Saturday, March 18, 2006

A tentative attempt by the Dutch to be clear with immigrants about their liberal, secular culture

The NYT had a longer piece on this, but here is the public AP version. Text:

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By BRUCE MUTSVAIRO, Associated Press Writer
Wed Mar 15, 2:35 PM ET

The camera focuses on two gay men kissing in a park. Later, a topless woman emerges from the sea and walks onto a crowded beach. For would-be immigrants to the Netherlands, this film is a test of their readiness to participate in the liberal Dutch culture.

If they can't stomach it, no need to apply.

Despite whether they find the film offensive, applicants must buy a copy and watch it if they hope to pass the Netherlands' new entrance examination.

The test — the first of its kind in the world — became compulsory Wednesday, and was made available at 138 Dutch embassies.

Taking the exam costs $420. The price for a preparation package that includes the film, a CD ROM and a picture album of famous Dutch people is $75.

"As of today, immigrants wishing to settle in the Netherlands for, in particular, the purposes of marrying or forming a relationship will be required to take the civic integration examination abroad," the Immigration Ministry said in a statement.

The test is part of a broader crackdown on immigration that has been gathering momentum in the Netherlands since 2001.

Anti-immigration sentiment peaked with filmmaker Theo van Gogh's murder by a Dutch national of Moroccan descent in November 2004.

Both praise and scorn have been poured on Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, the architect of the new test and other policies that have reduced immigration by at least a third.

"If you pass, you're more than welcome," Verdonk said. "It is in the interest of Dutch society and those concerned."

Not everyone is happy with the new test.

"Today is a black day for the people intending to bring their partners to Holland," said Buitenlandse Partner, a lobbying group for mixed Dutch/immigrant couples.

Dutch theologian Karel Steenbrink criticized the 105-minute movie, saying it would be offensive to some Muslims.

"It is not a prudent way of welcoming people to the Netherlands," said Steenbrink, a professor at the University of Utrecht. "Minister Verdonk has radical ideas."

But Mohammed Sini, the chairman of Islam and Citizenship, a national Muslim organization, defended the film, saying that homosexuality is "a reality."

Sini urged all immigrants "to embrace modernity."

A censored version with no homosexual and nude material had been prepared because it is illegal to show such images in Iran and some other countries, filmmaker Walter Goverde said.

"With all the respect I have for all religions, I think people need to understand that Holland has its own liberal side as well," he said.

After viewing the film, which is available in most languages, applicants are then quizzed on important Dutch factoids such as the number of provinces that make up the Netherlands; the role played by William of Orange in the country's history; and Queen Beatrix's monarchial functions.

There are some major exemptions. EU nationals, asylum-seekers and skilled workers who earn more than $54,000 per year will not be required to take the 30-minute computerized exam.
Also, citizens of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Switzerland are exempt.

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