Sex, Drugs and Changing Times in Amsterdam

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  01.07.08 | 12:37 PM ET

imageDuring my one visit to Amsterdam years ago, I strolled through the red-light district and into a couple of the city’s famous coffee houses, dutifully playing the part of the gawking tourist. Since then, I’ve always taken a little comfort in the fact that such a place can exist—that an extremely tolerant, live-and-let-live society can actually function, albeit with a certain number of associated problems. So it’s sad to read that, as the Los Angeles Times puts it, “it may be last call for drugs, sex and live-and-let-live in the Netherlands, one of the most famously broad-minded countries in the world.” The Times notes that a ban on hallucinogenic mushrooms taking effect this year is representative of a more conservative mood driving changes in Dutch laws and society.

Writes Geraldine Baum:

The killings of maverick populist politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and filmmaker Theo Van Gogh two years later, both of whom fanned fears of Islamic extremism, have traumatized this predominantly white, Christian country.

The outward-looking Dutch welcomed the newcomers—and their mosques and Islamic schools—but have grown less tolerant toward those who don’t share their brand of tolerance. And they’re also asking themselves why they’re inviting tourists to get stoned in their parks and allowing graceful neighborhoods to devolve into lurid Disneylands with sex clubs and massage parlors.

The report brings to mind Ian Buruma’s troubling 2005 New Yorker story about Van Gogh’s murder. Wrote Buruma about the changes wrought by the assassination: “Conservatives, who had warned for many years that Muslim immigration would cause problems, found new allies among former leftists. And liberals, such as Job Cohen, who had promoted tolerance and multiculturalism were denounced as irresponsible softies.”

Perhaps if I lived in Amsterdam, I, too, would be eager to see tighter laws around prostitution and drugs. I don’t know. What’s most saddening to me, really, is that this outward-looking nation is turning inward, and that for some, fear has replaced tolerance. Reminds me of a country I know well.

Related on World Hum:
* How to Ride a Bike in Holland
* Anne Frank’s Beloved Chestnut Tree to Fall

Photo by cvander via Flickr, (Creative Commons).



11 Comments for Sex, Drugs and Changing Times in Amsterdam

R. Peterson 01.10.08 | 12:05 PM ET

The Dutch people need to take their country back from outsiders.  If they don’t, they will look up 10 - 15 years from now and see a country that is not theirs from a ethnic and cultural standpoint.  No country on the face of the earth should be expected to take in massive numbers of people whose beliefs are so totally opposite their own.  Muslim immigration was a thoughtful gesture but it has backfired.  They want to make Holland into an extension of Mecca.  Holland should be - and should stay - for the Dutch people.  They should not have to make excuses or apologize for creating the culture that has suited them these many hundreds of years - but they had better close their society to those who are religiously and culturally different from them in order to get a handle on their immigrant problem - or Holland will slip away from them.  In the next 25 years all of Europe will be lost. That is not racist - that is a fact!


lonecat11 01.10.08 | 11:40 PM ET

Dutch people wake up!Mecca is only for its own selfish ideology.They say,“kill the infidels”!Straight from their holy book! And to think of anyone having compassion for these barbarians!!!! Dutch people don’t let your country go the way mine has and that is called all out war!!

Patti Field 01.12.08 | 6:58 PM ET

We travelled to Amsterdam in 2004 and experienced it all and loved every minute of it. I think Holland and the open minded people are already going in the right direction and shouldn’t change. Prostitution is the oldest profession and they have safe houses, physical check ups and the government gets taxes. In Canada, they spend the taxpayers money to set traps for the Johns and P’s who are released back into society almost immediately. It makes it safe for everyone involved to legalize Prostittion and and the government gets $$ and face it…it is all about the money. Same with pot. I am talking hard stuff but pot and hash…legalize it with limits and tax it like cigarettes. Keep going forward Amsterdam…don’t go backwards like the rest of the world.

