RoarMag on the Resistible Rise of the Islamophobic Right in the Netherlands

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders: the face of Islamophobia

George Berger in his comment to my post about a Swedish Christian church that was sent threats for holding a service of solidarity with Muslims after a Pegida demonstration sent me this link to an article in RoarMag detailing the rise of the anti-Islam Far Right in the Netherlands: http://roarmag.org/2015/02/wilders-fortuyn-nationalism-netherlands/. George is Dutch but lives in Sweden. In his comment he said

I live in Sweden and am a Dutch citizen. It was a pleasure to read about the first Swedish Pegida demonstration, in Malmö last week. Eight Pegidistas versus more than one thousand anti. Contrast that with the current rise of neo-fascism in the Netherlands. Here is the best short article on that reactionary trend that I have seen. It should dispel a few myths.

It’s great to see that Sweden is still living up to its reputation as a place for sanity and tolerance, despite the attempts of Pegida to wreck it.

What is much more surprising to many foreigners is the rise of a large, anti-Islamic extreme Right in the Netherlands. The Netherlands after all has a reputation for being one of the most tolerant societies in Europe. In the 17th century it was one of the very few countries that did not have an established church. This was not because the Dutch were any less religious than the surrounding nations. Indeed, Alexander Graham-Dixon in one of his programmes on the Art of the Baroque, when covering the Dutch art of the period gave a contemporary saying as an example of the deeply religious divisions in the Netherlands in that period. The saying said that if there were three Dutchmen, two of them would immediately form their own churches, and accuse the third of being a heretic. They did not set up an official, established church, because they did not feel that force should be use to enforce religious belief. If a particular religious denomination or sect was to survive, it should do so through peacefully winning over and retaining believers.

Moreover, the Netherlands itself suffered brutally from the Nazi occupation. During the War, the Nazis attempted to break the Dutch people through withholding food supplies to create a terrible famine. When I was at school in the 1980s our school had an exchange scheme with another school in the Netherlands. Despite the intervening decades, memories of the Nazi atrocities were still strong with some of the older generation, and there were people, who bitterly hated the Germans. With this history of persecution by Fascism, it’s amazing how anything like an organised Fascist movement could ever be popular in the Netherlands.

RoarMag’s article explains just how this has arisen. It’s entitled Pro-gay and anti-Islam: rise of the Dutch far-Right. It begins

In the Netherlands, the right-wing PVV (Freedom Party) has steadily garnered power using a hate-filled discourse directed at Muslims and elites alike.

The Dutch far-right has evolved into one of the most successful national movements in Europe. Its leader Geert Wilders is a major political figure with international support. In many ways Wilders is the heir of Pim Fortuyn, a politician who played a crucial role in shaping a new right-wing current, ‘national-populism’, in Dutch politics, and who was murdered in 2002.

Populism here means the idea that society is separated in two camps; the ‘good people’ versus a ‘corrupt elite’. The ‘people’ are not the whole of society, but the part of the society that is considered pure and whose political will is considered legitimate: it is a partial object that stands in for the whole. Who is part of the ‘people’ is not given, the borders of this category are contested. The selection of those considered part of it and who are not is a political act.

Different kinds of populism use different criteria to select and shape ‘the people’ into political actors. In national-populism, the ‘people’ and the nation tend to overlap: the nation is not equal to the citizenry but to the ‘people’, a term with an historical, ethnic connotation. The national-populism of Fortuyn and Wilders calls for the disappearance of an ‘alien’ minority culture to preserve a mythical, homogeneous ‘Dutchness’.

The article traces the rise of extreme-rightwing, ‘gay-friendly’, anti-Islamic populist movements from Frits Bolkestein of the right-wing Liberal party, the VVD, through Pim Fortuyn and to the Partij Voor Vrijheid (Party For Freedom) of the notorious Islamophobe, Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Bolkestein set the pattern for the development of Islamophobic right in the Netherlands in a speech he made in 1991. In a speech to the Liberal International, Bolkestein contrasted European and Christian civilisation with that of the Islamic world, arguing that democracy and human rights were a product of a single, European culture, rather than emerging from a clash within different cultures.

Pim Fortuyn

Not a Bond Villain: Pim Fortuyn, Pro-Gay, anti-Muslim, anti-Welfare

This was taken up by Pim Fortuyn. A right-wing cultural pessimist lamenting the decline of community cohesion, traditional values and patriarchal authority figures, Fortuyn combined nationalism with neo-Liberal programme of severe cuts to the welfare services. In his 1997 book, Tegen de Islamisering van Onze Cultuur, ‘Against the Islamisation of the Our Culture’, Fortuyn presented Dutch culture as under threat from a homogenous, a-historical Islam. In his view, Islam was not just a religion, but also a worldview and political system. By constructing his attack on Islam as one of culture, not race, he avoided being linked to the racist, neo-Nazi far right. Nevertheless, the article makes clear that Fortuyn also made deeply racist comments, such as his statement to the Dutch paper De Volkskraant that Moroccans never stole from each other.

Fortuyn’s party, the List Pim Fortuyn, disintegrated amidst internal feuding after his assassination in 2002 by the environmental activist Volkert van de Graaf. Fortuyn’s anti-Islam stance was then taken up by Geert Wilders, then a member of the right-liberal VVD. Along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wilders promoted the idea that the conduct of Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands were determined by their religion, and that it was the cause of the sexism and racism in Dutch Muslim culture. The religion was also the root cause of socio-economic poverty and dictatorships and absolute monarchies in the Islamic world. Wilders left the VVD to form his own party in 2004.

