Clear language

Speaking of clear wine: Something is bothering me about the Dutch debate on Islam, immigration, non-native voter blocks and related issues. And that is the unclear and befuddling use of language we encounter in the debate.

The most symptomatic of this clear-as-mud use of language is the word 'allochtoon'. The word is is derived from classical Greek (if I'm not mistaken. I never did enjoy a classical education), meaning to stem from elsewhere and refers to non-native carriers of the Dutch nationality. The opposite of it is 'autochtoon', which refers to native Dutch. It was introduced in the early nineties to get rid of that stigmatising, abusive word: Foreigner (I kid you not).

Now, 'allochtoon' has gone through a remarkable transformation over the years, its definition getting more and more narrow. While it started out including even Western immigrants, it fairly quickly was used to refer to non-western non-natives. And of late it seems to be even more narrow, referring to non-western, non-native, Islamic citizens. When new legislation is made on behalf of 'allochtones' it is usually after some problem has cropped up with regard to either Moroccan or Turkish minorities. When the word is used in conservation, 99.9% of the time it'll refer to Moroccan or Turks or others hailing from Islamic societies. The chances of someone referring to problems with Ghanese when using the word are zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

There's a reason for that, of course. It is the one reason that no one dares speak out loud: All the problems we have with integration, with religious matters, with anti-social behavior in relation to 'allochtones' can be reduced to: People with an Islamic background. In the mid-eighties the Netherlands saw a large influx of Syrian Orthodox Turks, especially in the east of Holland. We have a pretty large Ghanese community mainly centered on Amsterdam. The Chinese and Vietnamese are a thriving and visible part of every day life of Holland. None of these has shown the problems we refer to when talking about the allochtone problem to such extent as Turkish, Moroccan, Somali and even Iranian and Iraqi minorities (in short: Muslim) have.

The religion of the Big Black Stone Idol must never be named, for that is stigmatising, tendentious and of course racist(!). So we keep on referring to 'allochtones' when we talk about our current problems. But the tragedy in all of this is there's a large group of (non-western) non-natives that gets thrown in with the bad apples for no better reason then our cowardly refusal to name names properly.

They've seen themselves, by extension, marginalised by the 'autochtone' population through this false use of language. Syrian-Orthodox Turks now find themselves between a rock and a hard place: The Dutch identify them with Muslim mall-contents, the Turks despise them for their Christianity. Even secular Turks are starting to feel this. Native Dutch keep their distance to them, but Muslim Turks harass them for not observing Ramadan. Some Turks are even leaving Holland to return to Turkey so they can live somewhere where they can NOT observe Ramadan in peace. How twisted is that?

Proper dealing with a problem starts with properly defining the problem. That is not the case in Holland for the moment, not matter how good the international press.

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