Posts Tagged ‘witch hunt’

An edited version of my article “Wilders and the Dutch press: scapegoater hunted down as a witch” has been republished by OpenDemocrcy.net on November 30. There are 14 reactions on this article, some proving that readers comments are a new form of hunting in itself. The editorial introduction to the article reads:

“Judgmental journalism directed at members of parliament is an orchestrated form of ‘mob-justice’ in the Netherlands today. Self-appointed media watchdogs present a bigger danger to society than the persons they pursue.”


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A neo-McCarthyism is flooding the Low Countries these days with the islamophobe law & order PVV party of Wilders being hunted down by almost the whole spectre of “respectable” Dutch news media. Five of the 24 PVV members of parliament appear to have some sort of criminal record, though most of these for minor violations. The hunters of the PVV, chasing what they see as persons and behaviours that threaten their image of what the Netherlands should be, have now become prey themselves. The media that have served Wilders and the PVV and helped them to rise to power,  have now turned against them. Party chief Wilders started today to send around one of his famous Twitter comments to newspapers complaining about what he feels as an orchestrated persecution.

It makes me feel queasy. The burrowing of the media into the past of PVV members, starts to look like an ordinary witch hunt. So, we will not any more assist this.

When one reads and sees the sensational front page articles and prime time television programs these last days, the implicit conclusion is that members of parliament should have have had no intercourse with real life in their past. Parliamentarians should be as innocent as lambs. Like in the shivering years of the early Cold War every member of parliament is checked and each side step in a career of any politician is dug up from the deep and smelly waste heap of history. A few days ago, one of the commercial television companies RTL formally asked all the parties in the Dutch parliament which of their members in the Second Chamber (Tweede kamer) had a criminal record. Of the 150 members 149 answered this question, one member refused at first, but later gave in when confronted with some driving with too much alcohol incident, a decade or so ago. This call to confess by RTL Television News, may have its origin in complaints about their alleged bias toward Wilders and  the PVV. The outcome has been 7 members of parliament with a formal criminal record of which – as said before – 5 belong to the parliament fraction of the PVV.

In the year 2008 the other side of the political spectre has been attacked by the same media that always propose themselves as the legitimatized representative of the abstraction called ‘public opinion’, as the watch dogs  that protect the needed ‘credibility’ of ‘representatives of the people’. A politician of the Green Left Party, Wijnand Duyvendak, felt compelled to give up his seat in parliament because of his – previous known – involvement in radical direct actions against nuclear energy a few decades before. A tactical chosen moment of amplification in the media of this dated public knowledge, was sufficient to make him fall. All this media hunting is done with the implicit intention of supporting ‘democracy’ by cleansing the house of representatives of anybody having whatever ‘criminal record’. The assumption of these ‘righteous press campaigns’ is that elected representatives should have no criminal or any other kind of controversial past. The house of parliament appears – in this vision – to be some kind of church solely populated by purified and canonized saints.

This premise, is more undermining than supporting a system of elected representatives. Society has more to offer than innocent lambs and national crime statistics show this clearly. Sanctions (sancties) and sentences (veroordelingen) range in the hundreds of thousands. There is positive potential in the experience of “unclean” members of parliament. First of all the definition of ‘crime’ is a shifting notion, like squatting becoming a criminal act in the Netherlands only recently and, maybe soon, softdrug blowing becoming a punishable offence, whereas these activities were tolerated before. Ex-criminals and ex-offenders in parliament may help to tone down hard liners with neither social understanding nor human empathy. Acceptance of deviancy in some one’s career – also in the political party domain – must first be established. The prevailing witch hunt mentality we see now has the opposite effect. Politicians try to cover up and hide their past and tend even to pursue more extreme repressive policy measures (if only to hide their own past or inclination).

click picture for link to the Statistical Bureau web page with details on criminality in the Netherlands

The notion of what ‘crime’ can be, has so many shadings of colour as can be found in a rainbow: from almost legal white collar crime committed by those who mostly manage to stay out of prison, to the ‘blue collar criminals‘ that are picked up from the streets and make up the main population of our state prisons. When any citizen has committed a crime and when it comes to a conviction and a subsequent punishment, the social rule can only be, that a specific case of law-breaking has been settled,  that the ‘criminal’ has become an ‘ex-criminal’, who should be helped to reintegrate in society. Such basic humane understanding of social relations have disappeared from  the media scope and has been replaced with the practice of eager journalists acting like 21st century inquisitional witch hunters.