The new party received a massive boost with the murder of the bitterly anti-Islamic Theo van Gogh. In the aftermath, dozens of mosques and hundreds of Muslim immigrants were attacked. In 2010 Wilder’s party attempted to capitalise on fears generated by the recession by throwing out their previous, Neo-Liberal policies. The party had previously stood for a flat tax rate, attacks on trade unions, abolition of the minimum wage and making it easier for firms to dismiss workers. Wilders’ party then pledged to defend the welfare state and workers’ rights, while claiming that they were under attack through immigration. The party then attempted to prevent these same civil rights from being applied to immigrants through linking social security to length of citizenship, language skills, and the adoption of secular dress. Those wearing burqas or niqabs were to be ineligible for benefits.

Wilders’ party entered government as the coalition partner of Mark Rutte’s VVD government. In doing so it gave up many of its left-wing demands and committed itself to Rutte’s austerity programme. The Coalition collapsed in 2012 when the PVV withdrew from negotiations about the implementation of further austerity. The following year Wilders’ began to establish links with other, European Far Right parties, like the French Front National, the Vlaams Belang in Belgium, and the Freiheitliche Partei Osterreichs in Austria. Wilders also went on tour of Holland collecting anti-austerity signatures, and set up a website offering legal advice for blocking the construction of mosques.

The article points out that Wilders’ success is remarkable, considering that his party doesn’t have members or much of an organisation beyond a website. This has given him absolute freedom to choose which candidate to support. It also points out that the success of Fortuyn and Wilders is partly due to appearances on TV and the net. Fortuyn in particular benefited from the support of the mainstream Conservative media. Wilders so far has eschewed appearing on TV and being interviewed by the papers because he distrusts their supposed ‘left-wing’ bias.

The Dutch anti-Islamic far right has also benefited from selectively including parts of the radicalism of 1968. They have taken on board verbal support for feminism, gay liberation and opposition to anti-Semitism, while rejecting the Green movement and anti-racism. Women’s and gay rights, and acceptance of Jews, are seen as intrinsically Dutch characteristics and their origins in the left-wing and progressive movements is ignored.

The article also considers that Bolkestein, Fortuyn and Wilders have also gained through the Netherlands’ self-image as an open and tolerant society, and the taboo on looking too closely at the endemic racism within it. This is particularly acute because the Dutch Left has largely abandoned anti-racism, and even taken over some aspects of the nationalistic Islamophobia of Wilders et al.

It’s a fascinating, provocative article that needs to be read, not just for the light it shines on this ominous aspect of Dutch politics, but also on the links and similarities to the growth in other anti-Islam groups and organisations throughout Europe, such as Pegida in Germany, and the EDL over here.

Despite the PVV’s massive growth, I’ve met many Dutch people, who were bitterly and outspokenly against Wilders and his bigotry. One young woman I knew at Uni said that she intended to leave the Netherlands if he won an election. I hope she didn’t, as no-one should feel forced out of their homeland by bigots.

ayaan-hirsi-ali-005

Ayaan Hirsi Ali considering the size of her next speaking fee.

As for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she is a highly controversial figure. Her family have denied that any of the maltreatment she describes as being inflicted on her by her family has ever actually occurred. A non-Muslim friend of mine, who has taught university classes in Islam, is spectacularly unimpressed with her. He sees her less as a principled politician, than as a venal opportunist, who has exploited her supposed escape from Islamic oppression to gain money, influence and political power. She’s made money very cynically from telling the Islamophobic Right exactly what they want to hear. All the while using and discarding former allies than when they are of no use to her.

What has come across from this article is the similarity of approach of the anti-Islam activists across the West, from America to this side of the Atlantic. There is the same denial of racism. They don’t object to Muslims because of their ethnic origin, but because of the social, economic and political aspects of their religion. There is the same view that Islam is uniformly anti-feminist and bitterly hostile to gays. The anti-Islam sites over here and in America carried stories about Muslims beating up gays in Amsterdam, for example.

There is also the same claim that, in order to protect the welfare state, measures must be put in place to limit immigration. In the interview I put up this morning between Nigel Farage, the Fuhrer of UKIP, and Evan Davies, Farage stated that in a decade or so’s time, we may have to introduce an insurance system to fund the NHS due to the expansion of the country’s population to 80, 90. or 100 million. Farage was very careful not to single out any particular religion or ethnic group, but his party does contain any number of swivel-eyed loons with a venomous hatred of Muslims and non-Whites. The message, and that of the anti-immigrant Conservatives, is the same: the welfare state is under threat from immigrants, who are placing far too much strain on the available services. This conveniently ignores the fact that the welfare state has been decimated by decades of Conservative rule, and is likely to be destroyed completely if Cameron’s horde of robber barons are returned to power.

And Wilders has more than his fair share of supporters in this country. About ten years ago there was controversy in Britain, when Wilders was invited to speak at the House of Lords. He, and groups like him, aren’t a problem confined to the Netherlands. They’re all over Europe, and threaten all of our societies.

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2 Responses to “RoarMag on the Resistible Rise of the Islamophobic Right in the Netherlands”

  1. jess Says:

    “And Wilders has more than his fair share of supporters in this country. ”

    And none more so that Farrage, as the torygraph pointedout last May
    “Geert Wilders: Ukip will join our far-Right bloc in the EU”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/10808948/Geert-Wilders-Ukip-will-join-our-far-Right-bloc-in-the-EU.html

    That particular ‘union’ was blocked by Le Pen’s distrust of Farrage, and his reluctance to join a group with a higher media profile than his…

    But who knows what expediency may bring to them both?

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks, Jess. I think I missed that one, but it really, really doesn’t surprise me. Farage’s lot are the party of swivel-eyed racists, and he’d just love Wilders as one swivel-eyed racist who’s been a success.

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