Tuesday 20 August 2019

Wynia’s Week: it’s going to a be a summer of ignoring the law

Photo: Maarten Goeman

Passing laws but failing to uphold them is counterproductive, writes Syp Wynia. The ban on a burqa in public buildings threatens to go the same way as the ban on street harrassment and other laws.

Shortly before Christmas 2005, a motion devised by Geert Wilders, who was still a parliamentary one-man band at the time, was passed in parliament. Burqas were to be banned outside the home. Now, over 13 years later, the ban, which applies to all face covering items including helmets, has become law, albeit that this is a partial ban – it  allows burqas in the street. But whatever the ban covers, no official body is interested in enforcing it.

The fact it has taken so long to have a burqa ban at all is down to the political palaver surrounding it. Successive cabinets saw all kinds of impediments and some of the ministers charged with introducing the ban belonged to parties which opposed it.

In the end the burqa ban was approved by parliament in 2016 and confirmed by the senate in 2018. It then took another four months during which absolutely nothing was done before, following a number of subsequent delays, home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren (D66) finally agreed on August 1, 2019 as the introduction date.

However, it looks like the ban will not be enforced in many places and will actually be sabotaged by a number of local councils. The burqa, despite the ban, will be tolerated. That is no longer gedogen as in ‘turning a blind eye’ to a legal infringement but an active undermining of the law.

For infact what certain mayors – and some official bodies – are doing now is actually encouraging unlawful behaviour. And this is not the only example. Enforcement has gone out of fashion and undermining the law by government bodies is now the trend.

Halsema: ‘un-Amsterdams’

Mayor Femke Halsema (Amsterdam, GroenLinks) announced as early as November 2018 she was not going to enforce the burqa ban because it would be ‘un-Amsterdams’ to do so.

It is, of course,  ridiculous for a mayor to come up with a populist argument in order to avoid carrying out a piece of legislation. She was eventually forced to amend her comment, saying the ban would not be ‘at the top of the priority list’ which is the same as not enforcing it and, in effect, renders it useless. Utrecht and Rotterdam more or less followed her lead.

Of all the main cities The Hague will be the only one to enforce the ban. According to its mayor Pauline Krikke (VVD) ‘Dutch legislation applies everywhere and we are not about to enforce some laws and others not’. That seems like a sound argument but it is, apparently, not prevalent in the Netherlands of 2019.

In Enschede a civil servant took it upon himself, unbidden and without the say-so of the local authority, to issue instructions to his colleagues to the effect that the ban ‘was not meant to be enforced’. The mayor rebuked him and withdrew the instructions.

The Police are gedoging too

Enforcement is a police task but the police, too, are undermining the ban. Police unions, which have been known to put their noses into what the police should and shouldn’t do, had already expressed ‘doubts’ as to the ‘enforceability’ of the ban.

On the eve of the implementation of the ban, the national force said that burqa-wearing citizens registering a police complaint needn’t worry because a way would be devised for them to do so off police premises: ‘We will help them outside’. The tone implies that the police, instead of enforcing the law, are bent on accommodating burqa wearers. And not a word about people wearing full face helmets and balaclavas.

Hospitals, schools, public transport don’t want a ban on burqas. Hospitals do require patients to show proof of identity for medical reasons but this can be done in the privacy of the surgery.

‘Self islamisation’

There are hospitals, in Amersfoort for example, which will allocate female doctors to (Islamic) burqa wearers. This facilitates inequality between men and women, and sabotages the burqa ban. It is a good example of what is sometimes called the ‘self-islamisation’ of the Netherlands.

To visibly flaunt the law has as its paradoxical side-effect that the intention of the legislative power is contradicted. Non-enforcement becomes the alibi of the lawbreaker. That, too, undermines the state of law. A child can see that campaigns to introduce (new) bans only make sense if those bans are upheld.

Enforcement works

The ban on smoking – accompanied by hefty fines – has shown that enforcing a controversial ban need not be a problem. But by visibly not enforcing a ban, the authorities are telling potential lawbreakers they have nothing to worry about. It could almost be classed as entrapment.

If there is one place where visible non-enforcement has become the norm it is Amsterdam. On the capital’s gedogen list are drugs, police inaction in solving certain crimes, non-enforcement of traffic violations and more. Gedogen is, apparently ‘Amsterdams’ but the enforcement of laws isn’t.

Cyclists have been outside the law since the turn of the century at least. Away they go, against traffic, ringing their bells, carrying no lights, jumping traffic lights and so on. The last time Amsterdam’s cyclists were checked for lights – about 15 years ago – one week of handing out fines was enough to persuade them to mend their ways.

On a national level there is the area ban for stalkers which is not or ineffectively enforced, as is the ban on female circumcision. Without criminal convictions, criminal traditions will take root in the Netherlands.

Hissing ban

But in Amsterdam things are always that little bit madder. Take the ‘hissing ban’, effective both in the capital and in Rotterdam, which is meant to combat sexual intimidation of girls and women in the street.

Such a ban is completely justified because in Amsterdam 81% of women and girls between 15 and 35 experience harassment in the street, and in Rotterdam it’s even worse.

The hissing ban was a local authority initiative proposed in 2016. The present mayor and a majority of councillors are no longer in favour. The biggest party, GroenLinks, thinks the risk of ‘stigmatisation’ weighs more heavily than the protection of women against intimidation in public spaces.

And so it has come about that Amsterdam has shelved the ban, citing a conviction which was appealed against by the public prosecutor in Rotterdam.

When undercover cops caught three offenders in Amsterdam, it was the cops who caught the flak. They should not have fined them but warned them, Halsema said. That is how you turn enforcers into gedogers.

This column was first published in Wynia’s Week. Syp Wynia is a journalist and columnist who writes primarily on politics and economics, as well as Europe, migration and the government’s finances.

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