The leftward tilt of American universities is a nightmare. But at least American college students have places to turn to – groups like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and websites like Minding the Campus – when things get blatantly unjust or just plain unbearable.
But what can college students in a country like the Netherlands do when they want to push back against professorial PC?
Meet Yernaz Ramautarsing. Born in the former Dutch colony of Surinam in 1987, he was raised in Amsterdam – and grew up into a political junkie and a solid left-winger. “I was terribly left-wing,” he told me the other day. “Intoxicated by the Cuban Revolution. I always said I wanted to be president of Surinam.”
In his late teens, he spent nine months in Surinam. During that time his brother, who didn't share his leftist politics, sent him an English-language paperback of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Yernaz read it. “Everything I thought was blown away,” he said. Rand became his heroine.
That was seven years ago.
When the time came to go to college, Yernaz studied government and political science at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) – where, as he discovered, one wall featured a framed picture of Karl Marx and professors routinely described the United States as a backward country. Yernaz has since called UvA “a safe environment for the establishment's shoeshine boys.” In a recent interview with a student paper, he complained that at UvA “the premise of lectures is always leftist,” as a result of which students lacking in strong political foundations can easily be lead down the garden path to Marxism. (A UvA spokesperson called the charge “nonsense.”)
At UvA, Yernaz's forthrightly pro-capitalist, pro-American views – as rare as a sunny Amsterdam day in December – made him a visible figure. Last February, he publicly debated Hans Achterhuis, one of the Netherlands' most respected philosophers and the author of an anti-capitalist book, The Utopia of the Free Market, in which Ayn Rand figures as the Devil Incarnate. By all accounts, Yernaz, a mere undergraduate, did a smash-up job of defending Rand against Achterhuis. Then, in April, a friend of his texted him about something one of her professors had said in class: that he hoped opponents of the European Union would die soon. Yernaz decided it was time to do something about such ideological bullying by people who were being paid to teach, not brainwash. So he did exactly what any other member of his generation with a strong conviction would do: he started a Facebook page.
The page is called “Links indoctrinatie op mijn universiteit” – “Left-wing indoctrination at my university.” Dutch students are invited to report outrageous statements made by their professors. Yernaz has drawn criticism for his initiative: a writer at the website of VU University in Amsterdam called him a “new Joe McCarthy.” But he's also amassed a fine little collection of testimonies. A veteran foreign-policy bigwig asked students at Radboud University in Nijmegen: “Why did the Russians win World War II? Because they had completely planned production....That's what a planned economy is good for.” A professor of jurisprudence at UvA described supporters of Geert Wilders's Freedom Party as tokkies – a pejorative term along the lines of “lowlife” or “white trash.” A professor of international relations in Utrecht mocked the idea of allowing his ordinary, man-in-the-street inferiors to vote in referendums, saying: “Do we really want to know what the people think of immigration?” A UvA history prof made anti-Israel comments and when a student demurred, the prof said: “You have to realize that UvA is a left-wing progressive university.” And a prof in Nijmegen, after stating that Germany didn't have a party like Wilders's, corrected himself: “Well, the Nazis.”
Contributions have also come in from secondary-school students. A girl at St. Ignatiusgymnasium in Amsterdam was told by her biology teacher: “You're too intelligent to be a right-winger. You really should check out a Green Party convention.” Another secondary-school student asked a philosophy teacher why all the French thinkers they were discussing in class were leftists. The teacher's reply: “Because they're right.”
Last week was a big one for Yernaz and his Facebook page. After De Volkskrant ran a piece about it on Thursday, Yernaz was invited to appear that evening on a popular national TV discussion program. He ended up making a fool out of a fellow guest, legendary Dutch entertainer Freek de Jonge – a smug lefty of a certain age who is used to having his opinions applauded, not challenged. (Think Barbra Streisand.) De Jonge, who oozed confidence at the outset of the exchange, plainly thought he could dismiss Yernaz with a couple of snotty putdowns; instead, he ended up being handily dispatched by the young upstart. Indeed, De Jonge revealed himself – or, rather, Yernaz revealed De Jonge – to be one of those proudly outspoken lockstep leftists who are so accustomed to being agreed with that, when actually challenged, they prove utterly incapable of defending their views.
Anyway, it was a remarkable spectacle – David slaying Goliath. Overnight, Yernaz became a hero to a whole big swath of politically incorrect Dutchmen. Fan mail poured in. The Facebook page jumped overnight from around 400 likes to over 2000.
Yernaz's triumph over de Jonge may have stunned people who thought he was just some guy with a gimmick – a cheesy Facebook page that would give him fifteen minutes of fame. But to those who'd read his essays for the conservative website Dagelijkse Standaard, his sharp TV performance doubtless came as no surprise. This is a fellow who, back in August, published an article entitled "Ramadan doesn't deserve respect, but contempt." Noting that Muslims can use their smartphones to find out when they can break fast during Ramadan, Yernaz pinpointed the contrast between the creativity and profit motive that made the smartphone possible and the ideology of obedience and submission that underlies Ramadan. Addressing Muslims, he said: "You literally hold the choice between modernity and pre-modernity in the palm of your hand."
Yernaz is now expanding his Facebook page to cover the Dutch-speaking half of Belgium, too. He wants it to gain enough influence that teachers will be afraid of it – so afraid that maybe they'll even put a non-socialist writer or two on their course syllabi. And who knows? Maybe the site can even help push the Dutch Parliament to investigate the radical partiality of university curricula. (The overwhelming majority of Dutch universities are public.)
As for his future beyond UvA, from which he'll graduate next July, Yernaz would love to be in politics – but none of the major Dutch parties are pro-capitalist enough for him. “One of the parties will have to move toward me, or I'll have to start my own,” he told me with a laugh. What about the Freedom Party? Well, he said, Geert Wilders is an amazing politician, and is strong on Islam and the EU, “but his economic policy is way too left-wing....I think Wilders is afraid that if he goes too far to the right on economics he'll lose his base.” If a political career doesn't seem viable, he may start a think tank. In any case, he'll definitely keep writing. Whichever direction he ends up taking, though, one thing's for sure: he's only begun to show how much difference one gutsy, dissenting voice for freedom can make.
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