AMSTERDAM -- It's not quite terminal yet, but the great experiment in tolerance that has been the Netherlands since the 1970s is taking its last gasping, breaths.
The country that became as famous for Thai sticks and call girls as for tulips and wooden clogs is in the middle of a nearly complete political about-face. And few outsiders are taking notice, least of all the American media.
The infamous coffeeshops are still there, but their numbers are down sharply and more restrictions are in the works. Prostitutes are being hustled off the streets. Immigrants who refuse to contribute to society are getting the boot, and welfare benefits are being rolled back. Law-and-order is in, multiculturalism is out.
It ain't quite the happy hippie paradise anymore.
Some visitors to Amsterdam will be pleased to hear that the smell of ganja is still pretty thick in some parts of town. But there are now signs beseeching customers to please smoke their dope inside the shop and not at the tables outside. There are still two menus - one offering muffins and cappuccino and the other offering Moroccan blonde and Dutch Nederwiet, or "superskunk," but the latter may not be on that menu much longer.
This week, the Dutch parliament is due to officially commission a study to determine whether the hopped-up superskunk is actually a "hard drug" (bad, in Dutch eyes) instead of a "soft drug" (tolerable, to the Dutch).
Apparently, European dopers like their pot genetically modified, but not their corn. The levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (the bit that adds the buzz) in this superskunk has been tweaked to astronomical levels. Tenderfoot tourists are said to be having panic attacks outside the Anne Frank House after a few puffs of the stuff.
The center-right government of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende wants to put a stop to it. If the study concludes that superskunk warrants the hard-drug label, the government wants to ban its sale outright. It's also asking local councils to further restrict the location and number of coffeeshops. Already, the number of such outlets in Amsterdam is down from a high of 2,000 to 700 now.
Clearly, Balkenende is not so much worried about spaced out sorority girls at the Milky Way. What's pushing this clampdown is the growing realization that the permissiveness of the Age of Aquarius has gone a little too far, that the balance between rights and responsibilities is out of whack. Tolerance, the Dutch have come to realize, needs limits.
Amsterdam, one of the loveliest cities in Europe, is also one of the scariest for travelers arriving by train. A boat ride through the canals near the Central Station can be like a Mr. Toad nightmare, with filthy women sucking on crack pipes and men with gold teeth and evil grins on view instead of rosy-cheeked Hans Christian Andersons singing It's a Small World. When I was 18, it was cool. Now that my kid is half that age, it's not so quaint. It's far worse than anything around Penn Station in New York or Waterloo in London.
Most of these loiterers are clearly not Dutch. They are German heroin addicts, Jamaican rastafari-types and English yobs. They are former bus drivers from Senegal and farm-boys from Turkey who took the wrong path. It is these foreigners that are drawing the ire the Dutch.
In the 1960s and 1970s, refugees were welcomed to Holland with open arms. Through the 1980s, the human rights-championing Dutch accepted tens of thousands of asylum seekers from ravaged countries like Bosnia, Kosovo, Africa and Afghanistan. Many embraced their new home and quickly began contributing to society. Many others clearly did not.
Nearly five percent of the country's sixteen million people are now foreign-born, and a good chunk of those are minimally educated. One in six were unemployed in 2003, and nearly half of the country's burgeoning prison population is people with foreign backgrounds. For years, the Dutch kept their opinions about this growing underclass to themselves. Then came Pim Fortuyn, the idiosyncratic head of a conservative party who was assassinated by an animal rights wacko just before the election in 2002. Fortuyn had the guts to say what everyone else was thinking, one fairly representative middle-class mother in Haarlem told me, but didn't dare for fear of being branded a politically incorrect racist.
The gripe isn't that there are immigrants at all, this mother told me. Most Dutch appreciate the benefits, economic and otherwise, of a rational immigration policy. But immigrants these days, she said, are not even trying to assimilate. Most don't bother to learn Dutch. They move into urban enclaves and keep largely to themselves, diverting ever-larger amounts of resources in a society that has always prided itself on its egalitarianism.
A government commission earlier this year put in writing what many here have been thinking for years -- multiculturalism has failed. The come-one-come-all policies of the past are now gone, and immigration policies are getting tighter by the day.
New immigrants and welfare recipients already in the country have to learn Dutch. Asylum seekers arriving in-country are processed almost immediately, and those without a case are shipped home within 48 hours. Residents under 24 are no longer allowed to bring spouses into the country. In February, the parliament took the unprecedented step of ordering some 26,000 asylum-seekers out of the country, prompting howls of protest from activists.
The Dutch are finally fed up, it seems, and they are doing something about it. For years, policy-makers there slavishly followed the diktats of the New Left and they paid the price for those policies. Now, the pendulum is swinging back and responsibility is back in vogue.
Places across the pond like Berkeley and Madison, Wisc. should take note.
Scott Norvell is London Bureau Chief of Fox News. He recently wrote for TCS about Britain's culture war.
Copyright © 2004 Tech Central Station - www.techcentralstation.com. Read this article in the Tech Central Station website. Reprinted with permission.