Suppose a government is going to doubly punish for crimes committed by people who live in certain areas. Those areas are selected by a combination of all of the following criteria:

  • lots of foreigners live there
  • high unemployment rate
  • low education
  • high crime rate

Is this an example of racism by the government?

Is this an oppressive fascist measure?


In the Netherlands, this measure was proposed by a politician of a (non-extreme) right-wing party. The party now demands apologies from a politician who called out racism.

  • 3
    Note that this proposal was modelled after a recent law in Denmark. You may ask Danes whether they think this is fascist/racist.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 10:23
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    Is the double punishment for crimes committed in certain ares, or committed by people who live in certain areas? Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 13:14
  • @FedericoPoloni I worded it carefully in accordance to how I read it (that is, committed by people who live in certain areas). "omdat je toevallig in een slechte wijk woont" (literally "because you happen to live in a bad neigbourhood") in the first link, but that's a quote from a third politician. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:36
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    Note that mister Dijkhoff in his current role as VVD party chair in the lower house has a role to satisfy voters who might sympathise with PVV policies. We saw this before with Halbe Zijlstra and black pete and more recently we saw Klaas Dijkhoff buying targeted ads for those who like the PVV Facebook page.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 18:49
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    @FedericoPoloni: This is a strawman question. As you correctly suspect (and the Dutch constitution mandates), you can't use the location where the perpetrator lives as a basis for sentencing. However, you can use the location where the victim lives. That's still discrimination, but "positive" discrimination as it intends to reduce a negative external effect. (Not an answer since the question is fundamentally flawed)
    – MSalters
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 11:57

7 Answers 7


Whether this is "racism" depends on exactly how you define the word. The proposed measure does not refer to race, so by a strict reading it is not racist. It does mention "foreigners", but it doesn't specify any particular race of foreigner (presumed to mean a resident who is not a citizen). Furthermore citizens of whatever race are not included in this term.

However in practice if a country has an ethnic minority which is on the receiving end of racist discrimination then:

  • They will tend to have high unemployment and low education.

  • These lead to high crime rates even if the police are enforcing the law evenhandedly (which, being just as prone to racial discrimination as the rest of society, they probably aren't).

  • If the ethnic minority in question has ties to extended families overseas then they will probably have non-naturalised relatives living nearby as well, so increasing the proportion of foreigners.

Hence such a measure will disproportionately impact the ethnic minority. Those proposing the measure are almost certainly aware of this (and if they aren't then it is easily pointed out), so at the very least they consider increased discrimination against this ethnic group to be an acceptable trade-off, and it is reasonable to suspect an intent to worsen the existing racial discrimination in the society, which is racism by definition.

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    “it is reasonable to presume an intent to worsen the existing racial discrimination” This seems a bit more debatable than the rest of your argument: I think most proponents of such laws would dispute it. What’s harder to dispute is that they consider some worsening of discrimination as an acceptable cost for whatever payoffs they think this law will achieve. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:58
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    @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine Agreed. Edited. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 22:26
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    "The proposed measure does not refer to race, so by a strict reading it is not racist": most racism doesn't hang out a sign saying "Hello, we are being racist". It is perfectly possible for a system to be structurally racist in effect, even if there was no conscious intention for it to be so (leaving aside that there might be a conscious but deceptively hidden racist motivation). A requirement to explicitly mention race in order for something to be racist is somewhat naïve. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 22:32
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    @MichaelMacAskill: My point exactly. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 22:33
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    While the definition of what constitutes "racism" does vary, a definition requiring explicit reference to race is not IMHO one of the valid choices, as it is common and politically beneficial to use more neutral wording for the same effect. In other words - agree with @MichaelMacAskill and -1 for that.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 20:59

Article one of the Dutch constitution reads:

Allen die zich in Nederland bevinden, worden in gelijke gevallen gelijk behandeld. Discriminatie wegens godsdienst, levensovertuiging, politieke gezindheid, ras, geslacht of op welke grond dan ook, is niet toegestaan.

Everyone in the Netherlands will be treated equally in equal cases. Discrimination due to religion, beliefs, political preference, race, gender, or any grounds at all, is not permitted.

The term "racist" isn't used so often in the Netherlands, and "discrimination" is used more often.

The Dutch legal definition is:

“Onder discriminatie of discrimineren wordt verstaan elke vorm van onderscheid, elke uitsluiting, beperking of voorkeur, die ten doel heeft of ten gevolge kan hebben dat de erkenning, het genot of de uitoefening op voet van gelijkheid van de rechten van de mens en de fundamentele vrijheden op politiek, economisch, sociaal of cultureel terrein of op andere terreinen van het maatschappelijk leven, wordt tenietgedaan of aangetast”.

