Bishops speak out against racism

“Bishop Gerard de Korte lets it be known that he ate couscous today.” As far as tweets from official diocesan accounts go, this must be one of the oddest. But it is not without reason, as it is a jocular comment in the debate that has erupted following the latest racist comments from politician Geert Wilders’ followers. Following the municipal elections on Wednesday, Wilders asked his audience whether they wanted more or less Morrocans in the Netherlands, to which they shouted, “Less, less!” Wilders’ party, the PVV, already lost several members of parliament over the incident, and more than a few bishops have been uncharacteristically vocal in their opposition to this expression of overt racism.

Bishop Jan Hendriks was the first, when he posted a short entry in his blog, titled “‘The Morrocans’ do not exist”. He wrote:

“if the crime rate among Morrocans in the Netherlands is high, the reason is not their being Morrocan; in Morocco crime levels are far behind that of western countries. There are therefore background to that high crime rate which have nothing to do with ethnicity per se. For the sake of a safe society those crime statistics are analysed for social causes and backgrounds. In any case, the solution is not the criminalisation of a given people as such.”

As the Council of Churches announced an upcoming ecumenical service to emphasise that they are for “more”, not “less”, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands also stated they would send representatives, Bishop de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Father van der Helm of the Diocese of Rotterdam, to that service.

The bishop also declared that among Christians “there can be no room for racism and discrimination”.

A mosque in New York

Everyone will have heard of the plans that a mosque is to be built not too far from the place where the World Trade Center towers fell on 11 September 2001. Nor will the opposition in some quarters have gone unnoticed. Even our national madman, Geert Wilders, plans to protest the planned construction next month. You’d think he’d be too busy creating a coalition agreement he bears no responsibility for.

Anyway, back to the mosque (if only to keep the blood pressure down). I am, quite frankly, disappointed to see that Catholic websites, notably among them Rorate Caeli, join in the fear-mongering, painting a picture as if there is some holy war going on between Islam and Christianity. For the record, I am not a fan of Islam. I don’t agree with its tenets (I would have been a Muslim otherwise), and I think that it more easily leads to violence than most other faiths. But I will always support a Muslims right to express his belief and worship where he wants to (albeit not in Catholic churches, of course. Worship, but be sensible about it. Isn’t that one of the foundations of the Catholic faith>? I think so.

Photo showing the location of the proposed mosque relative to Ground Zero

Anyway, this mosque in New York, which won’t even be visible from Ground Zero, should be allowed out of the cherished freedom of religion that exists in the United States and most other civilised countries. And that freedom is not limited to Christianity, of course. It is thanks to this freedom, even though it is challenged more and more, that we Catholics can live our faith and worship in our own churches. To deny others the same right undermines the freedom we enjoy and renders it invalid. After all, freedom of religion is not a matter of faith or dogma. It is a legal measure, and as such not connected to any faith at all, and since it concerns all of society, that is where it belongs. Whether it is right or wrong can of course be discussed, like all legalities can, but as long as we make use of it and support it as Catholics, our protests when others want to exercise the same right have no basis in reality.

And as for the concerns that that mosque will tarnish the memories of those who died in 9/11? Rubbish. Any person capable of rational thought will realise that the terrorists acted out of terrorist motives. Perhaps their being Muslim made them more likely to be corrupted, but an unstable Christian runs the exact same risk. Look at the various crazy sects, founded on some misshapen form of Christianity, that exist.

A Catholic tendency towards extremism?

Now that the election results are as good as in, I find what seems like a disturbing link between Catholicism and extremist views. I wonder what the reason behind that could be? Are Catholics more prone to vote right wing? Are they more susceptible to populist sloganeering? Are they just not very good thinkers? I’m generalising, of course, but the ‘evidence’ is striking.

Geert Wilders’ populist one-issue party PVV has gained a great victory nationwide (they’re the third part now, with 24 seats), but in municipalities in Limburg, the most Catholic part of the Netherlands, they are easily the largest. Maybe the fact that Wilders is from Limburg himself has something to do with that, but I wonder…

I’ve also come across other instances of Catholic intolerance and extremism, especially towards Muslims. The recent discussions about the murder of Bishop Padovese of Anatolia, which looks more and more to have been a sacrificial killing, brings out people with degrees in generalising. Examples are in the replies to this post in Father Z’s blog, and this post at Rorate Caeli.

The two situations outlined above are different, the one political, the other religious. But intolerance lies at the root of both. Maybe Catholics still feel oppressed (and in certain cases they are right to feel like that) and that they must violently oppose society’s general trends? Certain social trend deserve opposition, but surely openness  and ethical treatment of people of other faiths surely do not? We may disagree, fine, but here we see a division of “we are good and they are evil”.

It’s simplistic, dangerous and quite disconcerting.

A difficult choice in the voting booth

In the Netherlands it’s time to make a difficult decision again: who to vote for in the national elections? It’s never an easy choice, with so many issues going on and so many parties to choose from. And the fact that this election was somewhat unexpected due to the government’s collapse a few months ago does not help either. And when you’re not too enthusiastic or informed about the machinations of politics, the dilemma seems complete.

