The “banalisation of bigotry”
As right wing politicians with xenophobic agendas continue to gain momentum in Europe, Dutch politician and leader of Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), Geert Wilders is no exception. Wilders recently released his 2016 manifesto calling for the “de-Islamization” of the Netherlands as part of his campaign to win the general elections in March 2017.Opinion polls put Wilders and his party as favourites to win the March election. This is a concerning indication of where one of Europe’s most diverse and tolerant nations may be headed and how extremism is increasingly unchallenged and unchecked.
The PVV seem to be growing in popularity amongst Dutch citizens. What attracts and simultaneously deters people from this party is the “de-Islamization of the Netherlands” policy. As acts of terrorism from extremist Islamic groups increase in Europe the unfortunate and erroneous reaction is to paint all Muslims with the terrorist brush instead of identifying that individual terrorist are to blame. The unfounded and illogical misperception that terrorism is an Islamic phenomenon is being recklessly peddled by politicians such as Wilders, fuelling discrimination and intolerance.
Promising to return the Netherlands to the Dutch people, Wilders is calling for: the closure of all mosques and Islamic schools; a ban on the Koran; a ban on immigrants from Islamic countries; and a ban on wearing Islamic headscarves in public. Wilders has also managed to include an economic argument to his proposed policy by alleging that such measures will somehow save the Netherlands 7.2 billion euros. Wilder’s modus operandi is to exploit the fears of is people whilst creating deep societal divides and generating inter-faith tension.
The Netherlands is a party to several international treaties that outlaw discrimination in its various forms. Having lived there myself, I can safely say that I found The Hague and Amsterdam to be two of the most tolerant, liberal, open minded, accepting cities in the world. The Hague is known as the International City of Peace and Justice and is home to many international people, and international tribunals, including the International Criminal Court. Geert Wilders and his party, should they gain more momentum, could significantly damage the city’s reputation as well as that of the country.
Thankfully, activists and those who believe in human rights are not idly watching as extremist right wing agendas become mainstream. Last week, the Peace Justice and Security Foundation hosted its inaugural Gala to raise awareness and promote its noble goals. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein used this platform to succinctly and eloquently address Geert Wilders and other right wing extremist, “populists, demagogues and political fantasists”.
The entire speech was incredibly powerful and the temptation to directly quote more of this impassioned oration is strong, but instead I will highlight a few points in a bid to whet your appetite and inspire you to find the speech yourselves.
Zeid called Wilder’s manifesto “grotesque” and stated that Wilders was promoting racial and religious prejudice. Zeid made it clear that this dangerous path to extremism and xenophobia must be not be left unchallenged. Most importantly he asked whether society in general is doing enough to constructively engage religious intolerance and other forms of discrimination as he called society to take a stand.
Like the UN High Commissioner, there are others who have also taken a stand in the past. Dutch activists and normal Dutch citizens have been proactive in the fight against the dangerous rhetoric produced by Wilders. As a result Wilders had to face charges of criminally insulting religious and ethnic groups and inciting hatred and discrimination. He was acquitted of all charges in 2011 though the judge did indicate that his comments were not far from being legally unacceptable.
This year Wilders is on trial again for allegedly inciting hatred against the Dutch Moroccan minority.
In addition to his legal battles, Wilders has previously been shunned internationally. For example in 2009 the United Kingdom government took a stand when former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith banned Wilders from entering the UK, citing that his presence in the UK would pose a “genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society.”
Wilders decided to ignore the ban and travelled to the UK accompanied by his television crew. He was meet by immigration officials upon arrival and sent back on the next available flight. He subsequently had the ban over turned in October 2009 but a powerful message was sent by the UK government.
As the PVV gain ground in the Netherlands it is hoped that activism against hate speech and religious intolerance will continue in the Netherlands and beyond. Hopefully more will heed Zeid’s message and answer his question- “are we going to continue to stand by and watch this banalization of bigotry, until it reaches its logical conclusion?”
*This piece first appeared in the Star Newspaper on 14 September 2016