Janet Mahdi 01.17.08 | 9:13 AM ET

What if the United States, which is often called the greatest country on earth, felt the same way as many seem to feel about the Dutch situation.  The only native Americans are the American Indians.  Everyone else living here is an immigrant, coming to America on the Mayflower, Amistad or other slave ships or by way of the greatest symbol of relief and freedom to an immigrant, Ellis Island.  Those ancestors who migrated to America were hard working people seeking freedom from oppression in their own land and seeking rights that America guarantees to all its inhabitants.  They set up neighborhoods in all the major northern cities and established their own “cultural mecca” which all of us still enjoy to this day.  If they had had those freedoms in their own land of origin they would not have come to America, the land of freedom.  And the majority of people who came here against their own will have flourished in this country, generation after generation.  There are good people and bad people in every group and culture of people throughout the entire world.  Let’s be careful about what’s lurking in our own hearts before we start judging people out of fear or by some misguided, misinformed perception and keep in mind that everyone wants a place on earth where they and their family are free, safe and able to worship G-d in their own way, and should be able to do so as long as their particular practice is not harmful to others.  All major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.)have variations of belief and practice among their people. Foremost, let’s remember that human beings did not create the earth nor do we own it.  It was created by The Most High as a place of refuge for all of humanity, not as a place of oppression.






James D Wheeler 01.17.08 | 6:48 PM ET

I travel alot so naturally your chanel is on alot at my house!          Ive watched Sam Browns Europe shows dozens of times and never tire of them![marry me Sam] Hope to see more new shows in future!  Im also a huge fan of Tony Bourdain and am very happy to see anew season of shows. Sometimes Tony is a little too New York, but he has an edge that I appreciate.  Keep up the great work!  Jim

Dan Orosco 01.18.08 | 2:37 PM ET

Travel Channel is such a relief from the network and cable sitcoms dribble. Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern are great fare while we sit in our homes huddled by the fireplace awaiting spring. Like the raw comments that Tony spews out! Hurrah for the T-Channel…DanO

Matt Dz 01.22.08 | 1:38 PM ET

I visited my family in Holland back in 2005. Nothing short of magical I must say, the feeling you get when walking down the ancient streets of Amsterdam or Zwolle, the food is amazing and the Dutch people are even more so. I had a bad experience with Muslims when I was there though, I don’t think they are bad people, but you can’t come into my house and tell me what to do, no sir.

Matt 02.20.08 | 12:33 AM ET

My girlfriend is Dutch and we travel to Holland each summer to hang out in Amsterdam and visit her brother.  Over the past few years the atmosphere has gotten a little tense.  The Dutch feel that the Muslim population presents problems and does not want to have any part of the Dutch culture.  Even though some are 2nd generation citizens, they do not care for Holland as a nation.  The high muslim areas have most of the country’s crime problems centered around them.  The groups are rowdy and show a dangerous look of resentment as if they feel oppressed and could retaliate.  It seems that the guys aged 18-35 are constantly staring down caucasian girls with disgusting looks on their faces.  They grab girls at clubs and think all girls want to dance with them.  Some even joke about terrorism and bring up 9/11.  I’m not saying that all Muslims are bad.  I do not feel anyone is perfect or any type of person is inherently better than another.  But the tension between the groups is there and is only gonna cause more problems as time goes on.  I do not feel that this is the reason the Dutch government is tightening its restrictions.  I think it has more to do with reviving the pure side of their culture and bringing a prideful face back to Holland.  It really is a matter of pride and identity.  There could be ethnic undertones in the battles at hand, but everything from a smoking ban to protect the population from second-hand smoke, to turning slums into real-estate GOLD.  Conservatism in general is changing Holland, Amsterdam in particular

Phillipe 05.12.08 | 2:54 PM ET

I have been in Amsterdam at last year, that was awesome!

Drug rehab 06.16.08 | 1:43 PM ET

I wasn’t expecting such news in Amsterdam. As far as I know they could handle drug legalization pretty well, more countries actually considered legalizing drugs as well. We just have to wait and see what happens next.

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