resentment is not starting to set in. I have actually been truly astounded by the degree of tolerance and compassion shown by the European people, despite the Geert Wilders’s & co. opposition, towards the refugees and immigrants! E.g. How coast guards and private people still go out to fish those who try to reach their shores, out of the sea. They could so easily simply let them drown but they don’t.
    I suggest that, instead of continually criticizing those who show this quite hinstincitive fear, teach the newcomers what they can do to alleviate that fear. For example, do not demand and bang the table and declare it is your human right to be given a house and phone and transport. Be thankful for what is given. Try and pick up the local language and ease your way in. Give the locals the time and opportunity to get used to you, to come around to feel and show their compassion because they will, given a bit of time.
    All herd mammals will instinctively try and protect their territory and their offspring. Humans are also mammals. They have over the centuries learned to curb their instincts and have become more tolerant by accepting newcomers in their territory without immediately taking to war but it is a very delicate balance. That is why we have to chose our leaders carefully (Internationally,Trump, unfortunately, is not helpful in this respect!)

    • Hello Froukje Matthews,

      Thanks for your comment. While I do agree with you on the fact that some immigrants are not very good at assimilating and accepting the culture and ways of life of their hosts, I also have to point out that it was not the point my article was driving home. The main point of this article is “Tolerance” and “Discussing matters as a community” instead of populist rhetorics. Yes, I too, have seen immigrants from Islamic countries who are disrespectful to the cultures and norms of the Netherlands. Immigrants who are not keen on learning the Dutch language or adapting to the Dutch ways of life, they just want to take all the time and not contribute positively to the Dutch society. I understand why the Dutch would be angered by this as it also angers me even though I’m not native Dutch. My point is, this kind of immigrants are not in the majority. They are just a few out of a large group of people who are actually willing to learn the Dutch language and integrate, while also holding on to the values they brought from their countries. You do not judge the whole group based on the actions of a few.

      I appreciate that you’ve read my article and agreed with some of it and I also respect that you were able to state what you didn’t agree with. But like I said, getting to know the whole group is always the best way of discovering for yourself, that not everyone in a particular group of people is as rotten as the few “bad eggs” you’ve encountered. I believe that integration is a thing the Dutch populace have to discuss as a “community” and find a solution as one. What Geert Wilders is doing is definitely not the answer! And that is the point I’m making.

  3. Dutch tolerance hahaha it sounds funny. I am an immigrant living 11 years in the Netherlands and i should say it that there is no tolerance in this country at all. Dutch are racist against (buitenlanders) as they call us, are very difficult people, they do not respect other cultures, are very ignorant about other cultures. Even if immigrants live thousands of years here they never get integrated in the Dutch society as long as CVs of immigrant job applicants find their way directly in the trash can.

    • Hello, Ghazwan (I hope that’s your name),

      The point my article is trying to make is that you should not judge a group by the actions of a few members of that group. Of course, there are racists amongst the Dutch but not all Dutch people are like that. I’ve been in the Netherlands for more than 5 years and there are lots of Dutch people who have been kind and generous to me. Unfortunately, I’ve had the misfortune of encountering a few bad ones, but I refuse to believe that all Dutch people are bad. And if because of my encounter with the bad ones, I go around telling people that “The Dutch are racists and intolerant”, that would be both unfair and disrespectful to the good ones out there. You just called all Dutch people racists and “intolerant”, and that my friend, is very wrong!

      How are you any different from Geert Wilders?

  4. Hello, Chuka
    I’ve read your article and found it as a very good example showing how a corrupted politician (especially Wilders) can mislead a lot of people, using the nationalist rhetoric just like Hitler was using on Nazi-Germany grounds. Netherlands example can be plurated, especially on the Neo-nazi movement groving every day on Austria and the other European countries.

    I agree with you on almost every topic you’ve written, but I would like to add another critical subject without any disrespect on your work.

    I also agree that not all Dutch people are disrespectful to the immigrants etc. But, we should also do not forget that in the beginning NOT every german accepted a genocide against the Jew community on the grounds of nazi-germany. But, after they were mislead by a corrupted leader such as Hitler was, they simply killed millions of people without any hesitation.

    Yesterday this happened on nazi-germany, but today may happen on most european countries. The risk is very high and politicians such as Wilders and Baudet are trying to use that “Hitler” style charismatic(!) propaganda and “My people want me to do that” speech today AGAIN.

    My opinion is, we all should ACCEPT each other and LEARN how to live together, off course without following any kind of corrupted leadership from Wilders etc. That would only take us to another level of a world disaster.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related posts

Latest posts

Why didn’t they tell me? A guide for visiting the Netherlands

I’ve been frequenting the lowlands for a good many years now, and when I first came over, I had little idea of what to...

This 25-year-old Dutchie kidnapped his ex in a crazy car chase (and it was all caught on video!)

Police have published images from the insane hot pursuit involving 10 police cars, multiple gunshots, knifepoint threats, traffic collisions AND a helicopter in August...

Slow down! Amsterdam tests a new system to automatically slow down e-bikes

Amsterdam could soon introduce an innovative solution to slow speeding e-bikes down, with a system that controls their whizz in busy areas. New 'intelligent speed...

It's happening

Upcoming events

The latest Dutch news.
In your inbox.