Discrimination is defined as any form of distinction, exclusion, or limitation of preference which has the goal or can have the consequence that recognition, practice of the human rights and fundamental freedoms on political, economic, social, cultural, or other areas of civic life will be nullified or infringed.

In this case, the proposal would infringe on people's equality ("gelijkheid van de rechten van de mens") due to making a distinction based on geographical location ("elke vorm van onderscheid").

Only the Dutch court system can authoritatively say whether this measure would be against the constitution and/or "discrimination" under the law, but in this case it seems fairly clear-cut that it is.

Wikipedia defines fascism as:

a form of radical authoritarian ultranationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy.

I don't see how this measure fits in there.

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    WRT "Only the Dutch court system can authoritatively say whether this measure would be against the constitution" - The Dutch courts are not allowed to rule on the constitutionality of laws. Besides, the Dutch constitution is both vague and frequently uses the cop-out "unless the Law dictates otherwise."
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 10:09
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    "Discrimination due to [...] any grounds at all, is not permitted." So if I apply for a job as a brain surgeon, they can't refuse to hire me on grounds that I don't have any medical qualifications? Awesome! Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 17:27
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    @MartinTournoij Then the question arises "when are two cases considered equal?" Neighborhood is used to charge different parking fees, so why can't it be used in this case?
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 22:49
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    @MartinTournoij You're putting the cart before the horse. To a misogynist, women aren't equal, so "equality in equal cases" doesn't apply to women. You're assuming a definition of "equal cases" but that's what Article 1 is supposed to be providing. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 23:48
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    Downvoted because mistaken assumption. Article one prevents discrimination based on personal attributes. The location where you commit a crime is not a personal attribute, and is widely used as a basis for sentencing. For instance,. speeding inside built-up areas or near roadworks is more heavily penalized.
    – MSalters
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 11:54

Rather than addressing a hypothetical, lets examine a case with verifiable facts, where the terms racist and fascist seem misleading or at best ambiguous.

Ghettolisten 2017 - measuring segregation

The Danish Ministry of Transport, Building and Housing has published a list called Ghettolisten. As a nation, Denmark seems unique in it's frankness about segregation, but that alone doesn't imply intent to segregate.

The very fact a government has chooses to name this a list of ghettos indicates recognition of a severe problem the word has generally been associated with: the isolation of minorities because of social, legal, or economic pressure. Read in context, seems a clear recognition that if public policy leads to a vicious cycle of unemployment, isolation, and crime, a government has a duty to address it.

Machine translation of the 2017 list says "‎Ghetto list includes social housing areas with at least 1,000 residents who meet at least 3 of the 5 criteria.‎"

Note: differences between machine translation services can make a difference in English version of Danish statements. Human interpretation of the context and photos in the Danish sources make fairly clear that the term ghetto refers what in American English would be called large-scale public housing blocks or the more jocular term the projects. All translations quoted in this answer are from Bing translate. Google translate uses the words "general housing" rather than "social housing", which may explain some confusion.

It seems the designation ghetto does not apply general neighborhoods or smaller-scale (distributed) public housing, just to the really big complexes. It seems the problem being addressed is the statistically demonstrable correlation between large public housing projects resulting in concentrated differences of culture and crime. The housing minister's quote frames the problem:

"The Government wants to boost efforts to reduce the number of ghetto areas. We need to have some more effective tools to change the resident mix. We will prioritize when there next year to be awarded a new agreement about nation-building."

Public Housing and the native-flight-from-immigrants hypothesis

In the US over the last century, something called white flight lead to high statistical correlation between large-scale inner-city public housing, race and violent crime. Federal courts recognizing this developed a plan of desegregation bussing which was both divisive and ineffective at addressing the root cause of the problem. More recently US housing authorities have more directly addressed the theory linking large scale public housing with poverty by seeking to eliminate (demolish) problematic projects. Studies in the US of the effectiveness of this are as of yet inconclusive. But of course, these actions were subject to claims of being racist in US courts.

Denmark chose to study this effect domestically, and found in Copenhagen evidence that areas of elevated immigrant percentage in schools supports the native-flight-from-immigrants hypothesis and suggest that segregation is increased by "Danes’ and immigrants’ differing behavior."

