With the Tea Party making inroads in primaries across the country, you might think the rabid outbursts and vapid sloganeering are a peculiarly American phenomenon. But in fact, Thursday’s elections in the Netherlands show that the U.S. has no monopoly on right-wing anger.
The far-right Party for Freedom (it’s got a familiar ring to it, no?), led by anti-Muslim zealot Geert Wilders, has run on a platform of zero tolerance for the country’s burgeoning Muslim population. In Thursday’s elections, the party won 24 seats out of 150, nearly doubling its standing in Parliament. Many were surprised to see that a country known for its liberal culture and social policy has done a 180 at the polls, making a hard-right faction the third-ranking party in the government, behind the Liberal (VVD) and Labour (PvdA) parties.
Wilders—who is facing criminal charges of inciting racial hatred and was refused entry to the United Kingdom due to his anti-Islamic propagandandizing—is now emboldened to continue pushing his agenda of eradicating Islam from the Dutch public arena. His major initiative is a ban on the immigration of Muslims.
Wilders outlined his rationale to RT.com in March:
“The majority of Muslims in our Western societies are law-abiding people like you and me,” Wilders said. “Still, I want to stop the immigration of people from the Islamic countries because they still bring a lot of culture that is not ours. Look at all the countries for instance in the Middle East where Islam is dominant - you see no rule of law, no functioning parliament, no civil society.”
To deal with Muslims already living in the Netherlands, Wilders wants to stamp out new construction of Mosques and ban Muslim women from wearing a veil in public. Unfortunately, his racism isn’t even original; similar anti-veil crackdowns have emerged in France and Belgium as well.
Muslims, most of them of Turkish and Moroccan descent, currently make up about 6.5 percent of the national population of 16.5 million. The large size of the community helps explain why the white Dutch public might feel anxious about the growing Muslim presence in the Netherlands. But it also underscores how a supposedly “tolerant” country has failed to live up to principles of pluralism and cultural openness at a time when social inclusion is more crucial than ever.
As economic anxieties mesh with underlying xenophobia across Europe, Wilders may see his party as the vanguard of a right-wing resurgence. In fact, he has expressed eagerness to use his criminal trial to “expose” Islam to the public and present evidence that the religion poses a social threat. Whatever he reveals in court, Wilders has already exposed plenty about the roots of his country’s political confusion. When compared with the conservative backlash in the U.S., the shift in Dutch politics show that the vilification of Islam and immigrants has little to do with preserving any country’s unique “values” or “identity.” It has a lot more to do with the public’s generalized sense of insecurity and frustration, which quickly shades into hostility toward anything, and anyone, representing change.
Photo: Getty Images/Dan Kitwood