Why Is Amsterdam Planning to House People in Shipping Containers?
Amsterdam’s liberal municipal government has created what appears to be a most illiberal plan for dealing with individuals with “antisocial behavior,” with those who have harassed and bullied immigrants, gays and others. Under a new £810,000 scheme proposed by mayor Eberhard van der Laan, they will be housed in converted shipping containers located around the city, in heavily policed areas.
But is the best way to fight intolerance by showing no tolerance towards the “enemies of tolerance?” the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel asks
In the Guardian, Bartho Boer, a spokesman for the mayor, emphasizes that the new “villages” are not for “the regular nuisance between two neighbors where one has the stereo too loud on Saturday night” but rather for those “people who are extremely violent and intimidating and in a clear situation where a victim is being repeatedly harassed.” Those who are “deemed guilty of causing ‘extreme havoc’ will be evicted and placed in temporary homes of a ‘basic’ nature,” including the shipping containers which will have showers and kitchens.
The reason for placing “antisocial tenants” in these homes is, according to Boer, to ensure that they are not “rewarded” by being placed in a “better accommodation” than they had previously been. After six months, tenants (who will have access to parole officers, doctors and social workers) will be relocated to permanent homes.
Boer outright denies the charge that the plan is illiberal, saying:
We want to defend the liberal values of Amsterdam. We want everyone to be who he and she is – whether they are gay and lesbian or stand up to violence and are then victims of harassment. We as a society want to defend them.
Boer and the rest of the Amsterdam government will certainly be kept busy defending the new housinh which has been dubbed “scum villages.” This unflattering term is a reminder that the plan — crafted by a liberal government of “Social Democrats, market liberals and Left-Greens” — very much resembles one proposed by right-wing populist Geert Wilders, who has called for “repeat offenders” be “sent to a village for scum.”
As the Guardian points out, in the 19th century, the Dutch government moved “troublemakers” to separate villages which ended up becoming slums, according to Dutch newspaper Parool. By housing “antisocial” individuals in container housing around the city, van der Laan’s administration is seeking to avoid creating such “villages.” But as Der Tagesspiegel underscores, it is also the case that a very tolerant society, by separating aggressive individuals, can be said to be creating new and “advanced forms” of repression.
The Amsterdam mayor’s plans for the “scum villages” indeed raise larger questions about the treatment of “antisocial” individuals. Should the push be to integrate them into society, through education and social programming? Doesn’t a temporary segregation smack of something more distasteful and disturbing, the literal, physical relocation of individuals who are undesirable — who cannot be tolerated?
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