Fri, Mar 17, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Dutch film for migrants causes controversy


A woman wearing a Muslim head scarf walks past a lingerie advertisement in Amsterdam on Wednesday. Would-be immigrants to the Netherlands are expected to watch a film that has images of gay men kissing and topless women on the beach.


This is not exactly a run-of-the-mill homework assignment: watch a film clip of an attractive woman sunbathing topless and try not to be shocked.

"People do not make a fuss about nudity," the narrator explains.

That lesson, about the Netherlands' nude beaches, is followed by another: Dutch homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals do, including the chance to marry.

Just to make sure everyone gets the message, two men are shown kissing in a meadow.

The scenes are brief parts of a two-hour-long film that the Dutch government has compiled to help potential immigrants, many of them from Islamic countries, meet the demands of a new entrance examination that went into effect on Wednesday. In the exam, candidates must prove they can speak some Dutch and are at least aware of the Netherlands' liberal values, even if they do not agree with all of them.

Opponents of the tightening immigration policies have pointed to the film -- a DVD contained in a package of study materials for the new exam -- as an attempt by the government to discourage applicants from Islamic countries who may be offended by its content.

Dutch politicians and immigration officials have dismissed those accusations, saying that the film, blandly titled To the Netherlands, is a study aid that will give potential immigrants an honest look at the way life is lived in the country.

"The film is meant for people not yet in Holland to take note that this is normal here and not be shocked and awed by it once they arrive," said Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of the Dutch Parliament.

But Abdou Menebhi, chairman of Emcemo, a Moroccan interest group in Amsterdam, said the film was just another example of how the Netherlands was trying to limit immigration from Muslim countries.

The Netherlands now has some of the strictest immigration policies in Europe, drafted in part during a period of rising societal tension after the killings of the anti-immigrant politician Pim Fortuyn and the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who with Hirsi Ali made a movie critical of Islam.

In recent years, the government has increased age and income requirements for certain groups of immigrants, specifically as an effort to cut down on an influx of young Muslim women bound for arranged marriages in the Netherlands. Policymakers say they are concerned about an estimated 600,000 immigrants already in the country who do not speak proper Dutch. Poor housing and high unemployment among minority groups is contributing to ethnic tensions in some of the country's largest cities, where incidents of violence against Jews and homosexuals have raised new concerns.

Dutch officials deny that the film To the Netherlands -- or the new law for that matter -- is intended to discourage further Muslim immigration. But they insist that they want all applicants to wonder whether or not they would fit into one of the world's most permissive societies.

"This notion that we want to shock Muslims, that is complete nonsense," said Maud Bredero, a spokeswoman for Minister of Immigration Rita Verdonk.

"They don't need to agree in their hearts with homosexuality, but we ask them to respect other people's rights. This is a free country," she said.

The film indulges in a dose of Dutch frankness. It features interviews with immigrants who do not always describe the Dutch in flattering terms, calling them at one point "cold" and "distant."

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