Meet your new Dutch TOC-reporter: Eva Vlaardingerbroek, LL.B

Follow Eva at @EvaVlaar

Hearing a 100-strong choir sing ‘’Alle Menschen werden Brüder’ at the top of their lungs, it is hard not to feel moved. Almost everyone will recognize this part of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, nowadays known by most as the anthem of the European Union. An excellent choice if you think about it: a great piece of music from one of our greatest composers, embodying the great ideals of a united Europe, or so we hoped. Instead, in the last decade Europe has been facing quite a few problems. To name a few: the Greek financial crisis, the refugee crisis, Islamic terrorist attacks, mass-immigration, a growing cultural schism between West and Eastern Europe and even Australia was allowed to participate in the Eurovision Songfestival, for heaven’s sake!

But all jokes aside, what is Europe really about? What do we stand for, who are we as Europeans and what really characterizes European Identity? EU bureaucrats, our national politics, universities and media will happily tell you nothing is wrong by throwing around rather empty words when it comes to the question of European Identity. But terms such as solidarity, diversity and democracy, are just not that convincing to anyone anymore. Nowadays, it seems that exactly those things that make Europe so amazing aren’t actually celebrated, and the things that are going wrong in Europe are not discussed with the seriousness it merits.

A somewhat troubling combination that has resulted in an institutionalised one-sidedly coloured message from both government agencies and (public) media alike. Alternative sounds can be found, however the existing media brands and sources that you would have to rely on often form quite the extreme opposite. Even if, after closer inspection, the content itself might not seem so ‘’radical’’ at all, you probably can’t share it on your social media without feeling a little bit uneasy.

It is exactly that, what we at The Old Continent are about to change. Searching for Europe’s true identity and future, we will embrace Europe’s endless richness in culture, art and philosophy, while not shying away from discussing real issues, however uncomfortable they might make us. We will offer you the platform and online community you’ve been waiting for.

To give you an idea of who I am and what you can expect from me as one of your new reporters at The Old Continent, I would like to start with a short anecdote. As early as two weeks into my Law Studies, I started noticing the apparent do’s and don’ts of the academic debate. During a course of Philosophy of Law, our professor asked us to give our opinions on whether we thought it was appropriate that a Muslim man was rejected for a job as a high school janitor, because he did not want to shake hands with women. Not even touching on the subject of feminism or religion, I diplomatically – or so I thought -, answered: “Well, if it is part of his job responsibilities to welcome both the students’ father and mother, he simply does not meet the requirements for the job.” At the end of the class, my professor called me to his desk to inform me about a new test that had been developed in the US, which measures how ‘’subconsciously racist’’ a person is. ‘’You should take it,” he said. 

This was one of the first times I hit my head hard against the wall of political correctness that is present in our institutions, universities and our media. Certain opinions, but also entire topics, seem to be off-limits. Any form of criticism directed at immigration, the multicultural society, third/fourth wave feminism, and the European Union, is dangerous territory. With the risk of, at the very least, receiving the usual tiring labels: racist, fascist, nazi, xenophobe etc, the debate is silenced. With this political cramp, it is no surprise to me that a growing number of people are sick of it, and are starting to push back. People who subsequently receive the label of the ‘’angry white man’’. I very much understand the anger these so-called ‘’angry white men’’ feel and I find this label a condescending and cowardly measure to once again discredit people who want to speak about issues that deserve and need to be addressed. However, as a young woman not willing to give up all nuance in a debate, I sometimes find myself in a difficult position. Let me give you an example of an especially tricky subject:

When I was eleven years old I wrote my first “article” for a Dutch children’s newspaper, Kidsweek. Determined to end every single sentence with an exclamation point, I wrote a heartfelt plea against burqas, making statements that I still stand by to this day: “Burqas are a symbol of oppression of women!’’ and “As if God created women just to bear children and to cook food!’’

Little did I know then that exactly these two phrases would until this day summarize the dilemma I face in the political debate regarding feminism. Suggesting that Islam is oppressive to women is an absolute no-go for today’s left-wing feminists, who seem to have diversity as their main priority rather than actual women’s rights. On the other side of the spectrum, we can openly hear people criticize Islam for being oppressive to women. However, on the right, feminism of any other kind is often reacted to with reactionary rather than conservative opinions, that can actually approximate those of the Islamic leaders the same people were so eager to criticise.

Again, I wonder, could it be possible to find a sweet spot between the “feminism is cancer“-advocates and the feminists who seem to think their armpit hair has cancer-curing properties? Of course, I do not pretend not to have any political colour. However, I have a strong desire for the return of some nuance and common sense in the political debate and media. And since you’re reading this on The Old Continent, you probably do too. Let us therefore not fall into the trap of just being angry. Instead of bringing us any further, it will merely bring us the same type of rigidity that we so despise in our national political landscapes and in the mainstream media.

So, in the words of The Godfather, if you will:

“Never hate your enemies, it affects your judgement.