New Internationalist

Who is Geert Wilders?

Who is Geert Wilders? [Related Image]
Geert Wilders (left), election debate circa 2006. Sebastiaan ter Burg, Netherlands under a Creative Commons Licence

Dutch rightwing politician Geert Wilders has announced his intention to show cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on television as part of a political broadcast in the Netherlands.

The cartoons are from a Prophet-drawing competition held in Texas, which Wilders attended and which was targeted by armed gunmen. Islamic tradition holds that any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemous and many have read this as an attempt by Wilders to stir up religious tension in the Netherlands. The muted response here, however, gives an indication of how seriously (or not) Wilders is taken in his home country.

The terror threat to the Netherlands has not changed as a result of Wilders’ announcement, and the Dutch media has given relatively little column space to his latest stunt. Moderate Muslim groups have said that Wilders’ actions are a provocation but that, after over a decade of his political trolling, ‘we are no longer easy to offend.’

Wilders is a man with an image problem. While the rest of the world uneasily watches him attend anti-Islam rallies, form alliances with fascist rightwing groups and attempt to capitalize on European anti-Muslim rhetoric, his Dutch counterparts are still struggling to take him seriously.

As the founder and leader of the Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid or PVV), Wilders is the parliamentary group leader of his party in the Dutch House of Representatives. Following the 2010 Dutch elections, PVV entered into an agreement to support the dominant parties in government but Wilders withdrew that support in 2012 after a disagreement over budget cuts.

This led to another House of Representatives election, in which Wilders and the PVV ran on a platform calling for the withdrawal of the Netherlands from the European Union (EU) and a return to the pre-Euro Dutch currency, the guilder. They won 10.1% of the vote and 15 seats in parliament, a loss of 9 seats from 2010. This loss was followed by another loss in the 2014 European Parliament elections, in which support for the PVV fell from 17% to 13% of the vote.

Wilders’ policies include a bid to record the ethnicity of all Dutch citizens; tracking the ethnicity of criminals; removal of resources from anti-climate change programmes, development aid and immigration services; closure of all Islamic schools; support for LGBT communities and women’s rights where he perceives that they are ‘challenged’ by Islam; withdrawal from the EU; binding assimilation contracts for immigrants; taxes on Islamic headscarves; and prohibition of the Qur’an.

This last, Wilders has been especially vocal about, comparing the holy text to Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf and calling it a ‘terrorist weapon’. This, and other inflammatory statements, have resulted in multiple death threats; since 2004 Wilders has had a 24-hours security detail.

Wilders has long styled himself as a champion of free speech and a fierce warrior against what he terms ‘the Islamification of the Netherlands’, but his reputation within his home country is that of a clown.

The PVV has lost votes in every election since 2010 and Wilders’ fellow politicians have denounced him as a ‘political coward’ and claimed he ‘lacks political will’ when it comes to handling the Dutch economy. Despite his extreme views, Wilders has attempted to cultivate a place in the middle ground, refusing to work with ‘the wrong fascist groups’ and describing himself as a rightwing liberal.

This definition has been largely ignored by the press, who have labelled him an extremist and a populist. Public support for his policies is also split, with 53% of the population dismissing them as ‘implausible’, a reaction similar to that of a parent kindly telling their son that he can’t fly to the moon in his sister’s Wendy House. Popularly known as ‘the most famous bleach blond since Marilyn Monroe’ because of his trademark peroxide haircut, the perception of Wilders is far removed from the image he craves as a crusader for free speech.

The parent/child analogy is a useful one for understanding Wilders’ motivations. Dutch society still retains affection for their blond bombshell. After Wilders’ recent trip to Texas, Dutch historian and highly respected opinion-maker Geert Mak, a member of the Dutch elite, spoke out against the way Dutch society has cosseted Wilders. Mak claimed that politicians and the media had allowed themselves to be bullied by anti-immigration rhetoric and that it was time to speak out against Wilders and the PVV.

As Wilders’ international profile grows, his reputation at home appears to be slipping even more. By showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on television Wilders runs the risk of reprisals from Islamic extremists, but he may also be able to improve his standing in the Netherlands.

For a man with Wilders’ white knight fantasies and victim complex (he has spoken out numerous times at the unfairness of the death threats against him) violent reprisals offer a fantastic opportunity to shore up support from his compatriots.

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  1. #1 Delores Kirkwood 10 Jun 15

    He sounds like the new Hitler to me.

