Good Night, Liberal Holland

The US Presidential campaign is rocked by a cartoon on the cover of The New Yorker, but nobody is suggesting that the magazine should be pulled from the stands, or that Internet copies of it’s cover should be pulled from the Web. Pulling magazines from the stands, taking down websites or parts of websites, or arresting a cartoonist at his house with a small army of police officers – these are things we associate with such liberal democracies as Iran, Zimbabwe, or North Korea.

And with the Netherlands. The country of legalized prostitution, marijuana, gay marriages, and abortion, and generally relaxed morals has been cracking down on free speech recently, thanks to it’s governing coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and the small, strictly Protestant Christian Union party. The result of that coalition is a rather devilish concoction of Christian morals and Socialdemocratic belief in the ‘makeable society’ – basically a method of steering public opinion with careful propaganda and heavy-handed disapproval of dissenting voices.

Enter cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot – the pen name refers to a Chinese Communist execution method, the neck shot – who was arrested in his home by nine to twelve men (accounts differ) because some of his cartoons were judged to be insulting to Islam and ‘people of colour’. And, well, they are. I am sure they are. I myself find some of his work gross, bordering on racist, based on half-brained conspiracy theories about the multicultural society, and I wouldn’t buy a newspaper that prints them on a regular basis. But then, no paper hardly ever prints any of his work. And, as Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell puts it in this excellent write-up: Should [cartoonists] go too far? Of course we should.

Eventually, some of Nekschot’s stuff was pulled from his website – eight cartoons in total. And despite the international upheaval, with articles about Nekschot all over the western world, Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin recently said that the attention for the case was “unjustified”. This is what liberal Holland has crumbled down to – a country where a small army of police officers raid a cartoonist’s house because of his drawings and a government which has nothing more to offer in reaction to that than a very, very, very thinly veiled attempt at downplaying the enormity of their blunder.

I can deal with the Muslim hunting that’s going on. It’s a passing fad and I believe it’s already losing ground. Nobody in their right mind honestly believes that the far right will ever be in a government coalition in the Netherlands. But this is of a different nature. These are mainstream parties and the Christian Democrats especially don’t look set to lose any ground at all over this. There’s every chance that they will be part of the next government as well. The trick is that the majority of the people simply do not care. Either they have never known what happened, or they have already forgotten, or they actually agree that the government should intervene when things go ‘too far’. They vote Christian Democrats mainly because they are not touched by all this. Things are good, aren’t they?

And that’s how it works. You cannot rob someone who’s awake. You have to wait until they are sound asleep, dreaming happy thoughts, and there’s no blogger loud enough to wake them. Panem et circences, it is still so true after all these centuries. Even in ‘liberal’ Holland.



  1. I’m sorry Rob, but (again) I must disagree profoundly with yoyur assessment of the situation in Holland. True, the Nekschot case looked very ominous to me too. But as you state yourself: Nekschots art is far below standard as displayed by e.g. Jos Collignon in de Volkskrant. Nekschots drawings have a certain artistic quality, but they are not (political) cartoons, most of the time they are merely illustrations that accompany some hot headed and most of the time very unoriginal point of view, expressed in text. Nevertheless, they shouldn’t have messed with him, if only to avoid an enormous workload connected with arresting most of the mediocre commentators in weblogs — to say nothing of the hotheaded comments many weblogs seem to attract.

    You seem to think that in the United States (or Britain) such things do not occur. Of course they don’t: political commentators, whether in writing or drawing, have learned to restrain themselves, they censor their own works, as they either fear to be sued for damages or arrested for unpatriotic behaviour. In he Netherlands no commentator or political cartoonist in his right mind thinks while writing or drawing: can I be prosecuted for this? And there is no need to think as much.

    Still, this Nekschot case remains intriguing. Couldn’t there be other reasons involved?

  2. sante, I honestly do not think that in the US, where I could legally start a Nazi Party or something similar, any cartoonist or commentator would be arrested. A famous American expression is: “I do not agree with what you’re saying, but I will defend your right to say it.”

  3. Oh, and then: a Nazi Party isn’t seen as particularly dangerous, as e.g. a Communist |Party would be. The point I want to stress is that the US is not a democratic country, One can start a hundred parties if one should wish to do so, but none of those could ever reach anything in the way of even a humble governorship or be a member of the House, not to mention the Senate or anything near the Presidency. The real important jobs are divided by the Republicans and the Democrats; the differences in positions of these two parties can only be discerned by using strong binoculars — of a certain make, at that. Again: until further notice the US is as democratic country as is Russia.

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