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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Liberal Netherlands in Identity Crisis

The Netherlands, one of the world's most socially-liberal countries, is in the grip of a full-blown identity crisis after being hit hard by the ills of its famed anything-goes policies, once a matter of national pride.

"The nation's ideals are being tested by the reality they brought," Dick Houtman, a sociology professor at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday, December 15.

"The test is severe."

Houtman notes that the longtime free-for-all policies on issues like prostitution and soft drugs are now at the center of a heated debate.

"The Netherlands went further in allowing all sorts of liberties than many other countries."

For centuries the country has adopted liberal policies that attached greater value to individual choice and freedom.

In the low-lying country on the North Sea, drugs' possession and personal use are allowed.

Prostitution, euthanasia, abortion and same-sex marriage are legalized.

Houtman said many cross-sections of society are now questioning the liberal way of life.

"There is a feeling that our tolerance is the principal cause of many of the problems we experience now."

A 2007 study by the Justice Ministry highlighted the negative impact of liberal policies, warning that the country has become Europe's second most criminal country after Britain.

It said crime has cost society over 31 billion euros in 2006.

"The debate is about where liberty and tolerance should end and where order should begin," stressed Houtman.

Tilting Conservative

The debate over liberality and its ills is pushing the Netherlands towards a striking metamorphosis.

"The country is turning more conservative," believes Han van den Horst, a historian and author.

"There is a move away from sex, drugs and rock'n'roll towards some pretty bourgeois values."

Experts believe conservatism is now gaining ground in the Dutch society.

"The change started out as a rightist phenomenon, but is now becoming more of a mainstream feeling. It is gaining legitimacy and credibility among the working classes," agrees Houtman, the sociologist.

Even politicians, who have long been outspoken proponents of freedoms, are now embracing the new conservative wave.

"Liberal parties have moved a little to the right," maintains Geert de Vries, a sociologist at the Free University Amsterdam.

"They didn't want to go against this popular upsurge."

In cities nationwide, mayors and town councils are closing down brothels and shops where marijuana is sold, rolled, and smoked.

A government ban on hallucinogenic "magic mushrooms" entered into force earlier this month.

This week, the cab said it wanted to regulate the sex industry more strictly by imposing a more onerous licensing system.

In Amsterdam, city fathers said they planned to halve the number of prostitution windows and cannabis-vending coffee shops.

"We have allowed it to become too massive," Deputy Mayor Lodewijk Asscher told AFP.

"This is a necessary correction."

Source: IslamOnline

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