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Europe

European Press Review: Shattered Illusions

European newspaper editorials focused their attention on the mayhem that has ensued in the Netherlands since the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh and the Palestinians' future after Yasser Arafat's death.

Britain’s The Guardian wrote that Dutch society has been under painful scrutiny since populist politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered on the eve of the 2002 election. Fortuyn ignored political correctness to declare the Netherlands -- Europe’s most crowded country -- “full.” It’s no coincidence that the new government adopted the harshest immigration policies in the EU, pledged to deport thousands of long-term illegal immigrants and to make Dutch language classes compulsory to improve poor cultural integration. The paper recommended that Dutch people of all backgrounds and faiths, as well as Britons and other Europeans trying to balance minority rights and security, should heed the words of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, striking the right note at this troubling time: “We must not allow ourselves to be swept away in a maelstrom of violence. Free expression of opinion, freedom of religion and other basic rights are the foundation stones of our state and our democracy. They are valid for everybody, always.”

In Vienna, Der Standard observed that multiculturalism doesn’t work where people are indifferent to it. Although one shouldn’t jump to conclusions so soon, it’s no coincidence that religiously and culturally driven violence has broken out in the Netherlands, of all places. For decades Dutch society was seen as the most tolerant in the world. That environment increased the already strong immigration from predominantly Muslim former colonies. For a long time, integrating the immigrants appeared to be not only problem-free, but even downright exemplary. The murder of Fortuyn a year and a half ago suddenly made clear that this notion was based largely on a mixture of illusion and indifference. Multicultural Dutch society was so politically correct that hardly anyone wanted to take a closer look.

Germany's Die Welt put the clashes in the Netherlands into a context of a three-page spread about growing tension between Christianity and Islam. The Berlin-based daily wrote that the large-scale police and army raid to root out Muslim extremists in The Hague on Wednesday has destroyed yet another cozy illusion of Dutch society. So proud of its peacefulness, the country now suddenly finds itself a battleground against fanatics and terrorists. Since the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh and the attacks on mosques and churches it’s becoming ever plainer that the mental weave of multiculturalism, tolerance and liberalism has veiled reality and can no longer hold the society together, the paper argued. The shocked Dutch are recognizing that their freedom was abused and now has to be harshly defended. That also seems to have been understood by the political class, which many Dutch people think is extremely soft on security issues, the paper said.

The death of Yasser Arafat early Thursday did not make it to the op-ed pages, but the papers did look ahead to what might follow him. Russian daily Kommersant wrote that the question of who might succeed him could be settled in Washington, Cairo, Amman and perhaps even in Moscow. Outside the Palestinian Authority, the temptation is great to install a comfortable, obedient and weak politician at the head of the autonomy authority. But it would be a big mistake to hand power to Mahmud Abbas and his team, because Palestinians question their legitimacy. There is, of course, the danger of a radical winning the elections. But the general rule is that a politician behaves differently in power than when he is in the opposition. A radical would have an easier time asserting concessions to the Israelis in his own camp.

In Sweden, Svenska Dagbladet wrote that Arafat shrank from peace. As a person he was called into question, but he was revered as an icon of the struggle for a Palestinian state. Arafat could have entered history as a great leader, but he won’t. He could have led a Palestinian state towards democracy and good-neighborly relations with Israel. But he lacked the political courage or the necessary will. When the chips were really down, Arafat was not able to look beyond preserving his own power. The way forward can only be through democratic elections that equip a legitimate political leadership with the mandate for the risk Arafat dared not take: peace.

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