Two Kinds of anti-Muslim Racism in the Netherlands (Wertheim)

Anne-Ruth Wertheim writes in a guest column for Informed Comment

On 31 January 2013 Mohamed Rabbae stated on that far right wing politician Geert Wilders is not looking for solutions to what he calls ‘The Moroccan Problem’ in the Dutch Parliament. He is looking for allies to keep successful Moroccans out of politics, management and all the other positions in society. He is not interested in integrating all those up and coming Moroccan talents in the worlds of film, music, comedy, architecture, sports, politics, medicine, literature, journalism, law and ICT, he is interested in seeing them leave.

This reasoning of Mohamed Rabbae, a highly esteemed Dutch politician of Moroccan descent, is after my own heart. Most people view racism as disdain for dark-skinned people. Barely anyone is paying attention to the racism Rabbae was referring to, competition racism. In Europe, however, it is increasingly showing its gruesome face under the guise of Islamophobia. The driving force behind racism is economics and the shape it assumes mainly has to do with the kind of work people do. But the discussion gets bogged down in empathetic platitudes. Like racism is timeless. Or birds of a feather feel safer together. Or whatever is strange is repellent. Or worse, it is the victims who are to blame! Happily enough racist is still a curse word.

The Dutch East Indies

My father, sociologist W. F. Wertheim, distinguished two types of racism in the former Dutch East Indies, exploitation racism and competition racism. My parents had moved there because it was the Depression and there was unemployment in the Netherlands. He saw the immense difference between the positions of the Indonesian majority and the minority of Chinese merchants who had been there for hundreds of years. He compared the Chinese to the Jews in pre-World War Two Europe, whose position he was all too familiar with.

That was the colonial world where my life began, surrounded by subservient Indonesian servants. Every morning I would watch my mother giving orders at the breakfast table to our kokkie, squatting beside her on the ground. My world view was simple. We whites were on top, and everyone with even the slightest bit of skin colour was below us. That went on till my world view turned upside down when I was seven. The Japanese occupied the Dutch East Indies, locked us up in camps with all the other whites, and had Indonesians guard us from bamboo towers with their machineguns at the ready, day and night. Not that escaping would have been easy, since outside the camp the colour of our skin would have given us away in the midst of the Indonesians, Chinese, Japanese and those Indo-Europeans who were not imprisoned with the Europeans. We were hungry, even we children had to do hard, dirty jobs and we were kept in line by violent punishments everyone had to witness.

[Dutch children in Japanese internment camp, in what is now Indonesia, during WW II courtesy Histclo]

My world view became even more confused when the Japanese were encouraged by Nazi Germany to separate Jews from the other inmates. It wasn’t my mother who was Jewish but my father, who was in the men’s camp. When the Japanese threatened to take away her half-Jewish children and transport us to the Jewish camp, my mother said she was Jewish so she could come with us. After the war, we found out that in Europe almost all my father’s relatives had been murdered and my grandparents committed suicide the day the Netherlands capitulated to Germany. So by the time I arrived in the Netherlands at the age of eleven, I had already experienced various faces of racism. It was not until much later that I followed my father’s footsteps and examined my confusing experiences. I have tried to summarize the essence of my findings in the chart below.

Economic basis

The central point is the economic position of the targets of racism. The victims of exploitation racism do heavy manual labour under wretched conditions. By presenting them as too stupid and lazy for any other kind of work, the people in power justify their exploitation, “those people wouldn’t want it any other way.” If and when they resist, the instigators are physically punished in public to keep the rest in check. These workers are usually spared mass violence, since they have to be kept in good enough shape to do the dirty, hard labour.

Competition racism is all about minorities who have to compete with the established population. To start with, there are mercantile minorities that serve certain functions in trade and commerce all across the globe. It is not uncommon for their centuries of life in a country to end with expulsion or extermination. In 1972 dictator Idi Amin, willingly backed by his people, drove all the Indians and Pakistanis out of Uganda. And in 1996-1999, the final stage of the Suharto regime in Indonesia was marked by horrifying pogroms against the Chinese. Competition racism invariably plays a role in cases of ethnic purification, and elements of it were also in evidence in the Holocaust. I read in the daily newspaper Trouw on 3 April 2013 that in the past few weeks, Buddhists have been murdering Muslims in Burma, and largely because they were doing such good business.

