PITY THE DUTCH, if you can. The party led by a far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam populist named Geert Wilders is on course to gain the most votes in next week’s parliamentary elections in the Netherlands. But the journalists who have dubbed Wilders “Holland’s Trump” and “the Donald Trump of the Netherlands” may owe the U.S. president an apology.
Yes, Wilders is running as a divisive outsider who wants to “make the Netherlands great again,” and he rails against his opponents on Twitter. Yes, he has been lauded by a range of far-right U.S. conservatives, from Republican legislators Michele Bachmann and Steve King to “counter-jihad” activists Frank Gaffney and David Horowitz. And, yes, there’s his bleached-blonde bouffant hair.
Nonetheless, when it comes to Islam and Muslims, the bombastic leader of the Party for Freedom makes the president of the United States look positively moderate. Trump, remember, is trying to ban immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries; Wilders wants to stop all Muslim immigration. Trump plans to surveil mosques; Wilders wants to ban mosques. Trump says he will eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism” from “the face of the earth;” Wilders wants to eradicate Islam, period.
Think I’m exaggerating? Wilders claims Islam “is not a religion, it’s an ideology… the ideology of a retarded culture” and a “totalitarian” ideology. “Islam is the Trojan Horse in Europe,” he has declared. “If we do not stop Islamification now, Eurabia and Netherabia will just be a matter of time.” For the Dutch politician, “there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam’.”
Consider also his tweet from late last year: “#2017in3words. No More Islam.”
No more Islam? How do you get rid of a religion without getting rid of the 1.6 billion people who follow it? This is the language of genocide, plain and simple. Wilders has always claimed that he hates Islam, not Muslims, but his explicit targeting of Muslim immigrants and institutions suggests otherwise.
Trump may have surrounded himself with anti-Islam ideologues but Wilders is an anti-Islam ideologue — and has been, according to his elder (and estranged) brother Paul, for a long time. He visited a kibbutz in Israel in his late teens and more than 40 subsequent visits to the Jewish state helped convince him that Islam wants to “dominate” Western civilization.
There is also another fundamental and very important difference between Wilders and Trump. I asked former member of Parliament Fadime Orgu, who knew Wilders when they were both members of the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy between 1998 and 2004, about the constant media comparisons between Wilders and Trump. “He is not like Trump,” laughs Orgu, one of the first Muslims elected to parliament in the Netherlands. Wilders, she tells me, is a “real politician” — the third-longest serving member of the Dutch parliament — and he “is clever”.
Indeed he is. Unlike other far-right firebrands, Wilders cloaks his anti-Muslim bigotry in the language of liberalism and the Enlightenment. The Dutch demagogue has won over voters on the left by arguing that the Netherlands’ tolerant stance on social issues such as same-sex marriage is threatened by an “Islamic invasion”.
His attachment to liberalism, however, is as superficial as it is opportunistic. How can you support freedom of speech while calling for a ban on the Quran? How can you support freedom of worship while pledging to close down all mosques? How can you claim to be fighting Islamic extremism