The government seems to have taken this finding to heart in establishing the criteria for vulnerable "ghettos" in areas with over 1,000 residents of public housing. One of the five criteria is:

‎2. The proportion of immigrants and descendants from non-Western countries exceeding 50 per cent.‎

Remember, an area meeting just one or two of the criteria does not qualify, nor does the national origin of specific criminal or victim. Other criteria for concern include radiometric (numerical) measures of unemployment, criminal convictions, education level, and income. It makes none of these a crime, but there is a very credible argument that those living in these areas are very much at risk of crime and discrimination.

Problem solving vs. provocative name calling

Asking if efforts to reduce crime against residents of public housing are fascist or racist is unproductive, it amounts to little more than childish name calling. Let's look at the bigger picture.

The Danish government has recognized the problem and has set a goal to eliminate "ghettos" in 10 years by 2020. This is nothing like fascist policies that move people into ghettos based on race (or any other protected characteristic.) The terms racist and fascist are misleading, and debating the words connotation and denotation is irrelevant. Those labels have historically been applied to people who seek to establish and defend the isolation of minorities.

If the Danes succeed using more subtle methods than bussing or demolition, the US might learn a thing or two. There seems to be no evidence that Denmark is deporting significant numbers of people to achieve their goal. None the less, some people ( probably some on both sides of the issue) feel the government's message is "Go home!" That's an understandable emotional reaction, but not demonstrably true.

If the crimes to be punished are crimes of opportunity or hate against immigrants and/or others in concentrated poverty, it seems equally possible to interpret as "we see a structural problem and we are trying to fix it."

A more relevant question

A more relevant question becomes: Does [specific effort] serve to reduce racial segregation, bias and discrimination? At least in the case of Ghettolisten, it seems the intention is good, and it at least may help thru reducing crime. To say more definitively requires empirical analysis, not opinion.

Interpreting the effect of efforts to resolve the problem requires measurement not debate. For example, what happens to the number of convictions in and number of areas qualified as ghettos. For example, Ghettolisten 2017 notes progress, but not satisfaction with the current result. Analysts looking at multi-year trands say that The decline in the number of areas in the list is primarily due to decreasing crime., and the political conclusion drawn is:

It is of course positive that there are fewer areas on ghetto list this year. We should be pleased about that. But there are still too many and it goes too slow to reduce the number. We have particular problems with the physically isolated ghettos, there are secluded from the surrounding town.


Racism is defined by at least one of the following three things:

  1. Definition by motive: I hate all people of race X, because reasons
  2. Definition by belief: I believe that all people of race X are inferior, because reasons
  3. Definition by consequences: I support stuff that's bad for race X even though I don't bear them any racially-motivated ill will


For any given law that disproportionately impacts minorities, proponents of the law may evidence a mix of any or all of these. Note that at the very least #3 applies, definitionally.

Definition 3 though is controversial: while it's bad and it's a problem people object quite rightly about being lumped in with actual e.g. white supremacists just because they didn't think about/don't care about the collateral damage of their actions.

In the specific instance, is the politician racist? It depends. Is what the politician had in mind inappropriate? Based on your description unequivocally yes.


1) As Paul Johnson already noticed in his answer, on face value the legislation is not racist, as technically speaking does not use race as criteria. It just by "pure coincidence" would heavily target some district of different racial composition.

2) I think that people generally miss the issue, that actually this policy target is less racist but rather classicist. The policy more targets not people of different race but of low socio-economic class. As long as a migrant is rich enough to live in good neighbourhood he is not to be hit, while a poor European may be.

3) It is not so clear for me that this policy is blatantly harmful for bad district, just maybe too crude instrument to be effective. In a nice socialdemocracy, under perfect conditions people are being punished lowest possible sentence that would keep them in line. Just the problem is, that sentences that would be more than enough to keep local population in check, seems not work well for bad district. Then what? Let suffer people living in bad district the brunt of high crime, that otherwise would be considered intolerable? Put a blanket increase on sentencing, even though in most places it would be pointless, just to avoid being accused of any discrimination? (those alternative solution neither sound enlighten)

4) I'm also a bit sceptical of "reasonable to suspect an intent to worsen the existing racial discrimination". It assumes that there is actually some significant racial discrimination in otherwise ultra tolerant Netherlands.

