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The anti-Islam vote in the Netherlands elections – by M Amer Morgahi

Published in Dawn Blog:

The enormous success of the right wing anti-Islam party in the recent elections in the Netherlands indicates a widespread schism within the Dutch and wider European societies where the presence of the Muslims as equal participants of society is disputed.

“Stop migration from the Muslim countries! Block the building of mosques or Muslim schools! Stop subsidising the multicultural programs,” were prominent slogans of Geert Wilders, head of Freedom Party (PVV) during the election campaign in the Netherlands. His party obtained 1.5 million votes and increased its number of seats from 9 to 24 in the parliament. It is probable that the PVV may enter into a coalition with the mainstream liberal party VVD to form a government. This can lead to an extremely xenophobic and an anti-Muslim government in western Europe.

The anti-migrant propaganda of Wilders appealed to certain quarters within the Dutch society. The old working-class neighborhoods that traditionally supported the Labor and Socialist parties got disillusioned with the presumed ‘elitist’ attitude of these parties. With increasing unemployment, economic downfall, changing neighborhood demographics – with more migrants, caused a feeling of isolation among these groups (“this is not my street” is a complaint heard often). The migrants are easy targets of such socio-economic isolation. Add to this the fast integration of Europe that increased distance between the people and decision-makers, thus ‘evaporating our national symbols’, as neo-nationalist like Wilders will argue for.

The traditional polarisation of the Dutch political scene further added to the election win of the PVV. Wilders chided the traditional political parties for ignoring the worries of ‘common man’ on burning issues of migration, criminality and security. Afraid of loosing their vote bank the other political parties, the traditional parties did not present a clear opposition to Wilders’ accusations. In the process they lost to Wilders’ sentimental political ploy on such issues.

The success of parties like the PVV is a dangerous development with respect to the future of democratic values in Europe. Wilders’ party does not follow the rules of a traditional political party: it does not have a membership or party hierarchy or hold any party elections. In this sense it is mere a ‘movement’. Wilders successfully avoided any questions about bringing democracy within his own party. For the PVV, Wilders is a party ideologue, he formulated his party’s election program, chose the candidates and acts as the main media person of the party. An acceptance of such one-man demagogy within the Dutch political system shows an approval of certain undemocratic tendencies within a society that projects itself as a tolerant one.

This is even clearer if we look at Wilders’ ideas and his political program. In the past he advocated to “ban the Quran” and he likes to declare “Islam as a fascist ideology.” Such a theme is also reflected in the film ‘fitna‘ that he produced about the negative aspects of Islam. In his election campaign he asked for banning migration from the Muslim countries, and deporting the ‘criminal’ Muslims to the country of their origin. His anti-Islam program is based on the notion that European civilisation is founded on ‘Jewish-Christian tradition’ thus denying any role of the Muslims in the recent history of the country. Moreover he even asked for ‘ethnic registration’ of non-white population thus importing the kind of practices that the Nazi-German applied to its subjects.

Even more worrying is that Wilders’ political agenda was received without a broader outrage within the Dutch public space. It indicates a clear indifference, if not an implicit support, within the broader public space about Wilders’ program. The political win of the PVV nonetheless present a dangerous tendency within the Dutch society where the majority of voters elected a group that tries to usurp the democratic rights of a minority.

The win of Wilders in the Netherlands cannot be seen without taking into account the broader debate about Islam and Muslims in the European countries. Whether it is debate about banning of hijab in public spaces in France and Belgium or the issue of height of minarets in Switzerland, Islam has become a politicised subject in Europe. These reactions to the Muslim presence however indicate non-acceptance of the emerging realities within the Dutch or European societies.