I will call her Anne because I did not catch her name. It was long and had way too many consonants for a Greek native speaker. Besides, I have no real interest in names. Anne is 73. She was born and raised in Groningen. Her favourite dish is paella with seafood. The one with the squid ink.
She took a train to Utrecht for no other reason than to fill the hours of the day. ‘Geen planner meer!’ (No agenda!) she says. It was a decision she made right after she put a bright red crayon on her lips in the morning. This is a trick she learned from the Spanish student who is renting a room in her house, the same one who introduced her to paella. ‘Bright red always works’, I say.
And then we laughed about how wonderfully common two strangers’ pleasures can be.
Fast forward to a week later. The radio says that one out of four Dutch people voted for the Freedom Party, the PVV. An authoritarian, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, anti-EU party. What freedom? All I can hear is the sound of clocks being turned back a century.
Anne saw it coming. ‘If Wilders wins, I am out of here. I might just go to Spain. I am alone here and I am afraid’, she said. Unlike Anne, I did not see this coming. My social bubble is more pro- than anti-: pro-equality, pro-diversity, pro-colour, pro-love, pro-life. I was not willing to give up the open and tolerant society myth that brought me here in the first place. Not until I saw it crumbling down in front of my eyes this morning.
I blame the university for remaining oblivious to our increasingly divisive societies
How is it possible a country that suffered from World War II does not recognise fascist politics?
I blame education for failing to support 25 percent of the Dutch population in understanding what racism is. I blame education for not providing inclusive narratives and for allowing the legitimisation of hate. I blame education for allowing the far-right to exploit people’s anxieties, to fool more than 2 million Dutch people into thinking that (im)migrants are to blame for the cost of living/housing/energy crises, that Islam cannot be part of Western culture, and that some people are less equal than others.
I blame the university for turning away from conversations about the anti-Islamic manifesto, turning a blind eye to xenophobic machines, not engaging with painful pasts to imagine just futures, but also for insisting on operating in a sterile, elitist bubble, and remaining oblivious to our increasingly divisive societies.
Universities have a social responsibility to prevent radicalisation by reaching out to local communities and engaging with society’s concerns around identity, immigration, discrimination, social marginalisation, and international conflicts.
For Anne, for myself, for everyone.