From drug tolerance to ‘narco state’: Migrant gangs & hands-off policing threaten Dutch liberalism
A report by the Dutch police union based on interviews with 400 detectives, released last week, read less like a blueprint for tackling crime, but rather a concession of defeat.
A sample of quotes from interviewees: “In 25 years, I’ve seen small dealers grow to large businessmen with respected investors [and] political connections.” “Five years ago a contract killer would cost €50,000 [US$61,000] now one can be found for €5,000. It’s supply and demand.” “The Netherlands has become a narco state in the past three decades. We do not see what remains invisible, but underground it has been growing.”
The union demands the immediate hire of 2,000 more officers, saying that officers are spending 80 percent of their time responding to crime reports, leaving barely any to investigate “gangs that use infrastructure and facilities paid for by Dutch society to carry out their activities – drug trafficking, prostitution and child abuse.”
Liberalism in One Country
Since its adoption from the 1970s, the Dutch have long congratulated themselves on ‘gedoogbeleid’ – a policy of permissiveness towards drugs – which chimes with the classical liberalism espoused by its citizens, rooted in its history of religious tolerance, domestic political compromise, and the pragmatism of a small trading nation in the heart of Europe. As for the majority of its post-war history, since 2010 a liberal-led coalition sits in the Hague.
For a long time, the advantages of the Dutch approach were self-evident and statistically provable: a stable consumption of soft drugs that did not criminalize its population, together with effective harm reduction for harder drugs. A similar tactic was adopted for prostitution, where regulation in Amsterdam’s red light district, de Wallen, trumped seedy and dangerous unprotected encounters on the streets.
But building a model nation on its own principles is hard in a globalized world.
Some factors lie outside Holland’s control.
Rotterdam is one of Europe’s main entry points for cocaine and other Class A narcotics – Europol believes half of the continent’s cocaine enters through it. Freedom of movement within the EU means that Dutch police are often cutting off the tentacles of beasts located outside their boundaries. Even drug and sex tourists flooding Amsterdam and the border cities raise the cost of their policies for low-key nationals, and the government has repeatedly tried (and failed) to stop its cities becoming playgrounds for out-of-control and gawping foreigners.
Who’s running the gangs?
However, the Dutch have also brought many of the problems upon themselves.
Its historic liberalism is the flip side of the deep rifts that existed within its own society, primarily between Catholics and Protestants. Tolerance of differences was accompanied by a doctrine of ‘verzuiling’ – pillarization – where the groups would live in their own parallel societies, with their own schools, churches and newspapers (it is incidental but notable here that it was the Dutch colonists who implemented the system that later became apartheid in South Africa). Perhaps the best present-day illustration of such principles is neighboring Belgium, where the Flemish and Walloons reside side-by-side, with only passive-aggressive resentment and the occasional national political crisis to spice up a benign coexistence.
While verzuiling suited the flavor differences of ethnically, culturally and economically similar populations well, it was poorly equipped to deal with mass migration. After World War II, first came the Indo-Europeans from the Indonesian colonies, then the guest workers from Morocco and Turkey, many of whom stayed permanently, then the Surinamese and other Caribbeans, and since the 1990s exiles from every troubled hotspot from the Balkans to Syria.
The pillars they formed were either too weak to become functional, or too ill-adapted to flourish in Dutch society. Instead, the proto-multiculturalism produced an unmoored, unassimilated population, and while the Netherlands has actively attempted to integrate its minorities in the past three decades, there is a residual stark contrast to the local population.
As of 2018, over 20 percent of the country’s 17 million people are of migrant origin. They are three times more likely to be unemployed, and more than half of all Somalis, and about half of all Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans and Eritreans, are on welfare. The more established minorities have their own second- and third-generation problems: a much-cited government report from 2011 said that four in 10 ethnic Moroccans aged between 12 and 24 had been arrested, fined or charged with a crime over the previous five years. The majority of the same group leave school without even basic qualifications.
While no statistics can represent the exact make-up of drug gangs in the Netherlands, almost all police and academic reports state that these are predominantly or significantly controlled by ethnic minorities – Colombian and Surinamese cocaine traffickers, Moroccan hashish importers, Chinese goods smugglers, a real-life Guy Ritchie movie of competing criminal interests, operating labs responsible for producing the vast majority of Europe’s synthetic drugs, as well as channeling flows of imports.
A recent Dutch study predicted that in another three decades, more than a third of the country’s population will not be ethnically Dutch.
Soft on decapitations
On March 8, 2016 the severed head of 23-year-old gang member Nabil Amzieb was found on the pavement, staring into the window of Fayrouz café, a shisha parlor in central Amsterdam. A day earlier, the rest of his body had been found in a burnt-out car outside.
While the murder rate remains lower than neighboring France, and on a par with Germany and the UK, about one in five homicides are gangland murders.
Where are the police?
“The level of the gangs’ organization is low, but the willingness to use weapons and murder rivals in turf wars is very serious. The police are not at all prepared for the careless way in which the killings take place. It is the unusual high number of killings that attracts the attention of the law,” says criminologist Frank Bovenkerk of Utrecht University.
But it is not just investigators’ weak stomachs or lack of resources that leads to these incidents, but once again a deeply-ingrained attitude.
Whatever the criminal law says, Dutch police have an active policy of ‘gedogen,’ which means not just turning a blind eye, but discretionary non-enforcement of existing legislation, where they feel a prosecution would not be in the public interest.
In theory this can lead to sensible prioritization – not punishing a wife who helps her cancer-stricken husband go through euthanasia, or a teenager caught with a slip of cocaine at a party. And officials say that serious crimes are treated with fitting severity.
But what message does this policy send to society about the value of the law, particularly to newcomers and the unassimilated? How does it help to catch criminals if the law is broken dozens of times in the same neighborhood each day in plain view of the cops? Does it affect the motivations of a delinquent teenager, who has been offered a job a drug runner?
Government ignores ‘Cry for Help’
The Netherlands’ liberalism might not be everyone’s Platonic ideal, but it is clear that on its own terms it created a functional, harmonious and prosperous society over the past several centuries, and particularly since 1945. It is also evident that it is a system that can only work with a social consensus – to have unprecedented rights citizens must promise to cherish them, to maintain order, to respect the interests of others. Recent decades show that it’s vulnerable – global forces, groups that do not share the values of this society, and sclerotic laissez-faire institutions all expose its underbelly.
Holland may not be a “narco state” like cartel-controlled regions of Mexico, but the quality of life of its citizens is no longer unequivocally improving, while its government’s control over its populace is being tested. To pass this trial, the government must either stray from its liberalism, and become more muscular and demand tighter law enforcement, or to defend its ideals more staunchly ensuring that all members of society share its values.
A police report – even one titled A Cry for Help – is not likely to spark action, though at least unlike in Germany there is discussion unburdened by constraints of self-censorship.
The above is essentially the platform of Geert Wilders Party for Freedom, which presents itself as a defender of Dutch liberalism, demanding both stricter deportations and tougher policing on one hand, and greater assimilation from migrant groups on the other. But even on the crest of a populist wave last year, the party received just 20 out of 150 seats in parliament, and remains firmly in opposition.
As to the government – while it pays lip service to the same ideals, to the ruling parties this is not a matter of existential urgency, particularly while overall crime figures continue to fall in the West, regardless of crime policy.
As Justice and Security Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said curtly when asked about the report: “In the Netherlands we fight successfully against organized crimes and drugs. We are not a narco state.”
Igor Ogorodnev for RT