Beside a giant Christmas tree in Amsterdam’s Dam Square last night a Rastafarian was cheerfully selling lumps of cannabis to passers-by.
A few hundred yards away dozens of almost naked girls from all around the world were standing in floodlit shop windows selling their bodies to any man with £30 in his wallet.
Drugs and sex openly on sale are familiar scenes to anyone who has visited Amsterdam, whose residents have long adhered to the maxim “Leven en laten leven” or “Live and let live”.
But beneath the surface, Dutch society, hailed for many years as a model of liberalism and racial tolerance, is in crisis.
And there are some disturbing lessons for Britain in the alarming breakdown in the social order of a European nation just a one-hour flight from London or Manchester.
Rising religious and ethnic violence has erupted across Holland, with attacks on immigrants and revenge attacks by them in response.
In just one week last month, more than 20 mosques, churches, Islamic and Christian schools were either petrol bombed or vandalised.
Half a dozen Dutch politicians accused of being “enemies of Islam” have received death threats. Two are deemed to be in such danger they are living in police safe houses.
The Speaker of the Dutch parliament, Jozias van Aartsen, said: “Holy war has come to the Netherlands.”
Holland’s educated, white middle class fear for the future, despite having an income per head that is higher than in any major country in Europe, and they are leaving their homeland in droves.
Last year, more people left The Netherlands than arrived as migrants or asylum seekers, for the first time since the end of the Second World War. In the first six months of this year, the net loss to Holland’s population was 13,313 people.
Those leaving are engineers, nurses, computer experts, lawyers, accountants and businessmen.
They have had enough of the multiculturalism of Holland and are heading for the wide open – and, though few will publicly admit it, almost exclusively white-populated – lands of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Just last month, Dutch immigration and integration minister Rita Verdonk, who is one of those to have received a death threat, admitted: “We were naive in thinking people would exist in society together.” The chairman of the independent MigrationWatch UK pressure group , Sir Andrew Green, believes the Dutch “white flight” phenomenon may already have also begun in Britain, but because we have more space, people here still have the option to settle in different areas of the country, rather than move abroad.
“There is clear evidence from a recent survey by the London School of Economics that people are moving out of London at the rate of 100,000 a year, and people are leaving other city centres, ” said Sir Andrew.
“It could be that this is a pattern similar to that developing in Holland.
We need more research into the reasons for these very significant movements.”
The Office of National Statistics last month predicted a population boom in many areas of Britain, caused by immigrants. Numbers living in London and the South-east are forecast to swell by 15 per cent, to about 30million by 2028. The population of East Anglia will rise the most – by 16.8 per cent – with a 16.5 per cent increase in the South-west.
“Immigration now accounts for 85 per cent of our population growth, ” Sir Andrew said. “These figures confirm there will be still further pressure on the south of England. London and the South are already twice as crowded as Holland, the most crowded country in continental Europe.”
Home Office officials are monitoring the situation in Holland closely, while scores of British MPs have visited the Netherlands in recent months to see for themselves what has happened.
The wave of anti-Islamic violence in Holland is also being watched nervously in Germany, which is home to more than three million Muslims, most of them Turkish. Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, caused outrage last month by saying that allowing the Turks who arrived in Germany as “gastarbeiter” or guest workers, to prop up the economy in the 1960s, had been a mistake.
The present Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, has recently adopted a much tougher line on his country’s immigrants, warning they must integrate better into German society.
But in the sleepy Dutch town of Alphen Aan Den Rijn, employment office worker Ibolya Fransen is not particularly interested in the debate about European states and multiculturalism. She just doesn’t like having two mosques near her home.
“In some places ‘white flight’ is happening, ” said Ibolya, a 35-year-old mother of two. “I don’t live in an ethnic neighbourhood, but when you go to our big cities you think to yourself ‘Where am I? I am the only person who speaks Dutch’.
“In Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague or Utrecht, there are places where immigration is out of hand.
They have their own shops, their own schools, their own places of worship.
“In my town, we have a population of 70,000, but we already have two mosques. In five years time it will be three or four. They will take over.”
The facts back up Ibolya’s argument to some extent. Dutch Government experts believe that by 2010 Rotterdam, Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht will have Muslim majorities.
Holland has a population of 16.2million, of which almost one in five is of foreign origin. White Dutch children are already the minority in four Dutch cities.
Fearful for their safety and convinced there is a better life to be had away from Holland, Ibolya, her oil engineer husband Marc, 37, and their two daughters Kinga, five, and eightmonth-old Odett, are emigrating to Alberta, Canada, in May next year.
Experts from the Buysse Immigration Consultancy are helping the Fransens to move abroad.
Last month the Buysse website had 13,000 inquiries from Dutch people seeking information on how to leave their country for good.
“I have seen what has happened to a civilised country like ours, and I think I will be happier somewhere else, ” said Ibolya.
“If people in England believe they have the same problem, they should do the same as us.
“There is a growing intolerance of immigrants in Holland. It’s a shame – the good ones will suffer because of the bad ones.
“The perception in Holland is that the immigrants are responsible for the increased violence.”
The events of one Tuesday morning early last month convinced Ibolya she is right to quit her homeland.
Dutch artist and TV personality Theo Van Gogh, great-grandnephew of the painter Vincent Van Gogh, was cycling to work through the centre of Amsterdam when a Muslim extremist shot him eight times. As Van Gogh pleaded for his life, his attacker tried to chop off his head with a knife. The murder had seemingly been provoked by a film Mr Van Gogh had made, highlighting the treatment of women under Islam.
IBOLYA said: “After Van Gogh was murdered there were revenge attacks on mosques and Muslim schools. It has developed into a hate campaign.
“I don’t want my daughters to end up in the middle of this fight.
The killers are attacking people in the streets, people are on the streets with knives and guns.”
Van Gogh’s murder followed the May 2002 assassination of Holland’s firebrand homosexual politician Pim Fortuyn.
He was shot by a left-wing activist after denouncing the Netherlands’ 30-year “experiment” with multiculturalism as a “disastrous error”.
Mr Fortuyn launched a mass movement he said was to defend Holland’s tolerant way of life from the radical Muslim clerics based in his country, who are often subsidised by Dutch taxpayers. He was killed just nine days before an election that might well have seen him become Prime Minister.
“When Pim Fortuyn was shot everyone said it was just a one off, ” Ibolya said. “Now it’s happening more and more. These Muslim extremists want their 15 minutes of fame. We’ve already got Dutch MPs living in hiding – this is crazy.”
Ibolya is excited about the future she believes her family will enjoy 6,000 miles away from Holland.
“When you go to live in Canada as an immigrant you become part of the rest of the population there, ” she said.
“But in Holland and elsewhere in Europe there is an Us and Them mentality. I think this is happening in England and Germany as well.
“People say we are turning our back on our country of birth, but we can’t change things on our own.
The Netherlands has too many people and not enough space.”