Dutch Muslims fear impact of far-right vote
Muslims reeling from an apparent surge of anti-Islam sentiment fear next week's Dutch election will fuel mutual suspicion and pit neighbour against neighbour.
It was in here in Almere, where a third of the population is of immigrant origin, that Geert Wilders led his far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) to its first local election victory in March.
The result stunned a nation famed for its tolerance, and the after-effects linger on ahead of general elections next Wednesday.
"We are all afraid of what might happen," Amina Taha, 57, a Kurdish-born, naturalised Dutch citizen, told AFP.
"If Muslims and others move too far apart," she warned, "they are bound to end up warring."
The PVV, which currently has nine of 150 seats in parliament, is predicted to win 17 seats next week and become the country's fourth biggest party in the process.
His party topped the March 3 municipal poll in Almere, east of the capital Amsterdam, with 21.6 percent, and came second in The Hague.
Those were the only two cities it contested just weeks after the government collapsed in a row over military policy in Afghanistan.
"We don't hurt anyone. We just want everyone to live together in peace," added Taha, who speaks Dutch and proudly wears a headscarf -- an item Wilders wants to discourage with a "head rag tax."
Wilders, who is to stand trial in October accused of religious insult and inciting anti-Muslim sentiment, campaigns for a ban on headscarves for public servants, a halt to immigration from Muslim nations, and a moratorium on the erection of mosques.
He has described Islam as a fascist religion and called for the banning of the Koran, which he has likened to Hitler's Mein Kampf.
"Muslim people in Almere are looking differently at their indigenous Dutch compatriots" since the PVV election success, Shangram Karim, the Dutch Muslim Party leader in the city, told AFP.
"People are thinking: 'It is probable that my neighbour, or someone in my street, voted for the PVV and thus against me."
Almere has an unusually high proportion of immigrants compared to the Dutch average, which nationwide is 20 percent of a population of 16.5 million.
"It really hurts that so many people seemingly feel about us the way Wilders does," said a 36-year-old Muslim woman of Moroccan origin who did not want to give her name.
"If Wilders does well in these elections," she cautioned, "I predict there will be widespread disappointment among people of immigrant origin.
"This will in turn breed mistrust, and mistrust undermines friendship."
PVV supporters, in turn, say the government has let them down.
"I will vote for Wilders because he stands for freedom," Brian van Rooyen, a 25-year-old window cleaner, told AFP.
"The current government is allowing so many foreigners into our country who get everything for nothing. They get housing while we have to work for it."
Other PVV supporters in Almere said their "demonised" leader's proposal to create city commando units was the answer to their security worries, blaming youths of Moroccan and Turkish origin for a perceived rise in street crime.
Despite the party's initial successes, however -- it also won five of the Netherlands' 25 European parliament seats last year -- it remains politically out in the cold.
Coalition governments unwilling to compromise on some of Wilders' more controversial proposals have ignored it.
"I would have preferred for him to have gone into government in Almere," said Karim. "This would have enabled the Netherlands to see he has nothing to offer, that he has no solutions."
© 2010 AFP