Meeting of Witch Hunt and Scapegoating

Wilders and his “Party of Freedom” (PVV) – known for their scapegoating of Muslims and other ‘Non-Western-Allochtones’ – are now targets themselves. Sudden changes of  the direction in which the cleansing wind of media attention blows, may occur. The ‘line of legality’ is  never straight, bending this or another way constantly as power relations in society change. Side stepping from what is supposed to be ‘the correct path’ may happen to anyone. There is an established juridical system to judge both the perpetrators and the laws they  may have ignored. Additional levels of punishment should be avoided. A democracy can not allow eternal damnation of one of its citizens because of a ‘faux pas‘. Even in the case of a felony, once a person has been convicted and has ‘done time’, a case should be closed. Disqualification from active voting and passive voting (being a candidate for parliament) can be imposed by a court decision, but the cases in which this is possible are very much restricted. The right to vote and to be elected are constitutional rights. Criminal acts against the head of state or the overthrow of a government are specifically mentioned as a basis for exclusion from voting. There are hardly any cases of disqualification from voting and election in the last decades in the Netherlands.

I see the judgemental journalism about members of parliament as a kind of orchestrated ‘mob-justice’, presenting a bigger danger to society than the persons pursued by it. Over the years I  have come to the understanding that ‘the enemies of my enemies are not necessarily my friends’. I will rejoice in the demise of Wilders and his PVV, but  I would prefer that this happens on the basis of a more generalized  understanding of the faulty ways of their xenophobic arguing. The PVV is at all time ready to take up their role of lower and middle  class underdogs. Victimhood always have been an effective political weapon.

The former Prince of the Netherlands, husband of the deceased Queen Juliana, had a long history of trespassing over the line of the law, from causing car accidents to accepting smear money  for weapon deals and being involved in conspiracy against an other state, to only mention a few of his deviating deeds. All this has been accommodated over decades in such a way that the Prince did not have to face any public court. It is a grotesque example of the double standards of  the law abiding officialdom in the Netherlands who – on the other hand – may unscrupulous prosecute someone with less royal credentials.

Structurally speaking, the whole cleansing operation fury does function as a media smoke screen for the draconic economic measures under way of this peculiar minority government coalition of VVD liberals (31 seats) and  CDA christians (21 seats), with the extra-govermental PVV of Wilders conditionally supporting the government – in hostage – with his voting machine of 24 seats, “criminal” or not, a total amount of 76 seats creates what is called a ‘democratic majority’ (half of the 150 seats +1) .

However dislikable Wilders and his PVV movement is, their involvement in ‘white collar’ and ‘fountain pen’ crime is – as to this moment – neglectable in comparison with the older more embedded parties with their long histories in the governance of the country (be they on the right, left or in the middle of the political spectre). Some gigantic forms of stealing like the channelling away of 25 milliard Euro in the nineties from the reserves of the major Dutch Pension Fund for the civil workers, ABP, as will be disclosed coming saturday in a television program by a former investment director of that fund – Jean Frijns –  will most probably not even rank as an ‘economic crime’, it will – almost certain – be classified as ‘a governmental budget policy measure’  of that period.

Critical self-reflection of Dutch media on their role in the recent blaming campaigns is rare, and when it occurs it is only launched as a side show, like an editorial comment on the Wilders Witch Hunt by the national News Hour television program (Nieuwsuur), not in their broadcast, but in writing, somewhere hidden on their web blog…

Chief editorial comment: criminal record should not necessarily break up a member of parliament

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