Column: Keep Amsterdam Great
Last time I checked in, it was the eve of the US presidential elections and I was still keeping hope alive for a kinder, gentler home nation. Donald Trump is now president, and as the Dutch get ready to go to the polls in March, far-right, anti-immigrationist Geert Wilders, who just faced his second hate speech trial, is leading in the polls. Throw in France, Italy and Brexit, and the world is once again on one of its right-leaning axes, where all ‘others’ are suspicious and ‘multiculturalism’ is a bad word.
The Netherlands has always been renowned for its tolerance. And while the idea has taken a hit on the national stage over the years, beginning with Wilders’ populist predecessor Pim Fortuyn, tolerance — in acts both big and small — still exists down in Amsterdam’s streets. Here’s a small reminder of where you can find it:
After last year’s Paris attacks, my daughter’s Hebrew school at the wonderfully progressive and historic Uilenburger synagogue held a class in the equally progressive Al-Kabir Mosque on the Weesperzijde. The children focused on their similarities—you say Shalom, we say Salaam—and many were dressed in Zwarte Piet’s trademark pantaloons waiting for St. Nicholas to sail down the Amstel that very same day. Starting them young pays off: my daughter’s world view expanded more that day than a lifetime of classroom lessons could ever hope to achieve.
While the debate still rages about the appropriateness of Sint’s black-faced helpers in the 21st century, 2016 saw some significant changes to Zwarte Piet: Amsterdam was one of only two cities where blackface Piets were banned from official celebrations; broadcaster RTL also abandoned its blackface Piets in favour of Chimney Piets; and even the country’s big retailers got on board, with Hema, for one, using soot-faced Piets in some of its products. ‘Sinterklaas is a festival for everyone,’ Amsterdam’s mayor maintains.
Salaam-Shalom promotes interfaith friendship by organising activities throughout the city. Check out their Facebook page for mixed meals, music and movies.
Should you decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day by tying the knot just for a day at Amsterdam’s Wed and Walk, you can marry whomever you love in this country that was the first in the world to legalise gay marriage – fifteen years ago.
On 27 February, join the Rave for Humanity, a dance benefit that helps raise money for a slew of refugee initiatives, including takecarebnb. The site matches asylum seekers with local families, offering newcomers the warm welcome that, despite current trends, is Amsterdam’s historical legacy. Read more about takecarebnb and how it’s helping refugees to find new hope in Amsterdam.