The Dutch political system may not have been deliberately designed to produce middle-of-the-road outcomes, but it certainly works that way in practice: many small parties, multi-party coalitions to create a majority government, perpetual compromise. It is almost impossible to radicalise a system like this, but Geert Wilders is going to try.
Wilders is the founder and leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), which currently holds only twelve seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament. But he is aiming to make it the largest single party in the March 15 election – which, in ordinary times, would probably give it the leading role in the next coalition government.
But these are not normal times, and the PVV is far from a normal party. It really only has one policy – stop the immigrants – and it is unshamedly racist and anti-Muslim in its rhetoric. Wilders recently called Dutch residents of Moroccan origin “scum”. He vows to close mosques and Islamic schools, ban the sale of the Koran, and stop all further immigrants or asylum seekers from Muslim countries.
He is the Dutch Donald Trump, a silver-maned provocateur who deploys the maximum possible nastiness in his campaign talk and his frequent abusive tweets. In fact, some people argue that Trump must have taken lessons from Wilders, who has been working this side of the street for at least a decade already, but the concept of convergent evolution probably applies. Populists are almost always racists too.
Which brings us to the question that is most interesting for people who don’t live in the Netherlands. Can racism and xenophobia alone, without any help from economic desperation, persuade a traditionally liberal Western electorate to cast its values aside and vote for an authoritarian bully with an anti-Muslim obsession?
Trump had lots of help from economic despair. The key voters who gave him an electoral college victory last November were in the Rust Belt states: men (they were mostly men) who would usually have backed Democratic candidates, but switched to Trump because he promised to “bring back the jobs” and stop the non-white immigration.
There was certainly a large element of racial panic in the American vote. A survey by Zack Beauchamp of the opinion polling and recent academic research on the topic, entitled “White Riot” and published on Vox on 20 January, documented the argument that “the real sources of the far-right’s appeal are anger over immigration and a toxic mix of racial and religious intolerance.”
On the other hand, the Rust Belt states south of the Great Lakes, the former industrial heartland of the United States, are the places that have suffered the greatest job losses over the past few decades, which is why cities like Cleveland and Detroit are decaying and partly abandoned. And they are emphatically NOT major destinations for new immigrants to the US.
Trump himself always ensures that he hits on both immigration and job losses in his speeches and tweets, and he is the world’s expert on the fears and prejudices of his supporters. Could we perhaps speculate that his supporters say that they are frightened about immigration and especially Mulim immigration, but that their racism is really driven in large part by their anger at the steep decline in the number of well-paid industrial jobs?
Of the six states with over a million immigrants – California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey – only Florida (where Trump won by a whisker) and Texas (which has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980) voted for Trump. California, whose ten million immigrants make up 27 percent of the state population, voted two-to-one for Hillary Clinton.
It would seem that, in the words of the old Phil Spector song, to know, know, know them is to love, love, love them (the immigrants), or at least not to fear them. Whereas Michigan, a Rust-Belt state that voted Democratic in the previous six elections and where only 6 percent of the population are immigrants, voted for Trump.
You can see the same pattern in the Brexit vote in England last June. The prosperous big cities are where the immigrants are, and every one of them except Birmingham voted Remain (in the European Union). London, where half the school population is non-white, voted Remain by a 60-40 majority, as did Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol.
The narrow Leave majority countrywide was won in depressed northern industrial cities where immigrant populations are low, and in prosperous rural areas where there are virtually no immigrants at all. So there was again racial panic at the changing ethnic face of England in areas where immigrants were largely absent, but especially in post-industrial areas where they are (wrongly) blamed for the loss of well-paying jobs.
In populist revolts elsewhere, the manifest racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that dominated in the opinion polls masked a deeper resentment about the loss of jobs. In the Netherlands, where unemployment is only 5 percent, Geert Wilders is depending on racism alone, and he is not heading for a Brexit- or Trump-style victory. The latest opinion poll gives him just 15 percent of the vote.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 12 and 13. (“You..jobs”)
Would it be all right if I called Geert Wilders a piece of human waste? No? Damn. Well, then, can I call him a deeply cynical politician who is willing to get people killed to advance his political career? Okay, thanks.
