The famous Dutch tolerance goes back at least to the Prince of Orange who defeated the Spanish in 1576 and drove them out of Holland.  The Spanish Inquisition left deep scars upon the Dutch psyche and the Prince was keen to undo years of intolerance and abuse at the hands of the Spanish.  Thus he declared that Holland would thereafter be a place where people could live their lives according to their own conscience and not be forced into one system or another.  This attitude has persisted despite the attempts of the French (under Napoleon) and the Germans in the World Wars to impose their will upon the Dutch.

In the 1600s, Holland attracted many jews, protestants and others who fled their homelands in France, Germany, even England to practice their religion amongst the tolerant Dutch who welcomed them.  One such group of people from England eventually decided to leave Holland for the new world.  They left Leiden and when their ship had problems they stopped in England and hopped aboard a ship called the Mayflower.  They later became known as the Pilgrims who founded the Plymouth colony in America.

Today Holland is a rare refuge in a world of conformity and intolerance.  Home of the World Court, Greenpeace and other international organizations, Holland prides itself on it's freedoms and relative sanity.  Many of today's persecuted minorities have found a warm welcome in Holland.  These include gays, drug activists, political activists, etc.  Every year the gay pride day in Amsterdam includes a flotilla of gaily decorated boats full of scantily clad gay men and women glorying in all the attention.

Amsterdam was the site of the last Gay Olympics which filled the city to capacity with hundreds of thousands of gay people and spectators.  Few cities can match Amsterdam as a magnet for gays with dozens of gay bars, clubs, coffeeshops, etc.  Likewise those who have been persecuted due to their attitude and activities regarding marijuana and hashish have found Holland to be close to heaven.  Not only is soft drug use tolerated, it is a very profitable, growing industry with over 1000 coffeeshops dispensing marijuana on a daily basis.  Menus list the various Dutch grown marijuana and imported hashish available for sale.  One can sit back at an outdoor table and roll a joint or smoke a bong while passersby including the police, smile.  This is the true test of a tolerant society.  If someone is engaged in an activity, in public that harms no one, then there is no crime, no criminal and no problem!  We can all learn from the Dutch how to get along and prosper as an open society.

The biggest challenge the Dutch face concerning tolerance is the integration of various ethnic groups into their society.  Indonesians, Surinamese, Turks, Moroccans and others have been victims of intolerance and even hate crimes.  However it seems as long as the Dutch economy prospers, the social unrest and prejudice is minimal.  Efforts have been made in recent years to undo decades of economic and social discrimination against minority groups in Holland.

Note: The Dutch enjoy one of the most tolerant and crime free societies in the world. Freedom isn't just a word here, but an important part of society.

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