Geert Wilders and the Right-Wing Populist Threat

The recent elections for the European Parliament showed that, as elsewhere, political change is on the rise in the Netherlands as well. Right-wing populist and anti-Islamic camps are gaining a voice in government, posing a threat to democratic culture, warns Ayman Mazyek

Geert Wilders (photo: AP)
Right-wing populism is gaining ground: At the European elections Geert Wilders' extremely Europe-critical, anti-Islamic "Freedom Party" prevailed as the second-strongest voice of the Netherlands

​​ In the Netherlands, there has been a marked shift to the right in what used to be regarded as an especially liberal and Europe-minded country. Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders now leads the second-strongest political party in the kingdom.

Based on his campaign promise to fight against the spread of Islam in Europe and to limit the influence of the EU to a minimum, Wilders won around 15 percent of the vote and thus four of the 25 Dutch seats in the European Parliament.

The success of his party's propaganda efforts and agitation against a specific group can apparently be attributed in part to the fact that our democratic institutions have not yet seen through the game that's being played, or refuse to acknowledge it.

Large portions of the public are celebrating Wilders as someone who dares to say out loud what others are afraid to say: namely, that Muslims are mendacious monsters lying in wait in the streets to ambush unsuspecting "infidels".

Racism camouflaged as freedom of speech

Those who don't realise this, who are afraid to look the enemy in the eye, are naive, according to the logic behind this viewpoint. But Geert Wilders and his consorts are not naive; they are the true warriors in the battle against the Anti-Christ, who, equipped with Takiya, the art of dissimulation, sets about stealing the wealth of the land, casting sand in the eyes of the "do-gooders".

​​Across the country this rhetoric can be heard and read, with most people putting up but meek or helpless opposition. And now we are paying the price for not defending our convictions more vigilantly.

Let us package the whole thing as a critical pronouncement. This so-called critical pronouncement by Wilders ("There's no law against speaking the truth") is imbued with hatred and racism. Wilders' poorly made and unsavoury trailer "Fitna" is an impressive example of this fact.

Does it not reveal a substantial dose of nihilism and utter ignorance when people claim that it is merely good form and an attempt at enlightenment to talk down an entire religious community with a great culture of tolerance recognised over thousands of years, and to call it "fascist"?

Faith in humanity

Does this mean that we have to express contempt for humanity in order not to be regarded as naive? And the definition of 'naive' then means to be peace-loving and to cherish the wish of preserving one's faith in humanity?

Ayman Mazyek (photo: dpa)
Mazyek: "Does it not attest to nihilism and ignorance when people claim that it is merely good form and an attempt at enlightenment to talk down an entire religious community with a great culture of tolerance recognised over thousands of years?

​​By God, then I would rather count myself part of the latter group! In his historic address in Cairo, US President Obama exhorted us to above all not lose our faith in humanity. This faith stands for hope and for the future; the opposite attitude invites war and discord.

Now people profess surprise and ask themselves, bewildered (and sometimes a touch hypocritically), how it could come to pass that the anti-Islamic right-wing populists have gained such a large following. Naturally no one admits to knowing anything about it or to having seen it coming.

Fortitude, insight and the courage of one's convictions

It's true that the religious communities, trade unions and civic groups working diligently toward peace and reconciliation did see the writing on the wall and constantly tried to warn us of what was happening in our midst. The way the citizens of Cologne stood up to the trend by demonstrating against right-wing populist "Pro Köln" alliance attests to the kind of courage and insight that still prevails in some places.

It was also gratifying to note the reaction of the Dutch head of state to "Fitna". Jan Peter Balkenende made it clear that Geert Wilders' film did not represent the viewpoints of all Dutch citizens and thus distanced himself in no uncertain terms from that sorry populist effort.

And yet a substantial number of Dutch chose to vote for the right-wing populists in the recent European elections. Although we must keep in mind that many did so as a form of protest and that only 30 percent voted at all.

An object lesson for democracy

Nevertheless, the election results should be seen as an object lesson for the established democratic parties. Before the elections, many of them were flirting with taking uncompromising positions on immigrants and Muslims – for example on the issues of the building of mosques, headscarves and Turkey's EU candidacy.

In case of doubt, however, the voter will opt for the radical right-wing "original" rather than the cheap imitation offered by a conventional democratic party that espouses a right-leaning platform only to garner more votes. With respect to our democratic culture, this is an unfortunate development.

Ayman Mazyek

© 2009

Ayman Mazyek is General Secretary of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. The son of a Syrian and a German, he studied philosophy, economics and political science in Aachen and did Arabic studies in Cairo. Together with Rupert Neudeck, he founded the aid organisation 'Green Helmets'. Mazyek is intensively involved in the Christian-Islamic dialogue and is a member of the Christian-Islamic Society. He is also active in local politics for the German Free Democrats party.

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