Geert Wilders is a deeply cynical Dutch politician who is willing to get people killed to advance his political career. Sometimes they are Muslims, sometimes they are people of Christian heritage – that doesn’t really matter, so long as he reaps the publicity. And now he has come up with a clever new way to outrage foolish young Muslims and get them to murder people for him.
Wilders realised that a little-known Dutch law obliges the television networks to show ANYTHING that a politician wishes to include in a party political broadcast. No censorship is allowed on grounds of truth, of taste, or even of safety. So the far-right politician, whose whole political career has been based on attacking Islam, decided to air some truly nasty cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.
One shows a man labelled “Muhammad” with snakes in his beard. Another shows a rather loony-looking young man who is clearly labelled “The Prophet Muhammad”. A third shows somebody who is probably meant to be Muhammad on a unicycle, juggling five chopped-off heads with letters attached that spell ISLAM. Not funny, not clever, not really even topical. Just nasty.
Most Muslims are uncomfortable with images of Muhammad, and many believe that they are blasphemous. That doesn’t mean that democratic, pluralist societies like those of the West should ban such images. Freedom of speech means that any group, including any religious group, should accept that it may be criticised, even mocked in public. You cannot demand special treatment just because your feelings will be hurt.
But you can and should expect not to be singled out for hatred simply because of your particular religious beliefs. You have the right to be protected from rhetoric that deliberately confounds innocent believers with terrorists (as Wilders regularly does). And you certainly have right to be protected from incitements to violence.
There is a world of difference between Geert Wilders and the dozen people who were murdered by Islamist extremists at the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” last January. They were equal-opportunity cartoonists who targeted everybody with equal irreverence and a fine absence of discrimination; Wilders is a monomaniac who wants to ban the Koran in the Netherlands because it is “like (Adolf Hitler’s) Mein Kampf”.
But he is a devious monomaniac, because the people he is really trying to incite to violence are Muslims. If he can trick ignorant Muslims into killing people by portraying the Prophet Muhammad in ugly and insulting cartoons, he wins.
The cartoons Wilders has insisted be broadcast on Dutch television were originally shown at an event in Texas last month which awarded a $10,000 prize for the best (i.e. worst) cartoon about Muhammad. The organisers were trying to provoke a reaction, so they invited Wilders to give the event a higher profile. It worked wonderfully: two simplistic young fanatics tried to attack the conference, and were shot dead in the car park.
So Wilders brought copies of the cartoons home with him, and announced that he would broadcast them on Dutch television as a defence of free speech. The broadcast was supposed to go out in the Netherlands on Saturday, but somebody at the NPO1 television network managed to mislay the tape Wilders had given them.
He was furiously indignant about that, of course, and insisted that his right as a party leader to put anything he wants on the party political broadcasts must be respected. He says he has now been promised that it will go out on Wednesday evening. If the promise is kept, the rioting and killing will probably have started by the time you read this.
Wilders knows perfectly well that this will happen, and is content that it should. He and his anti-Muslim allies on the far right of Dutch politics are what Marxists used to call the “objective allies” of the bearded Muslim extremists screaming for blood in the streets and the more calculating Muslim leaders who urge those fanatics to go out and commit violence in the name of “defending” Islam.
Both parties, however much they hate each other, have a common interest in keeping the outrage level among their followers high, and they tacitly cooperate to keep the pot boiling. The poor old media know they are being manipulated and exploited by people with truly reprehensible agendas, but they cannot simply refuse to report the news, even if it is manufactured news (as is so often the case).
And so, in a world where most people of any religion or none simply want to get on with their neighbours and lead a quiet life, we are fed a constant diet of lies that shows us a world full of blood-thirsty, hate-filled extremists.
Oh, and by the way: Geert Wilders is a piece of human waste.
NOTE: if the “piece of human waste” line is too strong for your paper’s policy, simply omit the first paragraph and the last sentence.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 6. (“Most…violence”)