The Dutch are blaming the wrong people for the ills of globalisation

If we want to quell immigration just because 'the boat is full' - as Pim Fortuyn put it - we have to create other boats
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The Independent Online

The people of the Netherlands have delivered a quite astonishing sort of protest vote. In turning out in such numbers to show their support for the leadership qualities of a dead man, they have made quite a comment on the frustration people in the country feel at successive governments which, they believe, never seem to achieve much.

The people of the Netherlands have delivered a quite astonishing sort of protest vote. In turning out in such numbers to show their support for the leadership qualities of a dead man, they have made quite a comment on the frustration people in the country feel at successive governments which, they believe, never seem to achieve much.

As a murdered corpse, Pim Fortuyn has galvanised Dutch democracy even more than he did as a living maverick. His raggle-taggle party will be in some form part of the new government. But the real winners are the centre-right Christian Democrats, who will dominate the coalition, and have made huge gains at the expense of the outgoing Social Democrats. Leftish-liberal consensus in the Netherlands is over, for the time being at least.

I cannot help feeling that this gives the lie to the idea, much propagated in the US, that a post-11 September gulf has opened up between Europe and America. The US, since the atrocities, has become more inward-looking, more sentimentally patriotic, much more upfront about the fact that its international policy is entirely geared to considering number one, and also much more certain of its status in the world as the one country that matters above all others.

None of that is at all surprising or difficult to understand. What is rather more remarkable is that the other western nations all appear to have reacted to 11 September in a similar sort of way. The new, or at least crystallised, US mindset seems to apply to the Netherlands as well, and to many other countries in Europe.

The various upsurges in conservative attitudes across the continent all tend to centre on the issue of immigration, and the idea that immigrants are threatening national prosperity. The underlying message, though, appears to be that the more a country has to share, the less it wants to share it. The Netherlands, for example, has enjoyed good economic health for years, yet some of its inhabitants are behaving as though there is not enough food in the country to feed its children adequately, and certainly not enough for the children of anyone else.

As for those in countries where feeding the children is genuinely a difficulty, there seems to be absolutely no will to understand why it is that these people might find the idea of a move to these far richer countries so attractive. They don't come because they are chancers or scroungers, as is always portrayed. They come because they want the chance of a better life – the very same better life that the west is similarly keen to maintain for itself.

The blackly amusing thing about all of this is that it is the very people who are most vociferous in opposing immigration, and the free movement of people, are also slavishly committed to globalisation, and the free movement of goods and services. Why, when it is so obvious that the two go hand in hand, is politics nowadays so utterly committed to pretending the circle can be squared?

Every government in Europe has been presiding over an evenly matched tug of war, and pretending that the "globalisation" team is winning. Except that the two sides of the equation – free movement of goods and services versus free movement of people – are artificially divided. If you get one, you get the other, especially, crucially, since globalisation is not doing what it is supposed to do: spreading wealth throughout the world. It is instead polarising wealth, and concentrating it more and more in the hands of the few.

This is the situation in the world as a whole, and also within individual countries. The hatred of immigrants in part comes from the idea that it is they who are soaking up national wealth. It is often those who are struggling very hard for respectability and a decent life who are most likely to vote for anti-immigration parties. They want more, and blame the fact that they don't have more, on the people worse off than them. Globalisation is destabilising the world, and also individual nations.

Nevertheless, the west remains staunchly committed to globalisation, while saving all its venom for those people who are most proactive of all in seeking their part in it. The left has been comprehensively routed, post-11 September, in its demands – no, pleadings – for a debate on how world inequality, as delivered by globalisation, has played its part in feeding the sort of discontent, frustration and resentment that spawned such evils as al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.

Anyone who dares to voice such an opinion now is pilloried as a bin Laden apologist and a victim-blamer, who thinks the US "brought it on itself". Any idea of altering the course of globalisation to make it more equitable, more quickly, has become "giving in to the terrorists".

Instead we have given in to the terrorists in quite another way, because we have allowed then to shut down our own debate, assign our own irrational blame, and harden our positions as people who care for little except what goes on outside our own front doors. Those 19 men destroyed many thousands of lives in the most direct and horrific of ways. But the full sum of their destruction is still growing, and will continue to grow for years to come.

The way the West trades with the world needs to change, and we have to accept that if we want to quell immigration just because "the boat is full" – as Mr Fortuyn put it – then we have to create other boats that can float the sort of aspirations we are exporting from the West. Is this what we're now doing in Afghanistan? No, it is not. Change now is less likely than ever to come.

And as for Islam's part in all this, well, it is almost sinisterly apposite. When I studied Arabic culture for a year at university in the early 1980s, I formed the impression that prior to becoming a prophet, Mohammed was a campaigner for trade reform. He was unable to make any headway with his campaign prior to broadening it into a moral and spiritual quest. No doubt this sort of interpretation is considered blasphemous by some, maybe all, Muslims.

They probably have a point. I've since come to realise that the history of Islam that I learned is questionable, as there are so many different interpretations of events, and so many contradictory accounts of Mohammed's life that it is hard to establish the whole, unchallengeable truth. But it remains fairly certain that as a young businessman Mohammed was interested in trade reform, and that one of the great resentments of the time were the systems that were seen by the less successful as monopolies believed to be operated by successful Jewish traders.

It's sobering that one and a half millennia on, things have changed so little. Trade still needs to be reformed, and the tensions between secular Judaism and the other semite nations run as high as ever. Except, of course, that it is not the Jews who are so keen to protect a system that benefits them to the detriment of everyone else. It's the entire, stronger than ever Western consensus. Though Jewish people are still, after all this time, in many ways carrying the can for all of us.