The prejudices preceding violent outbursts of this kind are virtually the opposite of stupid and lazy. The public mind set is not readied for exploitation, but for exclusion. The group is accused of being sly and untrustworthy, striving to rule the world and believing in a sinister religion. And there is the eternally recurring allegation that they are pawns of foreign powers. The Jews were accomplices of the Elders of Zion and the Chinese obedient servants of (Communist) China. When Ahmed Aboutaleb was about to be appointed Mayor of Rotterdam, his loyalty was questioned and he was accused of being a dual national.


This brings me to the position of immigrants in the Netherlands. The chart below reveals an interesting shift over the time. Guest workers of the past were a target of exploitation racism, too stupid to learn Dutch because they came from primitive mountainous regions. As long as they knew their place, it was fine for them to do the work the established population felt was too poorly paid or too unpleasant. But step by step, their descendants are qualified for all the work there is. So they are increasingly formidable rivals, especially with a recession going on.

[Dutch Muslims courtesy Radio Netherlands .]

The core of the capitalist ideology consists of a sanctification of rivalry combined with a strong jealousy taboo. It is this combination more than anything else that makes the stress universal. Indoctrination is part and parcel of the whole school system and does not miss its mark. When Dutch Prime Minister Rutte called a proposed higher tax for top incomes jealousy tax, hardly anyone blinked an eye. The predominant ideology is also reflected in one after the other television show with contestants competing about the nuttiest things. Our viewing pleasure seems to have to consist of watching the rare winners’ blissful smiles in close-up, and even more so the numerous losers’ contorted grimaces as they do their best to put on a happy face. Because slight disappointment is okay but they can’t be a sore loser and jealousy is something to be ashamed of.

So admitting to jealousy of the new rivals on the labour market is the last thing anyone is about to do. It is a hundred times more profitable to simply turn the competition into a special category with an easily recognizable appearance and a dangerous culture, especially its religion. As long as people stick to the erroneous notion that racism is exclusively about hereditary traits, the emphasis on the cultural aspect is just a nice bonus: you shouldn’t call anyone a racist, they are just Islamophobic, which is more or less acceptable.

The dangers of competition racism are greatly underestimated. It is an essentially violent form of racism that can lead to fascism. And the interpretation of competition as cultural concern – as Islamophobia – is part of the political agenda of those who are interested in setting backward the members of a specific group in the hope that they will leave. Mohamed Rabbae saw this clearly.

Exploitation racism

Competition racism





Wherever groups of
people have other groups of people drudge for them and barely pay them
(slavery, colonialism, Apartheid in South Africa, Afro-Americans in the United States)

Wherever minorities
compete with an established majority (e.g. mercantile minorities all across
the globe, ethnic minorities, Jews in pre-World War Two Europe)





Stupid, primitive and
superstitious, childlike, lazy (features viewed as predominantly hereditary,

Sly, unreliable,
sinister religion, not loyal (obeying foreign powers), want to rule the world

(features are mainly
acquired after birth, cultural)





Publicly: contempt as
justification for the exploitation

Privately: a sense of
superiority vis a vis another group

Publicly: fear and
distrust as justification for the exclusion

Privately: jealousy of
the competitive force of the group and embarrassment about this jealousy;

a desire to create a sense
of togetherness in ones own group by turning the other group into the


Accompanying violence


Accompanying violence

Directed against
rebellious individuals with the aim of keeping the entire group under
control; people have to stay healthy to continue doing the work (corporal
punishment, slaves and plantation workers)

Directed against the
entire competing group with the aim of physically eliminating them by deporting
or killing them (mass violence against a segment of the population, pogroms against
mercantile minorities, ethnic purification, Holocaust)


Demarcation of the group


Demarcation of the group

Does not have to be
sharply defined

Has to be sharply
defined with members of the group always recognizable, if necessary using an
external symbol (Jewish star in World War Two)




Anne-Ruth Wertheim is a journalist and the author of various books including De gans eet het brood van de eenden op, mijn kindertijd in een Jappenkamp op Java (The Goose Snatches the Bread from the Ducks, My Childhood in a Japanese Prison Camp on Java, 1994). An Indonesian translation of the book was published in March 2008.She works with the concepts of exploitation/colonial racism (contempt or condescension) and cultural/competition racism (envy and distrust).

