Searchlight - September 2007
Former right wing liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) parliamentarian Geert Wilders, now boss of the Freedom Party (PVV), crashed his way into the headlines again on 8 August with an open letter in the newspaper Volkskrant, urging a ban on the Islamic holy book, the Koran.
The weekend before, a former Muslim, Ehsan Jami, who is trying to establish an organisation for ex-Muslims to defend their right to turn their back on Islam, was beaten up after months of threats against his life. For Wilders, this unpleasant incident presented the perfect opportunity to launch his latest assault on Islam.
Ever since winning 9 seats in parliament in the November 2006 elections, the Freedom Party, and especially its frontman Wilders, have been busily poisoning the political atmosphere with Islamophobic statements.
After warning of an "Islamic Tsunami" hitting the Netherlands and claiming that "the Dutch culture is a thousand times better then the Islamic," Wilders targeted the Koran at the beginning of this year when he called on Muslims to tear out half the pages of their holy book, causing uproar inside and outside The Netherlands and questions to be raised by the Saudi ambassador.
Tearing up just half the book is now, it seems, no longer good enough for the Freedom Party. Now, Wilders says in his open letter: "This fascist book, in which the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed is written down, has to be banned, just like Hitler's Mein Kampf. I have had enough of the Koran in the Netherlands". He also says that possession and distribution of the book should be outlawed. Going on, he adds: "No Muslim immigrants should enter our country any more".
Mein Kampf is not for sale in the Netherlands and reprinting or reselling is an offence but possession of a single copy and the lending out of public libraries is, however, allowed. Wilders takes his strident demands a step further, wanting to reach into people's homes to ban the Koran there as well.
When the Iranian ambassador criticised Wilders' proposal as not constructive in any way and serving nobody's interests, Wilders reacted by branding Iran as a country of villains and telling the ambassador to back off. Egypt has also condemned Wilders and states in an official letter from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Wilders' proposal is "a sign of racism among certain European politicians and shows a profound lack of knowledge of Islam".
Although the tone of the slogans of Wilders and the Freedom Party seems more abusive every week and many people wonder where his next step will be take Dutch society, the basic message has not changed since 2004. In a magazine interview that year, he said: "No integration. Assimilation! At home, they wear headscarves and butcher sheep; outside their homes they have to behave like everybody else".
Every public display of Islam annoys Wilders who goes apoplectic about headscarves and mosques and does not believe that moderate Islam exists. Indeed, he and his Freedom Party fiercely attack proposals to invest in the promotion or strengthening of moderate Islam. It is his firm belief that the Islam and the culture of immigrants with an Islamic background, is in no way, nor will ever be, compatible with the "values of Dutch society".
To get attention for his socially divisive message, Wilders is using more and more radical formulations. In the past few months, he has suggested shooting rioting football hooligans in the knees after Moroccan supporters invaded a pitch at an international friendly match between the Dutch and Moroccan Under-21 teams. When Dutch hooligans run amok as they did several times last season, nothing is heard from Wilders and his eight fellow PVV MPs.
Wilders has also suggested the bombing of Iran, an unprecedented demand in the Dutch parliament. This is not the first time, however, that Wilders has followed the US and Israeli agenda on the Middle East. In fact, a minor row erupted after the Dutch secret service, the AIVD, revealed that Wilders had been under surveillance during his regular visits to the Israeli embassy in The Hague. In the end, the AIVD denied having spied on Wilders but claimed it was just keeping track of him to analyse the risk of attempts on his life.
Wilders' tone leaves him isolated among the Dutch political class but probably supported by many Dutch voters. His party could now win between 16 and 20 seats in parliament. Isolation does not bother him. "Elite politicians in the Hague are cowards and scared people and will die as cowards", he has declared and in his 2004 "independence statement" – written when he split from the VVD – he stated that he would never compromise and regards the political elite as "enemies". His self-imposed isolation, it appears, gives him the "freedom" to take the radical stands he does and to distance himself from politicians who react negatively to him.
In his latest outburst, Wilders says he is ashamed of his fellow politicians who "invest naively in a moderate Islam that will bring only hell and doom to the Netherlands." He says he is also ashamed about all those people inside and outside parliament who refuse to stop the Islamic invasion of the Netherlands: "I am ashamed for Dutch politics that accepts every day the over-representation of migrants in criminal statistics and doesn't have an answer to that. (...) of Dutch politicians thinking and promoting a Dutch culture based on Jewish-Christian-Islamic values...They excuse criminals and liars but look the other way when homosexuals are assaulted daily; they want to install Sharia mortgages; they talk to representatives of Hamas, disregard the interests of Dutch civilians and help to create the transformation of the Netherlands into "Netherabia" as a province of the Islamic superstate "Eurabia".
