Make no mistake about it, crumbling, old-man Europe is in crisis. The old nationalistic ideas of a pure, white Christian Europe and the new, melting-pot continent are a combustible combo. Too bad that far too many Europeans seem to think the only way is the way back. One only needs look at the rise of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to see how unfunny this recent trend may yet turn out to be. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
Would it be unfair to declare Europe a completely spent entity, much like a credit card that has been maxed out while being swiped once too often? Hardly. Would it be a little too partisan to declare that what was once the powerhouse of humanity is now a sad ruin, a dilapidated empire and a sorry remnant to a past long gone? Yes? Good. Let us now introduce Geert Wilders into this sad mess.
At first glance, the man appears beyond the serious reasoning of the rational person. There’s the ridiculous hair. There’s no gentle way to break this: it’s been given the heavy peroxide treatment. Think Kajagoogoo or A-Ha in the mid-1980s; it’s laughably pretentious.
Then you realise that this man is in the Dutch parliament. As a small part of the recently formed Dutch minority government. Then the grin disappears completely from your face.
When similar patterns emerge to other chest-thumpingly populist leaders in South Africa, you begin to comprehend just how serious a threat Wilders represents.
Wilders has just emerged unscathed from a hate speech case. This particular court action was brought against him after he released a highly controversial film titled “Fitna” (a word in the Qur’an which has connotations of war and strife), which posited with little subtlety that all of Islam may be summed up in the actions of a few crazed terrorists.
The judge that heard the case against Wilders declared he had acted in a “hurtful and also shocking way”, but not enough to penalise him for hate speech.
Wilders isn’t only notorious for the views he espoused on film. This man doesn’t like Islam at all. To him, it isn’t a religion to which he doesn’t conform – it represents a direct threat to his particular way of life.
He has called the Qur’an fascist, and compared it to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. He has campaigned against the “Islamisation of the Netherlands” and called for a tax on headscarves, a rather transparent attack against the niq?b.
Photo: Geert Wilders and his Kajagoogoo hair were on display inside a courtroom in Amsterdam, March 30, 2011. REUTERS/Koen van Weel
And yet, despite of all this, Wilders and his political party, Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), somehow managed to gain the third-highest number of seats in the Dutch parliament.
Peter Kee, a Dutch political journalist working on the late-night show Pauw & Witteman says Wilders radicalised when he left the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) after a disagreement with the party leadership over the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union. According to Kee, the estranged Wilders was afraid that the EU embracing Turkey would only serve to further entrench an Islamic state’s influence in Europe.
“His unique selling point by then was his campaign against the growing influence of Islam in our society,” Kee said. “In November 2006 there were new elections for parliament and he became a great winner when he took nine seats in parliament. From that moment on he was an important factor in Dutch politics.
“His party, the PVV, kept screaming about Islam and Muslim-fundamentalists louder and louder. He made his movie ‘Fitna’, in which Islam was presented as evil itself. He (almost) never talks about Muslim individuals or as a group, but he always talks about the religion as the greatest danger to our western society which is based on a Judeo-Christian culture. This is superior to the culture of the Islam by far, according to Wilders,” Kee said.
The brouhaha generated by Wilders’s message resulted in 30 seats in the Dutch parliament in the June 2010 elections. The PVV was the third party in a conservative, minority government that was formed between the VVD and the CA (Christian Democratic Appeal) after that.
“He [Wilders] supports them on most of the economic dossiers as long as they do their best to keep immigration low and help him to throw up a wall against Islamic influence in the Netherlands,” Kee said. “Some people see him as the real prime minister of the Netherlands and that might be close to the truth. Every week he has his meeting with Prime Minister Rutte in which he can tell him his wishes. The influence of Wilders can't be underestimated.”
According to Kee, the influence of Wilders should also be seen as a backlash against the European Union and the problems it brings with it. Nobody wants to pay the Greek debt, nor do they want to fight Nato’s wars abroad.
The globalist movement of the 90s is subsiding, and in its stead a great wave of nationalism is taking its place all across Europe. In France, a ban on “headscarves”, obviously meaning the niq?b, has been in place for a few months now. The Scandinavian region (Sweden especially) has already been swept by xenophobic protests. In Italy, their ridiculously burlesque Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is practising his own brand of right-wing populism. Mainly through his wedding vegetables.
Under this undeniable faltering of its previous prowess, the issue of immigration cannot but loom large and menacing in Europe’s face (at least the part of Europe that still wishes it was white and Christian). This unique set of circumstances presents itself rather invitingly to the right-wing, and they have embraced their role as the jeremiahs of Europe with relish. This is what makes Geert Wilders special. Despite the questions one might ask of his un-European past (which explains the need to dye his hair, some commentators say), he is unapologetically and unyieldingly firm in his views.
What is also undeniable is that there is a portion of the Dutch population very willing to listen to him and vote him into power. The trend replicates itself across Europe.
How should one deal with such people? Is pity the correct response? Or should we perhaps sneer at the sight of those who desperately cling on to the vestigial ideas of a bygone era? Perhaps the right thing to do here is to take a gigantic step back and watch as the thrown flare splutters to a lonely death on the wet cobbles. One thing is sure: Europe as we knew it is dying. DM
- Dutch right winger Wilders cleared of anti-Muslim charges on CNN.
Photo: Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders is seen inside a courtroom in Amsterdam, March 30, 2011. REUTERS/Koen van Weel