I FIRST VISITED the Netherlands in 2002, just after the Dutch had kissed goodbye to their beloved guilders and embraced the euro. The atmosphere was one of excitement. This progressive and liberal country was, together with other European Union members, embarking on an audacious and ideological project. I immediately wanted to participate, in whatever way I could. Eight years later I got my chance. I moved to Amsterdam and started work for an international bank that had been bailed out by the Dutch government as a result of the GFC. An anti-Islam politician had just won twenty-four seats out of a hundred and fifty in the federal election and questions around Dutch identity were eating into nightly chat show schedules. A paragon of ‘Dutchness’ was about to arrest public attention, and it had nothing to do with windmills or tulips. I came face-to-face with it during my first November in the city.
I was sitting at a tram stop gazing at the streetscape. Little colour is observable that time of year: the streets slippery with greys, wet air drawing out black and ash-coloured coats and heads hiding under hoods from prickling rain and heavy skies. Despite the weather and the political climate, I was happy to be in Amsterdam. It was still a bastion of progressiveness, and to my pleasant surprise, home to a hundred and eighty nationalities. It astonished me, then, to see the person standing across the road.
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