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Sunday 23 November  
Froukje Santing and her book
Irina Mak's picture
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Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

‘When I came back, the Netherlands had completely changed’

Published on : 2 March 2012 - 8:41pm | By Irina Mak (photo: Liesbeth Kuipers)
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“Why exactly hadn’t I felt at home in the Netherlands for years? Why couldn’t I fit in?” Froukje Santing didn’t recognise the Netherlands anymore after 17 years abroad as a correspondent in Turkey. She was shocked at people’s attitude towards immigrants and Muslims. In the book, Dwars op de Tijdgeest (At Odds with the Times), she provides an answer to her questions.

After working for years as a correspondent in Turkey - including for Radio Netherlands Worldwide - and after a short-lived marriage to a Turkish man, Santing returned to the Netherlands in 1999. She began work as a journalist but felt alienated. In her book, she describes the first period back home as “solitary years of fretting”. Her feeling of alienation was sometimes to do with small things.

Eating together, home together
“For instance, I found it odd to eat or drink alone in public. I didn’t do that in Turkey. During the first years I was back in the Netherlands, there were people with trolleys selling drinks and snacks in trains. I found it difficult to buy something without offering the person sitting opposite me something. People just thought I was peculiar.”

“Another thing that struck me was how if you had a meeting somewhere, afterwards everyone just went their own way. People didn’t travel home together. They’d honk their horn as they drove passed a colleague at the bus stop without offering to give them a lift. How cold. People treat each other shabbily.”

Muslims and immigrants
Besides the little dissatisfactions, Santing was bothered by a much bigger worry - about how Dutch people treat Muslims and migrants now, in the years after the 9/11 attacks and the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist in 2004.

“I knew there were lots of ideas bubbling away under the surface, but I didn’t think that the Netherlands would completely change. People who would have been termed second-generation Turkish or Moroccan were now suddenly ‘Muslim’ and had to justify themselves. They had to keep on distancing themselves from people who used Islam as justification for terrorist attacks.”

A student again
She feels Dutch media and academics too often view immigrants as a problem, from a position of 'Western superiority'. She found this went so against the grain that she gave up her work and went back to studying full-time. Santing wanted to find out for herself who Dutch Muslims were.

In her book, she describes interviews with religious and non-religious immigrants and people in between.

“There’s no one Islam. We have to treat people as individuals. I make a case for once more allowing people to be ‘different’. We live in the Netherlands, a much nicer country than we imagine.”

Bending the rules
Then, there’s Santing’s half-Dutch half-Turkish daughter, Marleen, to whom the book is dedicated. Sometimes she feels more Dutch, sometimes more Turkish.

Even though she’s not Muslim, the Turkish consulate in the Netherlands put a tick in the box, ‘Muslim’ in her Turkish passport, without asking. But Marleen wasn’t really bothered. When she was on holiday in Jerusalem and wanted to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque, that tick in her passport meant she could enter the building outside regular visiting times.

“To me that shows how certain things are still problematic, such as how countries deal with religion and nationality. But my daughter uses these rigid rules, like so many people nowadays, in a creative way.”

(mw)

Discussion

Dan 6 March 2012 - 5:23am / Israel

Having lived in Amsterdam, I feel that the problem is not so much with Islam, but rather, people, especially Muslims, refusing to integrate into Dutch life.

Anonymous 3 March 2012 - 5:52pm / lalaland

Everything changes in this world.Nature's mighty law is change.Nothing is permanent, but change; everything flows, nothing stays still.

wang,yijiang 3 March 2012 - 9:31pm / xi'an,china/calgary,canada

i agree,everything is temporary,just span is different.

wang,yijiang 3 March 2012 - 10:12pm

permenant residence visa is still disturbing scientific term and olympic spirit.

wang,yijiang 4 March 2012 - 1:48am

allow me to expand topic. didn't we unbalancedly understand macro and micro? an example,between universal time and biological time,people's age is still not freely clicking.

wang,yijiang 5 March 2012 - 7:37pm

a scientific experiment had result,then wanted sense of time taken;marketing of an invention gave civilians time limit to must finish enjoying this invention,wasn't this against scientific spirit?
a film dosen't must give time length or end,as long as one audience in cinema is still watching.
i don't know much about space at this moment but time,abuse towards time must be stopped;are we still ignoring micro world and responsibility of vicinity and conquering outer space to fully focus on the macro?
after balance is back,fairness on a yearly,daily or minute basis isn't only a talking matter depending on what kind of span.

wang,yijiang 9 March 2012 - 6:36am

china artificially,that is,biologically slowed my life foundation construction,free from universal time. but it was compensated by quantities. we human beings are actually motionless in contrast with early stages of universe.
we think we are bigger than micro,but we are same with them in one same span. so,let's focus on biological surroundings. now it's problem of human beings,not climate.

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