But vote I will. It’s a right, but also a duty. So the choice is not if I’ll vote, but for whom. And that’s the problem. I’m Catholic (there’s a surprise) and a try to live according to Catholic social teachings, so that is why I try to see reflected in the party programs. And many parties (although some would hate to admit it) agree with what the Church has to say about many topics, but none do so for the full 100 %. In the Netherlands, a Catholic vote is not possible.

So the choice becomes negative. What party is the least divergent? Many Catholics vote left. PvdA, SP and GreenLeft (Labour, Socialists and Greens respectively) are popular. Others vote right: VVD (Liberals) mainly. And traditionally Catholics find a political home among the Christian Democrats of the CDA. And there is the PVV of madman Geert Wilders of course: a one-issue party that looks to be getting many votes out of spite. Will Catholics vote for him? Hard to say.

All these options can be defended (even the PVV, to an extent). But when it comes to combining certain specifically Christian issues (life and the role of religion in society, but also health care and education) and recent events in the media (the abuse issue and demonstrations about the ‘right’ to receive Communion), the choice becomes limited.

There it boils down to those parties who call themselves Christian: CDA, ChristenUnie (Christian Union) and SGP (Politically Reformed Party). CDA and ChristenUnie have been in government, while the SGP has always been a small opposition party, but nonetheless the most consistently Christian. They’re all chiefly or totally Protestant though, with the SGP being openly anti-Catholic.

Comparing the three, I conclude that the ChristenUnie is the best choice. Although solidly Protestant, they have been actively trying to involve Catholics in their party. Originally fully pro-life they did succumb to compromise, but that is the nature of Dutch politics. I don agree, but I understand. CDA is Christian in name only and SGP, as I said, is openly anti-Catholic. Despite the party’s qualities that is a major stumbling block for me.

What will we be getting? Perhaps a Liberal/Left combination? VVD, PvdA, GreenLeft? Maybe the PVV will get too involved (something I hope for: it may mean they´ll collapse within the year because they suddenly have responsibility). CDA will likely end up in opposition. D66 (possibly the most anti-Catholic choice we have) may turn out to be instrumental when it comes to forming a coalition, and perhaps, in a smaller way, the ChristenUnie will be as well. Chances of the end result being good are slim though. The major leftwing parties are openly antagonistic to the Church: the PvdA called for the Communion protests during Mass and GreenLeft  head Femke Halsema called the Church part of an axis of evil… Nice, that :$

But even the best options are not amazing. Dutch politics, like the country itself, is much secularised, and issues of faith, ethics and morality do not play a major part or are openly attacked or ridiculed. We will have to struggle on.

A cabinet has fallen. Now what?

I’m no politician, and I’m not really interested in politics and I don’t know a lot about politics. I knew that the cabinet had been discussing a possible extension of the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan and that the PvdA (social democrats) had been against that. Last night the cabinet fell over the issue, as the socialist cabinet ministers collectively quit.

Below is the statement made by Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende:

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“Later today I will offer Her Majesty the resignation of the ministers and state secretaries of the PvdA.  I will place the portfolio’s, the office and the functions of these ministers and state secretaries at her disposal. As chairman of the council of minister I have sadly had to conclude that there is no fruitful means by which this cabinet of CDA, PvdA and Christen Unie could continue.

In the past days you have been able to see that the unity was tarnished by established facts. By statements that are contrary to recent decisions as made by the cabinet and reported to the House. Those statements put a political mortgage on amicable debate. They got in the way of diligence. Towards our men and women in Afghanistan, but also in our relationship with our NATO partners.

Today we have tried to see in the council of ministers if trust could be re-established. A reaffirmation of the agreements we made ten days ago in the Treves Hall and which were published in the letter of notice to the House would have laid a foundation for a continued cooperation. The ministers responsible would have been able to propose an option that was satisfactory to the cabinet – if possible before 1 March.

For a minority in the cabinet this was a bridge too far. When trust is lacking, an attempt to agree on content is doomed to fail. At most it would mean the start of a new controversy in the future. Especially concerning the challenger facing the Netherlands: they don’t require the easy way, but decisiveness.

The continued existence of a cabinet can never be a goal in itself. It should be about work and welfare in the Netherlands – now and in the future. And about the influence that the Netherlands can reasonable have on a better world. That is the intention of my colleagues and me when we started three years ago. Collectively and individually we experience the defeat of having failed in this. But that does not change the facts and the conclusion we have had to draw.

Now is not the time to delve deeper into the question of blame – let alone to provide a definite answer. I trust that you will respect this.”

Source 

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Law dictates that national elections must be held within three months. And with the public opinion polls heavily favouring populist and right-wing tendencies, I fear the result. While the Christian democrats of the CDA still take the highest share in prospective votes, Geert Wilders’ populist PVV is a very close second. It’s a scary prospect, although there is always the example of earlier populist parties: Pim Fortuyn’s LPF or Rita Verdonk’s TON. They started out with a bright future, but soon imploded.

Judging by the media, the general trend would be towards the right, with both D66 and the VVD likely to win seats. The left-wing has already started to block off options, with Green Left leader Agnes Kant axing any possible coalition with D66, whom she accuses of being to right.

So, we don’t just have municipal elections to look forward to on 3 March, but also national elections between now and May. No idea yet who I will vote for, so I guess some studying of programs is in order.