By: Emma Kwee
Geert Wilders, enfant terrible of Dutch politics has yet again stepped on someone’s toes. Indonesian toes this time. This article explores the career of this controversial politician and his stance on Islam.
When Wilders entered the political arena in 2005, nobody thought of him as a man with a plan. Honoring his predecessor Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing demagogue controversially killed in 2002 by a left-wing activist, Geert Wilders soon picked up where Fortuyn left off.
Pim Fortuyn over time had become hugely popular as the voice of the people and the representative of the so called underbelly sentiments (onderbuikgevoelens in Dutch).
You know, those presumptions, generalizations and emotions that usually change when you really think them through?
Well, those bottled up frustrations and aggravations based on misunderstanding and fear (some of them entirely understandable and valid) were now cleverly used as a political vehicle to power. Most of Pim Fortuyn’s statements were based on xenophobia, and often themed along these lines:
1. Islam is infantile
2. Immigrants too many
We can see a huge shift in Dutch politics as the relatively peaceful years of condoning and self-proclaimed tolerance, quickly turned into a rift in society between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ Them being the allochthonous often Muslim immigrants and us the autochthonous Dutch population. Post 9-11 politics worldwide seem to excel in ‘divide et empera’ (divide and rule). An inevitable clash of civilizations (after Samuel P. Huntington‘s gloomy theory) or a purposely steered political strategy that uses cultural and religious differences as a scapegoat?
Nobody took Geert Wilders too seriously in the beginning. Opposing parties cringed when he opened his mouth and he was often publicly ridiculed and ostracized. An understandable but maybe not too wise reaction when you hear some of his extreme proposals:
2006: Wilders presents his election program, the main goal is that the Dutch should be proud of their own culture once again. It should be dominant, we shouldn’t pretend that the values of other cultures are equal to ours.
2007: The Koran should be forbidden on the grounds that it’s fascist and an Islamic version of Hitlers’ Mein Kampf.
2009: Kopvoddentax (Head rag tax), Wilders proposed wearing a head scarf should be based on a permit that should cost € 1000 a year.
2009: In debate about the case of a 10 year old child bride, sent back to her 80 year old husband by the Saudi Arabian government, Wilders comments: We should be able to call the by the sharia condoned practice of marrying children even under the age of 10 for what it is: beastly behavior similar to that of pigs (…). And the sick prophet Mohammed gave the example by behaving like a pig by marrying Aisha and consummating her while she hadn’t even reached the age of 10.
These and other statements obviously weren’t well received in the Muslim world. Wilders really put himself on the map with the movie Fitna, a much anticipated and hugely controversial collage of suicide bombers, 9/11, Koran verses en terrorist attacks. It, of course, met with the expected outcry from Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world, on of the countries seeing street demonstrations being Indonesia.
A call to behead Wilders on a Jihadist website and other (death threats) didn’t slow him down. Whereas he was more nuanced in the beginning of his career, stating that only fundamentalist Muslims posed a problem, he now stated that the Islam as a whole is a threat to Dutch democracy and tolerance.
One of the strange things is that Wilders in his other viewpoints can be regarded as rather left leaning; he opposes tax cuts for the disabled, welfare benefits, the planned increase in age of retirement from 65 to 67, cuts in pensiun funds. But in his own words: ‘I define myself as the man of the people, not leftist, and I would like to release leftist hobbies such as immigration, development aid and climate nonsense from the public budgets.
But guess what? While politicians and ‘intelligentsia’ analyzed and ridiculed, Wilders managed to win 24 seats in the House of Commons this year, making his ‘Party for Freedom,’ the third largest in the Netherlands and catapulting Wilders from a town crier in opposition to a powerful voice in Dutch politics.
One of his first steps in this new position of power? A row with the ambassador of Indonesia Yunus Effendi Habibie. Habibie in an interview related that the the long awaited visit of Indonesia president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, would be unlikely if the PVV was part of the government: ‘I don’t think Yudhoyono will come if one of the ruling parties calls the Islam retarded.’
Even though Habibie and Wilders smoothed things over, one is left to wonder what Geert Wilders stance will mean to the Dutch-Indonesian relations. Another interesting discussion are the boundaries of Freedom of speech. While Wilders was put on trial in 2010 for ‘giving religious offense to Muslims and inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans,’ we are left to discuss two of the core Dutch, and indeed human, values: Freedom of speech, to say whatever you think without censorship or limitation vs. Discrimination, the exclusion and rejection of a group of people based on their class, race, religion or persuasion. The question is: Can the former be used to engage in the latter?