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Can You Be Yourself in the Netherlands?

By: Nourdeen Wildeman
Date: September 5th 2009
Where: IslamOnline


"Notice: No Moroccans!" That was the common request from four store managers of Servex (a company that manages various small supermarkets on the Dutch railway stations) when asked to submit the profiles of the employees sought.

It was a very shocking notice that the Bureau of Discrimination Affairs in the Hague immediately filed a lawsuit against Servex, bringing the company to court.

Anti-Discrimination Law


Do you have to hide your true self to be accepted? This is the main question asked in a nationwide campaign addressing discrimination in the Netherlands. The campaign was launched after accepting a new law on anti-discrimination facilities. This law recognizes the urgency of easily accessible, professional, and independent handling of complaints on discrimination. Also, the law should enable the Dutch authorities to have full and accurate insight into the origin and magnitude of discrimination in the Netherlands.

For the attainment of these objectives, the law requires that every city with an independent police agency should also have a bureau of discrimination affairs, like the one in the Hague. Forty-three of these bureaus are currently active and spread throughout the Netherlands.

As a way of promoting the new anti-discrimination legislation, a campaign was launched to make people more acquainted with the bureaus in different areas of the Netherlands. TV commercials, websites, web banners, advertisements in newspapers, magazines, and posters in bus stops are among the methods of raising awareness.

Hide To Be Accepted

The Amsterdam-based advertising agency Imagine has based the campaign's main idea on some people carrying faces of others covering theirs to hide their true identities. For instance, a Muslim woman who is shown wearing a headscarf is seen to be holding the picture of an unveiled woman.

The concept is applied but with different categories: a black male waiting for a taxi while holding a picture of a Caucasian male; two elderly people holding pictures of younger people; etc.. A voice-over asks the viewers, "Do you need to hide your true self to be accepted? If you feel discriminated against, call 0900-2 354-354 or visit discriminatie.nl."

Art.1 Contribution

One of the associations working on discrimination affairs in the Netherlands is Art.1 (Article one). The name refers to the first amendment of the Dutch constitution, which declares that all forms of discrimination are banned by law. A significant amount of the currently active bureaus on discrimination affairs belongs to the Art.1 association. The new law allows the cities in need of bureaus to pick their own partners, a significant majority of cities have selected Art.1 as their main partner.

Worth mentioning here is that Art.1, with more than 10 years of experience in the field, has had an advisory role in both the content of the new law and in the propaganda of the campaign.

New Approach, Better Results

Mariëtte de Heide, managing director of Art.1, explained, "Based on our previous experience and many surveys done by Art.1, we were able to prevent the two main mistakes which can be made with a campaign like this," she added.

The first mistake is to focus too much on discrimination being an illegal act, since research shows this never decreases the negative thoughts that some people have towards other groups. It actually makes it stronger. The second mistake is to victimize people who are being discriminated [against]. This leads to a feeling of shame and prevents people from filing complaints when faced by such a situation - the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish.

Making a real change using a 27-second commercial or a simple poster is quite a challenge. Fleur Boose, communications advisor at the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, emphasizes, "We try to show that everybody can be in a position in which they feel they have to be different from the outside rather than from inside."

By using a large variety of images, Bosse hopes to appeal to the actual experience of as many people as possible and stimulate them to report discrimination at any of the specialized bureaus.

Negative Stereotyping

However, for this message to be communicated, various stereotypes were used to represent groups of people.

One scene in the commercial is described by Postbus51, the governmental general information service, as a "female police officer who is talking to a man. She is holding a picture of a male officer in front of her face." However, when watching the commercial, one actually sees a dark-skinned man wearing a typical Moroccan djellaba and standing in front of a mosque while emotionally yelling at the female officer (holding the male officer's picture).

The stereotype shown is the Muslim or Moroccan male not accepting female authority - discrimination based on gender. This is seen as a surprising image in a campaign directly focusing on discrimination.

When asked why this particular image is used, Boose explained that it is simply impossible to guarantee that the visual material will be equally appreciated by every viewer: "We thoroughly tested the campaign using test panels. We found the concept to be sufficiently appreciated by this panel for us to move forward and launch the campaign in this form."

Caucasian Complaints

De Heide was surprised when that specific image was pointed out to her as being a negative stereotype: "I never looked at it this way. We strongly appreciate feedback on this or other views regarding this campaign. This feedback will be used in the evaluation of the campaign and may influence the way the campaign will be run next time."

A few complaints were filed against the campaign from a group that was not expected to have such attitude. "Some complaints were from Caucasian middle-class middle-aged males stating they also face discrimination, but this is hardly ever recognized in any campaign," Mariëtte added.

Campaign Info.

Objectives

The campaign was launched on June 23, 2009 and continued until August 2, 2009. The main objective was to raise the percentage of complaints filed regarding discrimination. Research done by Art.1 has shown that approximately 80 percent of all experiences of discrimination do not end with an official complaint, which the campaign aims to change. Serious results are required and expected from that campaign.

Initial Results

The primary results have already been subjected to analysis. "The positive impact of this campaign is huge. Throughout the entire country, a significant increase in the amount of filed complaints is reported.

In the major cities, the amount of complaints has even tripled," De Heide proudly stated, "More complaints mean more insight, so we can improve our activities to prevent and react to discrimination of any form in the Netherlands. For the future, we still hope that with more data available, we can get the law to also make it mandatory for the local government to work on prevention."

Muslims and Discrimination in Netherlands

Even though the campaign is not focused on a specific ethnic, religious, or peer group, it strongly appeals to the Dutch Muslim community. The image of the veiled woman carrying a picture of an unveiled woman in front of her face is a very powerful image. If Muslims also increase the amount of complaints filed regarding discrimination, it can benefit them in various ways. A recent report issued by the Radboud University for the National Centre for Diversity Expertise of the Dutch police force shows that religiously motivated discrimination hits Muslims more than other religious groups. The focus here is on discrimination, such as threats, insults, violent abuse, and damage to objects.

Figures show that mosques as places of worship witnesses discrimination acts three times more than churches, and even nine times more often than synagogues.

Therefore, if the final evaluation statistics of this campaign are to show an increase in the amount of complaints by Muslims, that would be a positive development for the Muslim community in the Netherlands.

Reject That Fact of Life

Surprisingly, a report issued by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on discrimination against Muslims in Europe revealed that not knowing how or where to report discrimination was only the third reason for not reporting. The fact that Muslims believe that discrimination is simply "a fact of life" for Muslims living in the West is a bigger reason for not reporting, while Muslims' disbelief that reporting actually helps is the most important one. Even though this campaign was a huge step in the right direction, it probably will not convince every Muslim to file a complaint after a discrimination-related incident.

*For full contact list of the anti-discrimination campaign in the Netherlands, click here.

Sources:
1. "Nieuwe wet en campagne stimuleren melden discriminatie." Art. 1 official website. 23 Jun. 2009. Accessed on 5 Aug. 2009.
2. "AH to go weert Marokkaans personeel." NU.nl.16 July 2009.Accessed on 5 Aug. 2009.
3. "Discriminatiezaken doet aangifte tegen AH to go. " NU.nl.17 July 2009. Accessed on 5 Aug. 2009.
4. "Antidiscriminatiecampagne van start." "Allochtonenblog." 24 Jun. 2009. Accessed on 5 Aug. 2009.
5. "Criminaliteitsbeeld Discriminatie 2008." Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties.23 Jun. 2009. Accessed on 5 Aug. 2009.
6. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey. Data in Focus Report 2: Muslims. Online 28 May 2009. Accessed on 5 Aug. 2009.