  • Point two has the unspoken assumption that poor Europeans live in the same neighborhoods as poor non-Europeans. For the Netherlands, this is not true. There is a lot of voluntary segregation. For instance, Somali immigrants have congregated on the small town of Tilburg. This crowds out European immigrants, who find housing elsewhere. Also, "poor Europeans" are not that common to start with. A high minimum wage means the poor are predominantly unemployed non-European immigrants on benefits.
    – MSalters
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 11:53
  • At least one person who I know was living in such way. She was leaving Poland as hippy, and after a few months of working in Holland and all sexual harassment from Arabs, her views remained mostly hippy-like except that towards Arabs she seems to lean towards far right. ;) I'm not sure how it works in long run, but it was a general trend that my compatriots were picking at starting point of great guest worker career cheapest flats with total disregard for local ethnic rules. Presumably is indeed different when they later properly integrate... uhm... self-segregate in to Dutch society.
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 5:42
  • @MSalters I see some validity of your criticism of point 2 in long run, however it brings a nasty conclusion if we consider exactly what you said. Being a poor, brand new immigrant and not speaking local language (and sometimes not even broken English) seems to be an obstacle relatively easy to overcome. However, belonging to some ethnic groups - source of unsolvable problems. Well... "race realism"?
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 6:30

The NYT wrote in July 2018 that

Denmarks government is introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying if families there do not willingly merge into the country's mainstream then they must be compelled.

An example being:

Starting from the age of one, "ghetto children" must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in "Danish Values" including the traditions of Christmas, Easter and the Danish language. Noncompliance could result in the stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are free to choose to enroll their children in preschool up to the age of six.

This is the inspiration behind a set of measures being debated by the government of the Netherlands recently. In an interview with DutchNews.nl VVD MPs Klaas Dijkhoff he stated

that 'problem areas' had failed to 'integrate' and he backed the introduction of 'democratic values and traditions.' Saying that people who do not cooperate should face benefit cuts.

Interestingly, this was not called out as racism by the opposition. With Socialist leader, Lilian Marijnissen saying:

Dijkhoff seems to be suggesting that he wants to introduce class justice. Should that also go for the [Amsterdam business district] Zuidas, where fraud is more prevalent?

It's not just here, a question of poverty and hence of 'class'. As Dijkhoff himself acknowledges it's a question of 'integration' and hence a question of religion, culture and race. It seems to me that maybe Dijkhoff could do with some lessons himself in 'democratic traditions.'

You ask:

Is this an example of racism by the government?

Racism is racism when it's structural. This has generally two manifestations, either at a popular level when many individual forms of discriminations line up and it becomes pervasive in society; or it lines up with power in the body politic. The two are generally linked. It seems very much like the latter in this case and appears to be a form of collective punishment fanned by a polarised rhetoric on islam and immigration.

Is this an oppressive fascist measure?

Yes. Taking very young children, as young as a year old, away from their families on the basis of assimilating them into the country of their birth seems very much so and under the threat of punitive actions is an oppressive measure to the problems of integration. Young children naturally pick up the language that is spoken around them very quickly.

Is this an oppressive fascist measure?

Fascism was a particular political movement at a particular time - Mussolinis regime in Italy. It inspired movements elsewhere - Britain, America and India. To call everything vaguely or properly oppressive 'fascist', though understandable, is not always helpful. The Netherlands is not known for being a hotbed of such politics until recently (though apparently the only political party to have legal status for most of WWII was the Netherlands Nazi Party). This measure appears to have been fanned by a polarised rhetoric on immigration, Islam and terrorism.

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    Seems like pure opinion. Citing a NYT opinion piece doesn't provide verifiable answers. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 0:53

Consider the following scenario. You are the mayor of a city, and that city has had the beginning of an outbreak of the black plague. Obviously, your objective is to eradicate the black plague as soon as possible, as it is something that harms your citizens, and that is, therefore, undesirable. So, your strategy is going to involve trying to figure out where is the disease coming from, how did it spread to the rest of the city, and working out a way to prevent it from spreading further.

Eventually, you reach the conclusion that mice and fleas play a major role in that plague outbreak. Naturally, there are a lot of mice and fleas in the city's slums, where sanitary conditions are typically worse. So you send some fumigation teams to the said slums, to try to eradicate the mice and the fleas to the largest possible extent.

There are lots of people who happen to have an ethnical minority background living in those slums, as well as people who did not have a good education, and people who have low earnings overall or are just chronically unemployed. But you still send the fumigation teams there, to the detriment of those who live there, but to the benefit of virtually everyone else.

Were you a racist and a fascist, or did you just do what you had to do in order to solve the serious problem you had, without even bearing in mind the race of the people involved? I say that racism is not a factor here.

  • My question clearly states that areas are selected because lots of foreigners live there. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 8:19
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    Well, if it is selected because lots of foreigners live there, it's obviously racist. If it is chosen because it has the highest crime rates in town, regardless of everything else, it isn't. So I guess one can reach the conclusion that what makes it racist or not is definitely the motivation of whoever gave that order.
    – fp25
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 8:24

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