News & Politics

Lying about Amsterdam

(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Writing at this website on Saturday, Rick Moran summarized a report from Agence France Presse about Amsterdam. In an interview with the Dutch daily Trouw, that city’s official ombudsman, Arre Zuurmond, had complained that its “city centre becomes an urban jungle at night.” There are, in AFP’s words, “illegal car and bike races zooming through the streets, open drugs sales and general mayhem.” As Zuurmond put it: “Criminal money flourishes, there is no authority and the police can no longer handle the situation….Scooters race through the pedestrian areas. There is a lot of shouting. Drugs are being bought. There is stealing. People pee and even poop on the streets.”

Who are the culprits here? Zuurmond was clear on that one: “enticed by cheap travel, groups mostly of young men – mainly from elsewhere in the Netherlands or Britain – frequently roam the inner city’s canal-lined streets at weekends, on pub crawls or to celebrate stag parties drawn by easy access to drugs and the notorious Red Light district.” Zuurmond singled out for concern the downtown square called Leidseplein, where, he claimed, “The atmosphere is grim, and there is an air of lawlessness.”

Sorry, but this is all the purest of nonsense. I’m in Amsterdam quite frequently – most recently in June, when, as it happened, on several days in a row, I walked a great deal around parts of the city center, including Leidseplein and the fringes of the Red Light District. I did much if not most of my walking during the hours between midnight and six A.M. I like walking, and after forty years in New York City I know how to keep my eyes open – and I know Amsterdam well enough to know where I’m likely to be safe.

In downtown Amsterdam, with a few exceptions, you’re safe. That’s not the dangerous part of the city.

Those young Dutch and British guys who, Zuurmond warned, roam around in packs on the weekend? They could scarcely be more harmless. Yes, they may get drunk and ogle the garishly red-lit whores behind those windows and even urinate in the canals. Big deal. Who doesn’t urinate in a canal at 3 A.M when necessary? Zuurmond actually complained about “shouting.” Shouting? Really? He also referred to drug sales. In Amsterdam? What a shock. Call Captain Renault. I’ve been visiting the city for over twenty years and I know that it’s absolutely impossible to walk down certain central Amsterdam streets at any time of day or night without having guys sidle over to you at every corner offering to sell you drugs. It’s not a big deal. All you need to do is keep walking. They won’t hurt you.

As for car races through the streets, have you ever seen a street in central Amsterdam? There are only a couple of them on which it’s remotely possible to imagine racing cars. Again, in all my years of visiting the city – including several months of living there a long time ago – I’ve certainly never seen a car race in the streets. As for bike races, step outside in the middle of Amsterdam, or for that matter any city in the Netherlands, at almost any time of day and you’ll think you happened upon a bike race. That’s what makes it the Netherlands – a flow of bike traffic on every major thoroughfare that makes rush hour in L.A. look like a vacation in Kiribati.

Why, then, did Arre Zuurmond give such a dishonest interview? I don’t know the man, but when I read AFP’s story (before I saw Moran’s), my first thought was that this silliness was part of a desperate attempt at deflection – an effort to draw attention away from Amsterdam’s real problem. And that problem has nothing whatsoever to do with young guys from Britain, let alone from the Dutch provinces, roaming the inner city at night. No, it’s about the Islamic communities on the fringes of downtown and in the city suburbs. Hand me a map of Amsterdam and I’ll show you just how far you can go in any direction from the center of the city before you start risking real trouble. It’s not that far – heading west, it’s only a matter of four or five tram stops.

The other day I read an article that was first posted in December. In it, an anonymous gay Dutch guy recounted his life in the Bos en Lommer neighborhood of Amsterdam, which is a few blocks from a flat where I once lived (and where I first recognized the problem of Islam in Europe). He noted that Bos en Lommer “has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last three decades, with the most rapid change happening since 2000.” At first he felt safe there; then, biking home one day with his boyfriend, he heard antigay slurs being hurled at them by “a group of young men of Moroccan descent.” Recalling the similar taunts they’d heard back in the 1950s and ’60s (he’s obviously not a young dude), he turned to his boyfriend: “Is this really starting all over again!?”

During the 20 years this guy lived in Bos en Lommer, he “witnessed a dramatic change. It seemed that I had moved from a Dutch neighbourhood to a Middle Eastern or North African town.” After 2000, “[c]rime rose dramatically, and gangs of hostile youth (mainly Moroccans) roamed the streets, oozing hostility and bashing gays.” Girls as young as six wore hijab. “Almost no one in that area speaks Dutch anymore,” he wrote. “The migrants seem to possess a silent rage, a smouldering hostility towards their host culture.” Welcomed to the Netherlands and given “every social benefit,” they’d responded with contempt. And their children and grandchildren were worse, “progressively more hostile to the original Dutch culture” and increasingly locked into their own subculture, which is dominated by “Islamic ideology.”

As for being gay in Amsterdam – yes, “in the centre of town, where there are much fewer Islamic immigrants, lo and behold, you can sometimes spot two men holding hands. But it is a rare sight these days. Amsterdam, which once proclaimed itself the proud gay capital of the world, has fallen into multicultural oppression. Leave the centre of town and you are on your own. At best you are met with condescension. More commonly there are insults and outright danger, especially if you are white. I myself now avoid these areas like the plague.” In 2016, this guy was lucky enough to be able to move from Bos en Lommer to Rivierenbuurt, in the city center, where you can still experience “the original Dutch culture of neighbourliness, tolerance, friendliness, ease, gentility, and courteous manners.”

Drawing on my own experience, I can confirm that every word of this man’s testimony is true. Downtown Amsterdam is the safe part of the city. As in Paris, Copenhagen, and many other European cities, the parts worth worrying about are the places just a little further out, and the suburbs beyond. The ombudsman’s comments to Trouw are nothing more or less than a massive untruth, an egregious lie. I can’t imagine that anyone who is actually familiar with Amsterdam would believe them for a moment. But government paper-pushers like Zuurmond, and mainstream newspapers like Trouw, are still in there plugging, still trying to sell the lies even if no one is buying them anymore.