[Wilderseizing the Netherlands:] The impact of Geert Wilders' Freedom Party on Dutch society
Leading Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad of April 8, 2012 treated in an article by journalist Tom-Jan Meeus the role of Geert Wilders' Freedom Party in the Dutch coalition government consisting of Liberals and Christian Democrats. The title of the article was significant: “The way Geert Wilders hedges the political establishment instead of the other way round.” The Dutch coalition government relies on 52 seats in parliament, which consists of 150 seats.
Wilders' party held until recently 24 seats and guaranteed as such a minimal majority of one seat only: 76. Last month a dissenting member of the Freedom Party split and started his own party, but, no cause for alarm. The orthodox Christian party SGP, holding two seats, supports the shaky coalition. The opposition asks for elections, but as long as there is a governmental majority, their call is unanswered.
At this very moment Liberals, Christian Democrats and Wilders' Freedom Party are engaged in negotiations for major cuts in governmental expenses and tax increases. Just after a week of negotiations it seemed as if Wilders wanted to break up these political deliberations, but apparently the stakes for having the government fall were too high. Behind the scenes Wilders is in charge, and he would be stupid to give up that influential position even if he has to concede to cuts that are disadvantageous for his supporters.
The newspaper article referred to above focuses on the observation that Wilders and his party consequently avoid compromises and opt for extreme positions. In that respect he breaks with the Dutch “polder” (i.e., low lands under sea level) tradition, where parties try to reach out to each other in a political give-and-take game. For Wilders it is either yes or no, it is black or white, it is good or evil. Given his influential position he destroys as such the consensual system and forces other parties to follow his example. His centrifugal power affects the whole of Dutch society.
One should not be surprised by these developments, but many are, both intellectuals as well as the public. It was all described in a publication called (in translation) “The fake elite of the counterfeiters” by Freedom Party MP Martin Bosma that appeared in 2010. This book has been the object of an analysis by the writer of the present article in another book that appeared recently under the title (in translation) “The ideology of the Freedom Party. The evil good and the good evil.” The analysis shows that the body of thought of Bosma, who wrote his book condoned by Wilders, is based on the Bible verse of Isaiah 5: 20, that he quotes several times: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
The Freedom Party's political positions are very clear: either something is good, or something is evil, and don't you dare turn things around. In this scheme Christianity is good, Jews and Israel are good, and mono-culturalism is good. Islam is evil, all left parties are evil, and mass immigration and multiculturalism are evil. Bosma speaks highly of Christianity as a religion that boasts values like tolerance and discipline and that would have given us all a society we can dream of: separation between church and state and democracy, not commenting how he came to such paradoxical observations.
He states further that Dutch Jews would nestle their heads on the Freedom Party's shoulder seeking protection against Islam without giving any convincing evidence for this. He shows furthermore his support for Israel by hanging the “biggest Israeli flag” that he could find on the Tel Aviv market in his office in Parliament. He sees Israel as an outpost against the threat of Islam and as such an ally, irrespective of the question if this love is reciprocal or not.
Concerning Dutch society, he denounces multiculturalism as an invention of the left and praises the qualities of a mono-cultural society in which people would take care of each other much more than in a so to speak divided and dividing multicultural society. He forgets that mass immigration was initiated by central-right governments in the '70s and '80s. He does away with leftist parties such as the Dutch Labor Party as heirs of Hitler's National Socialist Party, and the Freedom Party consequently refers to National Socialism while putting the word National between brackets: (National) Socialism, thus implying an ill-fated bond between National Socialism and contemporary socialism. Finally Bosma and Wilders consider Islam a wicked ideology -- not a religion -- that can only lead to the destruction of Dutch and Western society.
It is this party with this ideology that runs in particular Dutch political thinking today, and only few people recognize its devastating influence. The initial victims are the nearly 1 million Muslims in the country. They are remarkably silent. They do not seem to know how to counter the political developments in what is their country, too. The Muslim director (who asked me not to mention his name) of an important Muslim-Dutch association active in the field of social welfare was once visited by a Freedom Party MP who praised him for his evident success, but he stated at the same time that unfortunately the success came from a Muslim and was as such not valuable. Ph.D. students with a Muslim background tell me they will seek their future abroad because “we do not count as we are Muslims.” Islam is evil, and the very fact that you are a Muslim ensures that you are excluded.
The Freedom Party maintains a policy of exclusion and aims its arrows in the first place at Muslims, and recently as well, at Eastern European workers for “snatching our jobs” and “being drunk all the time.” The xenophobic, yes racist, policies of this party with its strict good-evil approach can no longer be denied. Isaiah 5 verse 21 reads completely different than its preceding verse: “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes. And prudent in their own sight.” But the ability to put things into perspective is not the strongest characteristic of Bosma, Wilders and the Freedom Party. In the future we will see more extremism and exclusion in Dutch politics. It makes no difference to me if the party supports the government or would be part of the opposition. Its most dangerous trait is after all its ideological influence on Dutch society as a whole, of what I would call Wilderseizing society: gradually accepting excluding people who cannot help the fact that they are Muslim, Eastern European or otherwise “deviant.”
*Jan Jaap de Ruiter is an Arabist and assistant professor in Tilburg University and is engaged in the debate on Islam in the Netherlands.