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‘Dutch people should denaturalize’

Ella Vogelaar, Minister for Housing, Boroughs and Integration, recently presented her Integration Memorandum, in which she breaks with the hard-line policy of her predecessor, Rita Verdonk. According to Vogelaar, the contrasts between ethnic minorities and Dutch nationals have only increased. To counteract this, ethnic minorities and Dutch nationals must make more effort to meet in the middle. Prof. Nasser Kalantar-Nayestanaki, hands-on expert and professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics at the University of Groningen, agrees whole-heartedly with her. ‘This is the first time in ages that I’ve heard someone in the government saying something sensible about integration.’

Kalantar emigrated from America to the Netherlands in the 1980s, to work as a postdoc in Amsterdam. ‘That is a cosmopolitan city – you don’t feel strange there.’ At a certain point in time, Kalantar moved to Groningen. ‘Groningen is a city with a completely different atmosphere. It’s more difficult to feel at home here, but once you do it’s a much more social place. It’s far less superficial here than in the Randstad conurbation. There’s more depth to it.’ According to Kalantar, native Dutch people who move to Groningen feel the same way. ‘Everybody has to feel at home somewhere. You do that by becoming part of the community. That’s why I never use the term “naturalize”. I prefer to talk about participation.’

Examination

Kalantar can’t see the point of the naturalization examination. ‘I think that’s such a weird idea. As a professor I set exams too, but then the aim is clear. I want to see what I’ve discussed in the lectures reappear in the student’s answers. But what’s the aim of a naturalization exam? Take the first generation of immigrant workers. Some of them have lived here for more than thirty years but have never learned the language. They’ve worked hard and have now retired. They should be left in peace. The exams are ridiculous. You can’t force naturalization on paper.’

Denaturalization

In addition, Kalantar thinks that it would be a good thing if the Dutch denaturalized a bit. ‘Application letters from people called Mohammed are consigned automatically to the rubbish bin. Something should definitely be done about that. More opportunities need to be created. Of course ethnic minorities are given opportunities at certain times, but it could be a lot better. In the past, for example, there was the SAMEN law: companies which could demonstrate that they were employing more ethnic minorities got preferential treatment when government contracts were being awarded. That was a great stimulus. Sadly that law has not survived the political developments of the past few years.’

Hard words

Kalantar is annoyed by the hard words used by politicians like Geert Wilders and Rita Verdonk. ‘Comments by Wilders make migrants feel that they are not welcome. And why should you want to become part of a society that doesn’t make you feel welcome? If you trap a cat in a corner, it’ll scratch. If you back a certain ethnic group into a corner, it’ll react too. And that can’t be the intention.’ This is why Kalantar is pleased with the new direction taken by Ella Vogelaar, which emphasizes that integration is a two-way street. ‘I’ve heard many ethnic minorities say that they are very negative about the government. That is very unhealthy. Vogelaar is changing that. This is the first time in ages that I’ve heard someone in the government saying something sensible about the issue.’

Social status

According to Kalantar, ethnic minorities are almost always associated with problems by politicians and the media. ‘Of course we have to discuss the problems. But the attitude seems to be that the problems are caused by the ethnic background, that it’s the fault of the culture. There is absolutely no scientific support for this view at all. The problems are far more likely to be caused by a low social status. If, for example, we compare the crime figures of ethnic minorities with those of native Dutch from roughly the same social status there is hardly any difference at all. That would be a much fairer comparison.’

Curriculum Vitae

Prof. Nasser Kalantar-Nayestanaki (Teheran, 1960) studied Physics and Mathematics at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US. He gained a Master’s degree in physics from Brown University and his PhD in 1987 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), both also in the US. He was a postdoc with the NIKEF in Amsterdam. Between 1989 and 1992 he worked for the Nuclear Physics department of the VU Amsterdam. He then joined the KVI in Groningen. /EvL 

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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