This ranting is typical of Wilders, a reconstituted mixture of headlines from the right-wing populist newspaper De Telegraaf and controversial issues in Dutch politics. Dutch minister for integration Ella Vogelaar has suggested in an interview that she "could see, in several decades, some Islamic values being added to the Dutch Jewish-Christian tradition". For the rest of the world, this was just an innocent philosophical suggestion but for Wilders it denoted something else: evidence of a supposed hidden agenda on the part of the Dutch government.
Wilders fiercely opposes plans to extend a "general pardon" to refugees in The Netherlands, claiming it will be a disaster for the country, will bring it to the edge of the abyss and that tens of thousands of refugees will flood into The Netherlands to take advantage of it.
Wilders' ravings are heavily unsupported by the facts: the "general pardon" measure is only for refugees who applied for asylum by April 2001 and are, due to mistakes by the Dutch immigration service still being processes. So, it is a very strict pardon and not at all general. In Wilders' eyes, refugees are simply criminals and liars. His use of incendiary terms like "Netherabia" and "Eurabia" are typical of such "traders in fear". He makes sure that he is never seen to end in the middle in a debate. The VVD, desperately trying to win back voters who defected to Wilders, often agrees with him about immigration and Islam, but argues that his way of doing political business makes progress impossible.
The VVD's own ambivalent position came to light when Wilders launched a frontal attack, during the installation of the new government in February, on two Labour members of the government with a Moroccan background – Ahmed Aboutaleb (state secretary for social affairs and employment) – and a Turkish background – Nebahat Albayrak (state secretary for justice) – questioning their loyalty to the Netherlands. The VVD argued that Wilders had a point, but would not back his call for the resignation of the ministers.
Some weeks later, Wilders and his PVV colleague, Sietse Fritsma, went even further to propose that people with dual nationality should be banned from holding positions as parliamentarians, city councillors, aldermen, judges, public prosecutors, policemen, soldiers or ambassadors. Some posts in the immigration and secret services would also be forbidden territory.
Dutch government members have distanced themselves from Wilders' latest wild comments about banning the Koran in a bid to short-circuit the kind of uproar that occurred in Denmark in 2006 after the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in a newspaper. Minister of integration Vogelaar has issued an official statement that "it has to be absolutely clear that a ban on the Koran is not happening in the Netherlands and will never happen". Nevertheless, Wilders continues to damage relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. His words, says Vogelaar, "are insulting to most Muslims". Similarly, foreign minister Maxime Verhagen says that Wilders "crosses the border of common decency" and that freedom of religion is, like freedom of speech, one of the fundamentals of the Dutch State. Verhagen also sent a government letter to all Dutch embassies to prepare them for reactions in the Muslim world.
Now, all parties in the Dutch parliament are racing to distance themselves from Wilders. Also, two lawyers have independently filed a complaint against Wilders for "inciting racial hatred and violence between various groups in society". Other groups and individuals have done likewise. In particular, the internet watchdog, the MDI, filed a complaint against him in February for seeing Muslims as an inferior group and wanting to remove this group from the Netherlands. The justice department is still considering this complaint.
It is a measure of Wilders' extremism that, in neighbouring Flanders, even Philip Dewinter boss of the right-wing extremist Vlaams Belang, does not back his "useless" proposal to outlaw the Koran and says that freedom of speech should prevail as a European value. Likewise, the nazi British National Party thinks it useless to ban the Koran, its mouthpiece Phil Edwards arguing it is better to oppose the building of new mosques than banning a book that is available on the internet anyway..
For Wilders, in the meantime, who still lives in a safe house and is heavily guarded because of continuing threats on his life, there seems no way back. To maintain his alleged credibility, he has to remain harsh and radical toward Islam in the belief that his isolation proves him right. The PVV is not likely to be supported by other parties when they keep attacking the democratic order in the Netherlands, the same order they are supposed to respect, promote and defend as parliamentarians.
Wilders policy will, though, undoubtedly affect integration, and will possibly radicalise youth of migrant origin, who might agitate against Dutch society for creating Wilders and withdraw into their own communities and youth of Dutch descent who might answer Wilders' call to defend "superior Dutch society" against the "invasion of Islam". Either way Wilders and his Freedom Party will benefit.
Jeroen Bosch for Alert! and Antifa-Net