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I Sit and Look Out

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It may be that the Dutch, having suffered under the harsh rule of Spain and the Holy Inquisition, decided, even though many were staunch Calvinists, that religious freedom was wise to espouse. In 1579, long before they founded New Netherlands here, they proclaimed that "no one shall be persecuted because of his religion."

It is noteworthy that there was never a ghetto in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. There is a street named for Jews, and Rembrandt lived there for a while, but that is about it. And the Dutch gave shelter for many years to the Pilgrims before the latter left for the New World.

New Netherlands was founded on business principles. If you came to the colony and did your job, that was what counted. When that belief was challenged by its governor, Peter Stuyvesant, who set out to eliminate the Quakers in the community, he was met by a document signed by 30 Flushing citizens — not one a Quaker.

They cited the 1645 Flushing town charter, which assured liberty of conscience. This elegant and eloquent petition is known as the Flushing Remonstrance.

Even so, Stuyvesant did not stop his persecution. He arrested and then banned John Bowne from the colony. Bowne took his case to Amsterdam. The Dutch West India Company believed Quakerism was an "abominable religion," but ordered Stuyvesant to "allow everyone to have his own belief."

Throughout its history, New Netherlands and then New York City have been beacons of diversity. Of course there have been and continue to be movements against "aliens," but somehow we have come through all those times. I feel certain we will do so again.

At the height of the mid-19th century Know Nothing movement, Walt Whitman, descended from Long Island Quakers, wrote of New York City: "City of the world! (for all races are here; all the lands of the earth make contributions here;)...."

It is not without reason that the Statue of Liberty stands in New York Harbor.

Like the rest of the nation, our city has been faced with the issue of illegal immigrants, a matter I have been writing about.

But in the meantime, it is proper to note that Mayor Mike Bloomberg, speaking last year about a guest worker bill in the U.S. Congress, was well within the tradition of New York tolerance when he said that lawmakers "should all look back on their history and realize that if we had had the laws they are proposing in many cases, they wouldn't be here because their parents or their grandparents would not have been here."

He had this to say about possible deportation of illegal immigrants: "We don't have an army big enough to deport them. It would destroy the economy if you deported them. They are here, yes, against the law, but they're here with the complicity of the U.S. government," which "looked away since 1986, the last time we had immigration reform."

Like his Dutch predecessors, Bloomberg is a pragmatist. While espousing eventual citizenship for the illegals, he said they should be "learning to speak English, learning the culture of this country, the laws of this country and the history of this country."

Sometimes it takes wise business people to say the words and perform the acts that need to be said and done, whether in 1663 Amsterdam or 2008 New York City.

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