Last year, the city of The Hague – since recently my hometown – welcomed its 500,000th inhabitant. Last month, the share of ‘non-Dutch’ inhabitants had grown to just over 50 per cent. Population size and diversity define the city, Louis Wirth wrote in 1938 in his now classic paper ‘Urbanism as a way of life’. But whereas growth is generally celebrated, diversity is not necessarily seen as something desirable. A local newspaper held an online survey to guage their readers’ opinion about the non-Dutch inhabitants, now in the majority: 73 per cent think it is ‘frightening’ and another 14 per cent chose the options ‘annoying’ and ‘depressing’. Only 12 per cent thought it was good news.
The Rotterdam Law
Politicians, too, are frightened by such numbers. In Rotterdam, a population prognosis was reason for halting the influx of ethnic minority groups into neighbourhoods with a high share of non-Western minorities. The prognosis predicted that in 2017 the majority of the population would be of non-Western origin; in some districts they would make up three quarters of the population. Local politicians feared increasing levels of crime, illegality and nuisance and called for extreme measures. As the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin, an income requirement was proposed, excluding low-income households from affordable housing. Protests from the Council of State, the highest governmental advice body, and the Dutch Equal Treatment Commission regarding indirect discrimination were ignored. In 2005, the ‘Rotterdam Law’ was accepted and implemented in five Rotterdam neighbourhoods.
Last year, several local parties proposed to implement the income requirement in The Hague. And if it were up to the local Liberal Party (VVD), prospective renters will have to meet a behaviour requirement as well: no police contacts relating to drugs, property or violent crime, or for nuisance. What makes this law problematic is that although formally ethnic discrimination is not allowed, the law is in fact used to disperse ethnic minority groups. The local VVD included their ideas on the income and behaviour requirements in their policy paper on integration. In Rotterdam, extension of the Law in 2009 was justified not because it is effective but because of new problems related to the influx of Middle and East European migrants. ‘We should not make the same mistakes again’, politicians claim, referring to the influx of guest workers from Turkey and Morocco in the 1960s and 1970s and the lenient policies which supposedly led to the problems of integration that the Netherlands now faces.
The real danger
But the real mistake to avoid is that of reinforcing the image of the cultural stranger who is not only different but also dangerous, particularly when spatially concentrated. The real danger is in conflating culture and crime: it stigmatizes, it evokes fear, it divides. My thoughts on the news that now more than 50 percent of The Hague’s population is of non-Dutch origin? Yes, it frightens me, too: I fear the ongoing criminalization of culture.