One Hand Can’t Claps
en andere verhalen uit de zwarte klas
Stories from the black class
These are turbulent times in The Netherlands. With a growing population of Muslims, mainly of Moroccan or Turkish extraction, political debate has become increasingly heated. Should immigrants be allowed to preserve their own culture or be forced to adapt?
In 2004, the year Mohammed became the most popular boy’s name in the larger cities and Dutch people began to fear for the survival of their own free society, filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh was shot dead. Van Gogh never minced his words, routinely referring to Muslims as ‘goat fuckers’. Mohammed B., a Dutch-Moroccan fundamentalist, shot him in cold blood in broad daylight in the street, then cut his throat. A ritual killing. It marked the start of an even more turbulent period, with increasingly entrenched opposition between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
The same period saw the publication of school teacher Kees Beekmans’ One Hand Can’t Claps , welcomed by the media as a book that speaks, in a voice both literary and engaging, about who exactly the ‘new Dutch’ are. Beekmans is in a position to know, since he has taught their children for the past twelve years in a variety of ‘black schools’ (a term commonly used in The Netherlands to refer to schools attended mainly by the children of immigrants). Throughout those twelve years he has written about his experiences.
He describes what his pupils are like, how they think, how they treat each other and what they dream of. This is essential information, since most Dutch people know virtually nothing about these children. Beekmans had to make his own journey of discovery, and it is fascinating to see how his image of the children, their environment and their problems develops and alters over time. In the classroom Beekmans talks about Salman Rushdie and the Fatwa , about the hymen, Ramadan, the war in Iraq, and of course about The Netherlands. He asks children to write essays and recipes, he hands out extra work to those who misbehave, takes groups to the market and on school trips and talks to their parents.
But Beekmans’ book does not simply provide new and useful information. He writes in a captivating style, somehow both objective and engaged. His stories are often funny and always original. One Hand Can’t Claps deals with problems that all European countries are currently facing, and does so with an outspoken frankness typical of the Dutch.