“Islam is not a religion; it’s an ideology, the ideology of a retarded culture,” once said Dutch politician Geert Wilders whose far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) shockingly won the most number of parliamentary seats in the recent November 2023 election in the Netherlands. Known by many as the Dutch version of Donald Trump, this former fringe politician is now poised to possibly become the next prime minister, which is sending shockwaves to millions of minorities living in the Netherlands today.
According to former US Ambassador to the Netherlands Cynthia Schneider, the Netherlands hosts a variety of immigrants from Muslim majority countries- mainly from Turkey and Morocco- but earlier waves of people emigrated from former Dutch colonies including Indonesia and Suriname following independence. Since the 1980s and 1990s, liberal Dutch immigration policies also allowed asylum seekers from countries such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Somalia to settle there as well. Schnieder also once described Wilders as an “opportunistic Islamophobe”.
Wilders’ anti-Muslim political party- ironically named the “Party for Freedom” (PVV)- was founded in 2005 and has gradually grown into the fourth-largest party in the country. It has now become an unabashed political platform for Islamophobic anti-immigrant sentiment. Like other right-wingers once relegated to the fringes of society, Wilders is now accepted within mainstream Dutch politics. He carries considerable political sway. Even a decade ago, during the 2012 national elections, the ruling coalition actually had to get Geert Wilders’ political support in order to gain power, which would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.
Wilders has a long history of making Islamophobic statements. He has publicly compared the Holy Quran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf and in the early 2000s, Wilders proposed to ban the construction of new mosques and Muslim schools across the Netherlands. Like other European far-right ultra-nationalists today (i.e. Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary), Wilders appeals to a growing nonspecific, impersonal fear of immigrants—particularly those from Muslim-majority countries—and he stokes this irrational fear of the “Islamization” of Europe and the West. “They bring along a culture that is not ours. Islam is not there to integrate; it’s there to dominate!” he once proclaimed while arguing that Islam should not even be considered a religion at all.
In 2011, Wilders was tried and acquitted by a Dutch court on criminal charges of inciting hatred against Muslims and when Wilders addressed a 2015 Dutch crowd in The Hague after his party made gains in the March 2015 election, he defiantly said: “I ask all of you, do you want in this city, and in the Netherlands, more or less Moroccans?!” he shouted. The audience chanted, “Less! Less! Less!” Wilders ominously replied with a sinister smile: “Then we will arrange that!”
That same year, Geert Wilders made an anti-Muslim 15-minute short Internet movie called “Fitna” (Arabic for “division” or “strife”) which defamed Islam by juxtaposing cherry-picked Quranic verses over incendiary sound-bites and graphic images of terrorist acts and their aftermath. His movie began with the ominous “ticking clock” sounds and the infamous cartoon image of the Prophet Muhammad with a “bomb turban” (which had previously sparked the Danish cartoon controversy in 2005). As the movie clock ticks down, the audience sees the fuse on the “bomb turban” lit as the rest of the movie focuses on “quoting” chapter and verse from Islam’s holy book to show the “violent” nature of Islam. Then-Prime Minister of Holland, Jan Peter Balkenende, publicly rejected the anti-Muslim film saying, “The film equates Islam with violence. We reject this interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. In fact, the victims are often also Muslims” themselves.
Wilders is important because he is inspiring other Islamophobes, and not just in Europe. As word of his exploits continues to spread, he has increasingly garnered a following in the United States as well. In a dozen American states, Geert Wilders had been quoted and cited by right-wing lawmakers in the course of anti-Sharia legislation debates and he found himself often on right-wing media outlets not holding back against Muslims and Islam.
“Islam wants to kill or subjugate us,” Wilders once proclaimed on the FOX News channel during one of his American right-wing political tours. “We have had enough of the Islamization of society,” he further stated during another interview. “Immigrants have to adopt our values, not the other way around.” He also insisted that “we don’t hate Muslims, but they have to integrate” to white Christian majority cultures.
Wilders has told audiences that there is no such thing as moderate Islam and that the United States should be “getting rid of Islamic symbols—no more mosques—and closing down Islamic schools.” His estranged brother Paul Wilders once told Newsweek that “he has always loved attention and power” and interestingly noted that some of their family’s roots extend deep into Indonesia, an outpost of the Dutch colonialist empire for nearly three and a half centuries.
The global Islamophobia industry has embraced Geert Wilders for years. Longtime anti-Muslim polemicist Daniel Pipes once effusively said that Wilders was “the most important European alive today” and Islamophobic blogger Pamela Geller once posted a YouTube video with him that she called “the interview of the century.” Wilders’ incendiary 2015 documentary film Fitna mentioned above was given a special screening on Capitol Hill in 2008, hosted by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Wilders has been published by the same publisher as Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and other right-wing provocateurs.
In this most recent November 2023 parliamentary election in Holland, prominent EU analyst Shada Islam noted that Wilders’ playbook is no different from the one that recently brought Italy’s own right-wing blonde fascist named Georgia Meloni to power in 2022. Meloni has committed to using her influence and authority to further reinforce the ultra-nationalist “Fortress Europe” migration policies. Wilders is likely to have a similarly powerful impact in the Netherlands as well.
“The distress and the fear are enormous,” said Habib El Kaddouri, who leads a Dutch organization representing Moroccan Muslims in Holland. “Wilders is known for his ideas about Muslims and Moroccans. We are afraid that he will portray us as second-class citizens.” It remains to be seen whether Wilders can cobble together enough political coalition support to form a majority or become prime minister. “I don’t know if Muslims are still safe in the Netherlands,” Mr. El Kaddouri further stated. “I am worried about this country,” said Stephan van Baarle, leader of the minority rights party Denk, who refused to congratulate Wilders on the PVV’s election success. “The fact that the PVV is the biggest party is a threat for a million Dutch Muslims,” the politician publicly stated.
After his victory, Wilders proclaimed one of his first legislative priorities would be to stop the influx of refugees and asylum seekers into the country. The political firebrand said one of his first acts in office would be to make sure that “The Netherlands will be returned to the Dutch, the asylum tsunami and migration will be curbed”. In response, the Dutch Council for Refugees stated that it was “very concerned about the people who have to flee war and violence, now that a party that unequivocally advocates an asylum freeze has become the largest in the Netherlands”.
Once a fringe right-wing political gadfly like Donald Trump, the Dutch version known as Geert Wilders has become one of the most powerful political figures in the Netherlands today. While the current possibility of Wilders becoming the Netherlands’ next prime minister remains to be seen, the fact that so many voters had backed him was disappointing for millions of minorities across the country (predominantly Muslims from countries like Morocco and Turkey). In the coming months, global observers will be watching to see if the far-right leader will keep his promise, made in the lead-up to the election, to act as a prime minister for all Dutch people, including millions of Muslims who call Netherlands their home.