Without hesitation she responded: "He's my idea of what a politician should be like. Not only does he look the part, he actually does what he says he's going to do, unlike most of our politicians. He has this natural ability to command respect and put you at ease, sort of like a father figure really, and when all hell breaks loose, you know you're in good hands because he'll take care of it and make you feel that everything is going to be alright. Sadly, we have too many politicians that look or act like they just rolled out of college, too high on ambition and self-gratification, and absolutely no interest in doing what's good for our country and the people."
New York Times Magazine's Russell Shorto sort of paints the same picture of Mr. Cohen, but in a much broader sense, digging deep into Holland's complicated sociopolitical, historical and multicultural fabric, explaining Cohen the man, the politician and his mission to save Holland from the brink of collapse as a member of parliament.
While slouching against a wall in a former cigarette factory in the industrial outskirts of The Hague one day last month, I was visited with the sudden realization that over the formative centuries of European history the two words that most succinctly signaled “other,” “foreign” or “enemy” were these: “Jew” and “Turk.” Crudely unpacking them, “Turk” meant Muslim, Arab, infidel, the threat from without; a Jew was the enemy within, someone who, even if born and raised in your hometown, was part of another political as well as religious entity; the Jews of a city were referred to not as a community but as “the Jewish nation.” “Jew” and “Turk” were in fact constructs Europeans used to help define their own identity: that which we are not.
What brought this to mind was the scene in front of me. The Labor Party in the Netherlands — which several weeks ago emerged from the endless gray muddle of the country’s multiparty system to take the lead in polls as the nation approaches an election on June 9 — was unveiling its candidates. On a makeshift stage, before banners bearing the party’s logo of a fist inside a rose, stood two people. At the top of the list of candidates — the man responsible for the recent shake-up of Dutch politics, who is making some people in Europe begin to wonder whether he represents a way for mainstream parties on the Continent to successfully combat the swelling tide of populist, anti-immigrant voices — was Job Cohen, who until March was the mayor of Amsterdam. Cohen was raised in a secular Jewish household in the hamlet of Heemstede, not far from Amsterdam; his parents spent World War II in hiding from the Nazis; his paternal grandparents died at Bergen-Belsen. At Cohen’s side, No. 2 on the candidate list, was Nebahat Albayrak, who was born in the central Anatolian region of Turkey and moved as a child to Rotterdam, where her father worked as a scaffold builder. [continue reading]