  2. #2 Beulah Devaney 11 Jun 15

    @Delores, his falling share of the vote makes me hopeful that he won't ever be *that* powerful

  3. #3 Skiltz1 11 Jun 15

    The article deviates from an appearance of sound journalism to the depths of base opinion blog with statements such as, ’in his home country Wilders' reputation is that of a clown.’ If this were true, which, of course, it is not, Wilders' political party, the PVV, would not continue to rank as one of the most popular in the Netherlands. It is popular pastime activity among coffee shop liberals and leftists to berate any ’anti-immigrant’ candidate but that is because the ’constituency of the critics’ live insular, economically privileged, lives at universities and typically enjoy middle class professional careers. This privileged social strata, including members like Geert Mak of the aristocracy, who incidentally believes anyone outside the aristocracy is declase and unworthy of drawing breath on the planet, is scarcely a bellwether for assessing Wilders' popularity. As uncontrolled immigration into Europe and Holland grow so will the popularity of Wilder's party.

  4. #4 Beulah Devaney 12 Jun 15

    @Skiltz1 - You seem to be suggesting that I have underestimated Wilders or used his anti-immigration stance as a reason to dismiss his impact. I cannot agree with you that the PVV being the third biggest party in The Netherlands is particularly meaningful (especially considering that their share of the vote keeps falling) but I do think that he is not taken as seriously as he could be here. I come from the UK where we have learnt the hard way not to underestimate the power of anti-EU, anti-immigration rhetoric and my belief is that the Dutch are falling into the same trap we did over Nigel Farage. Because both men are eccentric and slightly buffonish which engenders a certain level of affection for them in the minds of their countrymen. The danger is when the media and their fellow politicians write them off as harmless.

  5. #5 Roland 07 Jul 15

    The function of Geert Wilders within the Dutch political landscape is to pull the center right parties to the right. Just like the function of the Socialist Party is to pull the center left parties to the left. Calling people names like ’clown’ is just stupid. Geert Wilders commands between 10-30 seats in the second chamber of the Dutch parliament. He did suffer a lot of damage by stepping away from European enforced austerity cuts but as we see in the rest of Europe .the Euro and it's fiscal straitjacketed is proving a disaster everywhere so why he is being mocked for taking the right stance all along I do not know. He was right about the Euro and Greece just as he is right about Islam. People who do not see the danger are purposefully blind and quite possibly secretly longing for the day their civil liberties will be denied to them because of Sharia law. Because if you think Muslims will just ban ’blasphemous’ Muhammad cartoons you are deeply mistaken. That is just the first thing on a very long list of ’blasphemous’ items. Do not give them an inch if you want to keep your freedom. Europe is better without the Euro and would be better without Islam. Islam adds nothing and contributed nothing, it has achieved nothing but 1400 years of terror and oppression. Europe only exists as a civilization because our ancestors fought and resisted Islam at every turn. Had we surrendered to them we would be part of the Middle East and Europe as a separate cultural construct would simply not exist and with it Western civilization as we know it.

  6. #6 Roland 07 Jul 15

    What is strange to see is that European socialists are able to see that Muslims are the primary victims of Islamic terrorism but they cannot see the larger picture that they are the primary victims of Islam. Islam = Islamic terror and oppression. Why modern day socialists became so blind to the damage religion does I have no idea. Karl Marx the father of socialism already called religion the ’opium’ of the masses. A way through which elites keep the masses afraid,dumb and obedient. No other religion has quite this effect than Islam has had on Muslims. Indeed what we today call the Muslim world used to be cradle of human civilization. Rich developed cultures like the Greco-Roman and Persian have been wiped out by them. They will also wipe out European civilization which came from the Greco-Roman one. We are not better than the Romans or the Persians or all the others the black forces of Islam destroyed in the past. In fact in many ways we are weaker than they were. Modern Western civilization based on liberal democracy has only been around for a century or so in some parts of Europe it has only been around for less than a few decades. Why do people assume our civilization and values will win over Islamic values I have no idea. It didn't work in Iraq, it didn't work in Afghanistan. No where has liberal democracy defeated Islam and won over the Muslim populations. Another area where modern day European socialists got things wrong was the ’Arab Spring’ which they saw as this great thing which would create liberal democracies everywhere respecting human rights. Instead we got harsh Islamic dictatorships where human rights were trampled on a massive scale. This too Geert Wilders projected correctly that the ’Arab Spring’ would proof to be an ’Arab Winter’. So again who are the actual clowns ? When it comes to the major questions of today Geert Wilders has been proven right and others were proven wrong time and time again. But instead of showing some humility they insist on calling him names because that is their only argument.

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