Lots of people are talking about the “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas last Sunday, which resulted in the death of two ambushers who shot at police. Geert Wilders, the fiery Dutch politician know as much for his peroxide mane as his provocative statements about minorities, was on hand to deliver the keynote speech. Wilders is a regular in the orbit of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, the bloggers who organized the controversial contest. Given the overlap of their extreme views, that’s not surprising.
But it should be surprising that days before the Texas event, a man with a history of expressed toxic views appeared on Capitol Hill where, at the invitation of two sitting Congressmen, he was wined and dined before Washington luminaries and spoke on four different occasions. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert and Iowa Congressman Steve King praised Wilders’ commitment to free speech, seemingly unaware of the irony given that the Dutch parliamentarian has called for the Quran to be banned in the Netherlands.
The three delivered a press conference outside the Capitol building on April 30, 2015, lauding one another’s efforts to “strengthen Western civilization” (King later told CNN that he did not find the Muhammad cartoons offensive and that the event should teach Muslims that “Western culture is superior”).
Wilders spoke at two additional receptions on April 29 held by Gohmert and King, the latter of which was a meeting of the Conservative Opportunity Society, a group founded by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in 1984. According to King’s Facebook page, they discussed “Fighting Radical Islam.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner was mum on Wilder’s visit, despite calls for him to denounce the invitation.
All three politicians — Wilders, Gohmert, and King — have a history of fabricating falsehoods about Muslims and fearmongering about Islam. They continued that habit during Wilder’s visit to DC last week and in the wake of the Garland attack on Sunday.
A “Warning” from Wilders
At the press conference, which was simply a platform for Wilder’s to share his views, the Dutch lawmaker said,
“It’s not easy to speak out against Islam, but somebody should do it.”
You read that correctly. He didn’t say “radical Islam,” he didn’t say “Islamic extremism.” He said Islam. Flanked by two American Congressmen, Wilders railed against a religion practiced by close to 3 million Americans. But that wasn’t it.
“Almost all terrorists seem to be Muslims today,” he said, matter of factly.
To Wilders and others, it may seem that Muslims are the only ones committing terrorist attacks. But what seems to be true, and what is actually true are often two different things. Muslims are responsible for only a fraction of terrorist attacks in the West. Terrorism committed by Muslims accounted for only 6% of attacks on U.S. soil between 1980 to 2005. In Europe, Muslims only commit 2% of terrorist attacks.
“Islam has not come to integrate or to assimilate but has come to dominate, to subjugate…”
Wilders has already convinced many Americans of this “threat of Islamization in our societies.” In the press conference, he revealed that before Tennessee lawmakers enacted their ban on Sharia law in 2011, Wilders had invited them to the Netherlands and showed them “what the Islamization meant.” He praised the legislators for returning from the trip and providing “concrete results” by passing anti-sharia bills.
In trying to defend his position to ban the Qur’an in the Netherlands, Wilders claimed that the Qur’an has “more anti-Semitism and more violence in it than Mein Kampf.” He did not explain how banning views he found offensive harmonized at all with American values of free speech.
When an attendee asked him to respond to a previous statement in which he called Islam “the ideology of a retarded culture,” he said:
[I hope that] “the people believe that Islam is not just another leaf on the tree of religions. It might look like a religion, it has a temple, it has a holy book, it has an imam. But it is more a totalitarian ideology than a religion…What I expect is that people join each other against the threat of Islam — or radical Islam — as my friends call it, [that] faces for our free society today.”
Congressmen Nod Along, Echo Islamophobic Myths
Gohmert and King, who called Wilders “bold and confident and factual” and “one of the bravest people [they’ve] ever met,” nodded along with much of what he said, occasionally staring blankly when the wheels came off and Wilders’ veered off in a direction that was baldly antithetical to core American values.
It was Gohmert, though, who once insisted that “terror babies” would overrun America. He was also a proponent of Michele Bachman’s notion that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated Obama’s government.
“We’ve probably got some no-go zones in America that we don’t talk about. I haven’t been to them and I need to do that, but if you go to Europe and see what’s happening in Europe it’s a predictor of what’s happening in America.”
There’s a good reason we don’t talk about “no-go” zones in America: there aren’t any. That’s also the reason King says he’s never been one.
Wilders’ visit to Washington (and King’s earlier visit to the Netherlands) reveals the degree to which politicians like Gohmert and King have ties to and even rely on anti-Muslim agitators to advance and justify their positions. And his appearance in Washington, and connections to the organizers of the Texas event, remind us of the harm of importing a European brand of Islamophobia. We have enough of our own.