Wetenschap - 28 maart 2002

Column: Intolerable misfortune

Column: Intolerable misfortune

Being of mixed race I do not feel entirely part of either the white or Chinese community. I wasn't taught my mother's native language from birth as my parents wanted me to fit in, and to have the widest span of opportunities. They reasoned that people would judge me by my accent if I were bilingual. It is also not just a case of speaking the English language either, for in England your accent provides a listener with instant clues to your place in the class system.

It is always difficult to know where to draw the line between belonging to a group and being an individual. Regardless of human civilisation, there are still portions of the psyche that remain in the times we protected our caves with sticks and stones. The quest for ethnic blindness, and therefore racial equality, has not been simple. The media portrays 'political correctness' (PC) almost as a threat. The term is used abusively by politicians and figures of authority alike, attempting to discredit the seemingly legitimate concerns over liberality, posed by their opposition. I am sure most people have heard the phrase 'PC gone mad' in reference to the more ill-conceived attempts to redress society's imbalances. But it is worth bearing in mind that the ideals upon which PC is based, in opposition to oppressive values, are certainly not foolish.

There has been a hint of paranoia in the air and there is a worrying trend in this country, indeed in the world, of an apparent move towards the right, to narrow-minded nationalism, practically racism. The Netherlands has a worldwide reputation for tolerance, which it should be proud of. How then, have so many shown views totally in opposition to that doctrine in voting for the extremist independent candidate, Pim Fortuyn?

The mass media are kind to the slick fast-talker who willingly invokes controversy and is scaring the wits out of his opposition. It's not that the politicians are not capable of out-reasoning him, it's just that his strength is in debate, where he manages to bend the truth to his own ends. Suggestions that the recent political sway could be attributed to a lack of a centre-right party sound more like wishful thinking. The support for Fortuyn seems to have stemmed from his success in appealing to the ignorance and latent tribalism ingrained in all societies that makes people consider themselves superior to outsiders. The patriotism in the Netherlands is being hijacked for neo-fascism.

The amazingly low turnout at elections in much of the Western world signifies a slowly declining interest in politics. Most political issues are met with apathy and this perhaps explains why views have to be so extreme to make an impact. With so much suspicion and racial tension it is refreshing to be part of such an enlightened multicultural crowd here at Wageningen UR. If only everyone could see that variety is the spice of life.

David Lee Hopkins

dlh@dr.com

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