The Remarks of my Prime Minister

On the 16th of March, an interview with Mark Rutte appeared in Metro, a newspaper which is available for free. It is handed out in front of train stations all through the Netherlands. In the interview he spoke about discrimination in the Netherlands. According to an analysis conducted by the OECD, discrimination on the workforce is more present in the Netherlands than anywhere else in Europe. In this particular interview Mark Rutte says, “I have learned what the impact of discrimination is. Discrimination is still very common in the Netherlands and that whether your name is Mohammed or Jan still matters, when it comes to a job interview. I have thought about this and I have come to the conclusion that discrimination is something that I cannot solve. How paradoxical it may seem, the solution lies within Mohammed himself. I cannot tell people to please stop discriminating and to stop judging someone by their character and knowledge. But when discrimination does occur, Mohammed has a choice: he can stop applying for job interviews due to the fact that he is hurt or insulted or he can move on. People who are new to this country, always had to adapt and deal with prejudices and discrimination. You have to fight your way in.”  


My initial reaction to his remarks was pure anger. From my point of view, he has shown a lack of leadership. As a child from a migrant family I had to fight my way in. I had a heated discussion at work about the prime minister. One of my colleagues said he thought of me as a successful and integrated individual, someone who has fought her way in. My colleague said, I was the Mohammed the prime minister was talking about. Which is true.  


I understand why Mark Rutte made his remark: It is logical that he cannot solve discrimination. This is simply not in his power. Thus, a remark addressing the people of the Netherlands asking them not to discriminate would be utter ridiculous.  I think he missed what the subject truly is about. He missed the bigger picture and underestimated his power as a leader. He could have said, “Discrimination is always wrong. I will do anything in my power to stop it. I want you to keep on doing everything in your power to fight your way in.” With these words, he would have created an atmosphere of cohesion and a foundation to build on. Cohesion is truly lacking in Dutch society. It is segregated, aggressive and intolerant towards the other.  


Discrimination is something we will not solve in a day and it is not a broken chair you can fix with some glue, a drill and a screwdriver (excuse my lack of knowledge on tools). I may even dare to say that we will always have to deal with discrimination. What we can do however is try to understand the root of discrimination. Often it is based on fear for the other, fear for the unknown, fear to lose your job in economical troubling times, to people who are willing to work for less and so on. Often it is an irrational feeling we can address by starting to talk to each other.  

Even though I also thought “what do you know about discrimination”, I felt pity for him as a leader for missing an opportunity to create something that is larger than life.