Eva Meijer and Lofti El Hamidi interfere in the public debate in their own way

Statue of Sarah Yu Zeebroek

We live in pamphleteering times. Walk into any bookstore and near the cash register there are stacks of thin books that reflect the zeitgeist. Many publishers arrange these pamphlets in a series. At Prometheus it is called New lightDe Geus is talking about Public spaceDe Arbeiderspers, Lebowski, Thomas Rap and Aspekt also publish pamphlets from time to time.

In turbulent times, writers, philosophers and journalists also want to get involved in the public debate. That’s a good sign. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Netherlands was often something of a global focal point for pamphleteering, but that urge often came from abroad. There are long periods when the writing part of the nation stays away from the public debate. It’s different now. And some of the pamphlets, e.g Own well-being firstin which Roxane van Iperen turns to wellness law and bra feminism, are in high demand.

Author and philosopher Eva Meijer (1980) likes to get involved in the public debate, but prefers to come flying from the side, not with a hard blow but with a soft wing beat. This is exactly what she advocates Maybe another word for hope. She does not write about the debate itself, but about the tone and especially the words used in it. What she now believes prevails is a monologic mode of speech, in which the speaker does not think beyond his own logic and does not or little focuses on the other person. Many parliamentary debates, with their pattern of repetition from immobile positions, seem intended to reinforce her observations. According to Meijer, this stems from market thinking, the emphasis on identity and what she calls solidified politics.

The consequences of this for the relationship between language and politics would already be the stuff of a book. But Meijer has other plans. She will show how language sets standards in political life. And above all: she wants to offer a way out.

“Behave normally.” Mark Rutte is dead in the mouth. A seemingly innocent expression, appealing to a national character that would be widely shared. Meijer explains how this confirms existing power relations. She takes the categories that are excluded more broadly than usual. Children must also be heard, and animals. If these cannot be understood by the politicians, an interpreter must be deployed ‘to translate what a cow thinks on a certain subject’. Meijer wants radical polyphony, she also wants more silence and listening, she wants ‘new, clumsy conversations across great gorges’.

Over great chasms… You could say that Lotfi El Hamidi took that leap. A Moroccan-Dutch from Rotterdam-West who had problems at school and who spent a lot of time on the streets, where he sometimes did things that are unacceptable. That boy later became a columnist on NRC and is now deputy editor-in-chief.

How he took that leap is – unfortunately – not discussed in this booklet. Generation 9/11 is the title, the generation of migrant children who have grown up with the question: but how do you deal with the attacks? A question that hides an implicit hint of complicity. El Hamidi was 15 when the planes crashed into the WTC. From that moment he had to deal with what quickly became known as ‘the Moroccan debate’.

Much of what happened in that time, El Hamidi describes from a different perspective than one is used to. In Sheikh Al-Baghdadi’s belligerent speech in Mosul is very familiar to him, he feels a connection with the Palestinian cause, the Belgian radical Muslim writer Dyab Abou Jahjah (whose Call for radicalization ushered in at the end of hornbill, the series of pamphlets by De Bezige Bij) he cites to explain his own confusion. This much is certain: with his ‘behaving normally’, Rutte was not referring to the young El Hamidi.

El Hamidi is a real journalist. He does not judge or condemn, but makes visible. The multicultural society has neither failed nor succeeded, he concludes: ‘The multicultural society is.’ And when he looks around Rotterdam’s metro, he is not unhappy with it. In his preface he already says: ‘I have come too far to have a cynical world view.’

Eva Meijer: Maybe another word for hope. ★★★★☆ De Geus; 74 pages; €10.

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Lotfi El Hamidi: Generation 9/11. ★★★☆☆ Plume; 118 pages; €22.99.

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