Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dutch Culture Wars II - KLM the 'appeasers'

(flickr: darkpatator)

De Telegraaf reports that on a KLM flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam recently, a Muslim woman asked if the (Dutch) non-Muslim man sitting next to her could be moved to another seat.

There was another (better) seat open, so they moved him.

That's the story.

You might think: why is it news when an airline does a small courtesy to a woman traveling alone? You'd be missing the nuance. This is pure appeasement, proof that creeping Islamism is on the brink of destroying Dutch society!

De Telegraaf's headline reads "KLM Bows To Muslim Sex[ist] Demand"

The story drew more than 900 comments on De Telegraaf's website _ about a third of them so venomous that they had to be removed. The first comment that wasn't censored, the fifth, reads:

"Yeah, just wait a little longer and we will only be able to do what our Muslim brothers and sisters say we can. We just have to adjust in our own country."

That sets the tone. Comment after comment rails about the impending Islamic state in the Netherlands, the outrageousness of the woman's request, religion is stupid, this is the world upside down, etc., etc.

But just look at the story closely and it falls apart.


The only way we even know it happened at all is that the guy who changed seats, Lex van Drooge, happens to be a politician for the Christian Democrat party in Amsterdam.

More on that in a moment.

Funny enough, it's not clear whether he is sure it happened at all. He says he didn't speak a word to the woman he was next to and at first didn't know why the flight attendant asked him to move. "Later it emerged that this was at the request of my original neighbor with a headscarf," the paper quoted him saying. (A headscarf, the horror! We know what *that* means. What kind of backward people would wear a headscarf?)

-He doesn't actually say her objection was religious _ he just suggests it.
-No other passengers noticed the incident.
-KLM staff say they don't know about it either.

A KLM spokesperson quoted in the story says their seating change policy is that if someone wants a change, flight attendants accommodate them when possible, and otherwise not. (sure sounds true to my experience). No special Muslims policy.

Lex van Drooge is also quoted saying he 'telephoned around' and no one else has heard of this kind of thing happening on other airlines, not even Turkish ones.

I believe the incident did happen in some form, so I'm not questioning Van Drooge's word per se.

But as a critical person you have to look at the situation:

1) Van Drooge is an opposition politician in left-leaning Amsterdam. He has something to gain by playing up this story. It didn't make its way into the paper without his help. (THINK, people!).

(CDA Amsterdam website)

2) Is it not possible that the woman didn't want to sit next to Drooge for some other reason? One person can take a dislike to another without exchanging a word _ it happens all the time.


So maybe she used religion as an excuse for having him moved; or maybe Drooge just assumed it was a question of religion.


My main interest in this story is really the double whammy of the incendiary way De Telegraaf cast it, and the nastiness of the reactions by the paper's readers.

On the readers: so many of them are concerned with Muslim intolerance and saying that Muslims should conform to 'Dutch' ways or not travel here.

But this didn't happen on the cheese train in Gouda. It happened on a flight between Istanbul and Amsterdam.

Turn the plane around, look in the mirror, and ask, why is this such a big deal?

Substitute "Catholic nun asks not to sit next to man on flight" for "Muslim woman," and I don't think anyone would have raised an eyebrow.

The defensiveness and over-reaction to a small perceived affront to Dutch culture is a sign of insecurity.

How DARE she tell us what to do! Why do WE have to be considerate to a foreigner in OUR country! Not fair!

Where's the sense of perspective here?

At one Dutch company I know of, they don't serve karnemelk (buttermilk) for lunch when Japanese guests are attending. Accommodating foreigners in this way is not a sign Dutch culture is about to collapse in the face of a Japanese onslaught.

On the contrary, making a small sacrifice for foreign visitors is usually considered 'nice,' or 'being polite'. I wish De Telegraaf's readers would try that thought out for a change.

On De Telegraaf: the use of the words "Bow" and "Demand" in the headline are unfair and indefensible, as far as I can see.

As in the previous two stories, the reporting is one-sided in the most basic sense of the word: no Muslim is quoted, let alone the "complainers."

One final thought on De Telegraaf. You'd think that a paper that was "wrong" in WWII would be a little more careful about slinging around accusations of "appeasement."


Dee said...

So in fact the reason for the request of the woman could not or has not been confirmed and the story ran based entirely upon speculation. It's fairly typical for De Telegraaf, I'm afraid.

I don't know about you, but I've had issues in the past with some Dutch people having less than desirable hygiene practices. For example, entering trains that are full, particularly in the summertime, can be stifling. I've even experienced it in simply passing people in the grocery store or on the street. This may also have been the reason she requested a move.

No one really knows, but one thing can be said, journalism here can be very irresponsible and some of the stories that I read in what should be legitimate newspapers belong in gossip magazines.

Laura K. said...

Dee hit the nail on the head! MANY Dutch people have horrible hygiene and it's just gross! I'd ask to move too! Being an American in Holland would there be a story in the paper about how those AMERICANS should adapt to Dutch culture? Sorry kids, I'm not giving up deodorant for ANYONE! I even still have it mailed to me from America because they don't have any good offerings here.

Anonymous said...

There are medical reasons for not serving dairy products to asians as they often lack the enzym necessary to digest it, thus dairy products can lead to digestive problems (lactose intolerance).
There is a great difference between a medical necessity and a religious view that considers all other religions "descendants of swines and apes" or "people to be killed without mercy".
(This is stated in their holy book, if you consider these expressions inappropriate and delete them please also delete all existing copies of the Q'ran).

Toby Sterling said...

@laura _ as Dee says the real point is, no one knows why the lady asked to have the guy moved.

I have never noticed the Dutch having poor hygiene, but I find myself agreeing about the lack of choice of deoderants(!) I think this is a trivial but funny thing about different consumer cultures. As a man here your only option is "Axe" (Unilever) which is designed for teenagers I think, with an overpowering smell.

In that same vein, I have never been able to find a substitute for "Tide" laundry detergent (Procter & Gamble). I use the Albert Heijn brand, one of the few things that can get me into an AH store.

Toby Sterling said...

You shift logic halfway through. The comparison is between between changing chairs and not serving karnemelk _ both are sacrifices that can be made without much effort simply to be considerate toward foreigners.

But as long as we're quoting religious texts out of context, I'm curious your interpretation of Deuteronomy 7:1-2 and Matthew 10:34.

"The devil can cite scripture for his purpose." -Shakespeare.

Anonymous said...

Hey Laura, you know what really stinks? Your music choice...

Have a great day :-)

Toby Sterling said...

@Flurt: up late or up early? Play nice...

Anonymous said...

Sleep is for the weak ;-)

And I am nice, trust me...