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Responses | Print |

14 Responses

  1. It was very interesting.

    We could distinguish more between your categories of “purely economic competition” and “cultural competition”. I’m not sure you should reduce the latter as a mere superstructure of the economic basis.

    For instance, take the evolution of the French Far right.

    In the 80’s, Jean-Marie Le Pen & the Front National used your category of economic competition racism. They claimed immigrants would increase unemployment.

    They don’t really use that argument anymore in the 2000’s (although I’ve heard a few arguments about the impact on low wages).

    Now Marine Le Pen use your category of distrust more than envy. Immigrants are more criticized as “cultural aliens” who become a cultural competition.

    The alleged problem was displaced from the economic concern. It is now supposed to be food prohibitions, street prayers or women’s rights. For instance, retired people, who do not have the same anguish of “economic competition”, can be attracted by the “cultural competition” argument.

  2. This post is SOO subjective… I stopped at the first alinea! Its not true that Wilders (conservative) wants people from the south from politics and other good jobs. He just hates that some of them just come here, and wait for the money to come. We call that “een uitkering”. Unlike in america, you can get money if you ask if you lose your job or don’t have one, very nice of us offcourse, but some people don’t WANT to work. So THE WORKING people have to work for THEM!! That’s what he hates. And also, some marrocan people are very disturbing on the street. Sometimes so much they disturb the people around them. He wants THEM to leave.

    • Yeah, like immigrants don’t do poorly paid hard jobs and there are no native-born Dutch on the dole. You do realize you are in public?

        Prof. Cole,

        You’re sure reading the tea leaves correctly.

        >>(Geert Wilders) is looking for allies to keep successful Moroccans out of politics, management and …<< Peroxide Indonesian is working hard to keep everybody less than WASP out of anything and everything that could possibly benefit them, no matter their efforts to earn their way, even if it's their right. Full stop. (In local's lingo, keeping out the less than 'autochtoon').

        Also, in Dutch discourse, assimilation, integration actually means … domestication. (Well, somebody had better clean the toilettes and flip the burgers 'for us', much preferably at minimum wage or less, part-time to keep them on their toes.)

        This is why Bart above reacted exactly the way the average Dutch would, you, professor, having summarized a little too well right in your first paragraph (Dunglish, 'alinea'), much to this guy's discomfort. You see, there's no discrimination in the Netherlands, therefore we don't discuss it, got it? (No need for winks, winks).

        Because these browns don't belong …
        link to
        no melting pot here, thank you very much. They can always leave for Eden. Ha, there!;
        link to

        Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy …



    • @Bart
      How do you know that the article is overly subjective if you stopped reading at the first line? (I’m assuming that that’s what you meant by “alinea”)
      Also, we do actually have something called Unemployment Insurance in the USA. It does give you some money, but since it is barely enough to almost survive on if you are really frugal nobody stays on it very long if there are any jobs to be had.

      • If I remember my French, alinéa means paragraph. Give the poor zhlub credit for reading three lines before he stopped.

        On the other hand, Alinea without the accent is an expensive Chicago restaurant which “deconstructs the food we are accustomed to.” Perhaps he went to Alinea for the first time and paid $200 for lamb tajines and couscous. I would be upset too.

        I don’t think you understand what Bart means by “subjective.” He is so convinced of the profundity and truth of his assertions, that to him the only objective response must be agreement. It follows that when someone disagrees with him, there must be a “subjective” reason: for example, the motivation of an undisclosed self-interest.

        Many Jews in England and the Netherlands were Sephardim — if you can accept the word “many” for the minority of a minority — for example my own ancestors, who lived in both Amsterdam and London before reaching the New World. The oldest name we have found for these folks is Sabbagh, and so we guess they were originally from Tunisia.

        So this half-Jew, Anne-Ruth Wertheim, could very well be Moroccan herself. Hoohah! I’ll bet you didn’t think of that. I believe I deserve your thanks for teaching you how to think like the NSB.

    • Hey Bart,

      First they came for the Communists, and you did nothing.

      Oh wait, no, you cheered them on.

      Go heil yourself.

