Nijmegen scientist intimidated after public support for Pim Lammers
Online harassment has befallen literary scholar Jeroen Dera after his public support for death-threatened writer Pim Lammers. 'This is unfortunately nothing new to me.'
On Saturday 4 February, Jeroen Dera, researcher and lecturer at Dutch Literature, sends out a tweet expressing his support for Pim Lammers, “a writer I hold in very high regard”. At that time, Lammers was being threatened following a story from 2016. The tweet is liked over 2.000 times and retweeted almost 400 times.
‘After they sent me pictures of my children, I went to the police’
On that day, Lammers withdrew himself as author of the Kinderboekenweek (Children’s Book Week, ed.) poem. He received death threats after the website reactionair.nl criticised Lammers being chosen. The website interpreted an older story written by Lammers as paedophile fiction. The message was shared by singer Monique Smit, who added the comment “Pim, you are a pervert”. Subsequently, member of parliament Wybren van Haga questioned the minister, and other (online) groups also turn against Lammers. It resulted in the writer receiving many threats on social media, after which he withdrew. Among others, State Secretary for Culture Gunay Uslu and Prime Minister Rutte expressed their support for Lammers.
Dera faces online harassment himself after speaking out his support. ‘Not the first time’, he says. ‘I have spoken out more often about representation in literature. Sometimes that goes against the opinions of right-wing extremists. That results in online swearing. They tell you that they know where you live and how your children should be taken away from you. After they sent pictures of my children to me along with a threat one time, I went to the police.’
A bottomless pit is what Dera calls the place where the threats originate. ‘Someone sent “Jeroen Dera is a paedophile” on Twitter with me tagged in it. If you then report that, you get a message from Twitter saying that it has been investigated and is not offensive. Unfortunately, you get used to it. I used to argue with those people, but there’s no point. It only drains your energy.’ Dera says he does not feel he was attacked as a scientist in this case, which is why he did not report the harassment to the university.
The prospect of threats has deterred some authors from standing up for their colleague Lammers. This does not apply to Dera. The whole affair prompted him to write an opiniated article for the Volkskrant in which he argues for more attention in literature education to the differences between literature and reality. He was also interviewed by Trouw on the subject. ‘I realise how polarised the discussion is. Nevertheless, the way this is now blown out of proportition does surprise me. Politicians should distance themselves from this, and not join in like Van Haga. It is outrageous that this leads to death threats.’
‘The discussion should be about the work, and not the citizen Pim Lammers’
Dera has no objection to an ethical discussion about Lammers’ story, which caused the fuss. A story he himself, by the way, does not read as legitimising paedophilia. ‘I can understand that there are groups that have difficulty with the story. Especially if you have had to deal with transgressive behaviour. But that should be a discussion about the work. You shouldn’t start threatening citizen Pim Lammers or connect it to children’s poems that have nothing to do with it.’
In literature education in secondary schools, which Dera publishes about more often, controversy is a topic of discussion, he hears from teachers. ‘It is eminently something to discuss in upper secondary schools. You can connect to that to a meta discussion. Yet there are also teachers who are reluctant to discuss something like this because they fear fierce reactions from students and a controversy within the classroom. The recent coverage of Holocaust denial in the classroom shows that these heated discussions also reach the classrooms.’