  3. Rabbae is highly esteemed? In the Dutch context is he no longer highly esteemed at all and is even frowned on by his former party Groen Links. He has now consigned himself to the loony left that has succeeded only in winning votes for an equally loony right winger like Wilders. Sad that Wertheim trips herself up in the very first paragraph.

    • You do understand that this is an ad hominem argument, and so a logical fallacy, and that you haven’t actually said anything at all but to reveal some prejudices?

  4. Exploitation Racism combined with Competition Racism sounds very much like the Israeli attitude(s) toward the Palestinians both in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

  5. It strikes me there is an understandable over-analysis by people who were profoundly affected by one trauma or the other. It’s part of working through the cognitive dissonance created by unambiguous evidence of how nasty human nature really is, when we all wish so hard it weren’t so.

    There is a level at which a natural and useful tendency to discriminate starts to enable backward attitudes and behavior. That is what we see too much of, as it enables the worst in people in terms of greed, avarice, and, in relatively civil societies, lazy thinking, such as we see in opinions on immigration.

    My brother is good at math and cannot put together a coherent thought, while my strengths and weaknesses are exactly the opposite. He has become “The Other” at a very benign level, and from there things balloon. There is one useful analytic framework along these lines, for racism as its serves a very human need for self-validation (“whatever else I may be, at least I’m not a X.”)

    When it became politically incorrect to speak of non-whites as inferiors, the discourse amongst those with the same need to differentiate for validation was to speak of their own special excellence. It isn’t that The Others are inferior but that WE are superior. Arguments for American Exceptionalism have become possible that side-step the reality that they are essentially racist.

    What the author has experienced isn’t special is any real sense. It was the simple outgrowth of one group of people taking advantage of their power to enslave others because it was possible to differentiate them as Outsiders who it was possible to treat in that way. Enslavement is as old as humanity and is a part of human nature. It emerges whenever one person (or group of people), is able to exercise power over another.

  6. Ms. Wertheimer scores many points that also apply to American history. It appears that, given that the master caste consists of people with varied economic lots, both exploitation and competition can be tools of the same racist movement. For instance, when the slaves were freed in America, they immediately were seen by poor whites as economic competition (though in fact they already were as slaves). Before the Civil War the system to keep blacks in chains was led by the grandest figures in Southern society, while poorer inland counties remained skeptical; after that war the movement to return blacks as close to slavery as possible seems to have consumed whites in every corner of the South, a truly fascistic populism of vengeance. Yet once blacks were crushed by Jim Crow, the narratives of exploiters described by Ms. Wertheimer reasserted themselves. Basically, when blacks are effectively suppressed, they are stereotyped as retarded, slow, and childlike. But when blacks have a fighting chance, the stereotype instantly flips to that of violence, deceit, and rioting. Like the title of a pioneering book on the portrayal of blacks in movies, “From Sambo to Superspade”, both stereotypes are readily available for use by whites depending on tactical advantage.

    Note that when black Tulsa was burned down by white rioters after WW1, it was for the sin of blacks being too successful.

  7. I agree with the analysis, but think there are two things it should address better:

    1. The use of external markings like a yellow star isn’t really a feature of exclusion racism. It’s a feature of racism against a group that looks too much like the oppressor group. Thus there was nothing like the yellow star for e.g. Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia.

    2. Sometimes, exclusion and exploitation combine. South African apartheid is a good example: it’s clearly more like white oppression of blacks in proper colonies or in the US, but the formalized system came about as a result of competition between blacks and poor whites. The biggest supporters of apartheid in South Africa were poor rural Afrikaners, who without apartheid would be at the same social status as blacks. English urban whites didn’t care and voted against apartheid early on, because they didn’t need the system to assert their superiority; they were already much richer. English racism in South Africa was purely about exploitation, but there was an exclusion component to the system, even before the bantustans.

  8. I guess there’s nothing to make one go from fighting to maintain a profitable supremacy to fighting to just survive by removing the Other than the election of a black president. If that’s the case, the next era of American racism should be marked by ideological excuses to justify actions to terrorize minorities into fleeing entire states, or surrounding cities with walls and declaring them special security zones. Each Republican state will make life unbearable for blacks, Latinos, etc and then celebrate the supposed economic gains caused by eliminating “parasites”. But in practice they can only push these populations into other states, so frustration will grow until either the rest of us rebel, or we cave in to the temptation for a more final solution.

Comments are closed.