I miss freedom, says Dutch Islam critic Wilders
Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders wants to end the "so-called pragmatic consensus mentality" that characterises Dutch national culture. Rachel Levy reports.
Rightwing Dutch politician and Islam critic Geert Wilders has made a name for himself with harsh one-liners about Muslims, migration and remarks about the "Islamisation of the Netherlands."
Speaking to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa, the 44-year old Freedom Party leader, vilified as populist, prides himself on his "clear cut" expressions. He wants to end the "so-called pragmatic consensus mentality" that characterizes Dutch national culture.
Wilders says his goal is "preserving Dutch identity and Dutch values" - this is why he opposes continued immigration as well as far-reaching European integration.
Contradictions surface during the conversation.
While referring to problems Wilders says migrants have caused the Dutch welfare state, he also argues the welfare state often destroys people's personal drive to succeed, applauding the US for "not pampering" its citizens, particularly its migrants.
Likewise, Wilders supports the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan as a means to tackle Islamic fundamentalism and maintain international stability, but does not expect "modernisation of Islam within the next several thousand years."
Despite saying he supports the ISAF mission, Wilders voted against the extension of the Dutch ISAF mission to Afghanistan until 2010 back in November. "It is high time other countries also take responsibility and contribute to NATO," he says.
Wilders originally made a career in the Liberal VVD party, which removed him late in 2004 due to his "rightist" positions.
He subsequently established the Freedom Party and won nine of the 150 parliamentary seats in the 2006 elections. Many polls have suggested that he might receive up to13 seats if elections were held today.
"Freedom starts with the law and also includes embracing local norms and values," Wilders says, "including to act against a backward culture like that of Islam, an ideology which in my view wants to take our freedom away from us."
Asked whether it is possible to discuss issues that do not have any relationship with Islam and migrants, Wilders responds: "That is impossible, because migrants do exist, and their hypothetical absence from Dutch reality may be my Utopia, but is not realistic."
"Ultimately many fundamental problems in the Netherlands are directly related to migrants, like infrastructure, traffic jams, housing problems, and the welfare state."
Removing international trade barriers plays a fundamental role in Wilders' approach towards migration.
"I propose to stop all development aid and simultaneously ensure developing countries can compete fairly on the world market. The European Union should also stop its subsidies to the Polish and French farmers.
"Only then can developing countries build healthy, competitive economies. This will remove the incentive to migrate to Europe."
But Wilders does not expect the European Union to play such a role: "The Polish and French farmers are too powerful and besides, European migration policies are too lenient."
The Dutch politician opposed the European constitution and also the recently signed European treaty, believing that the EU "limits national sovereignty."
"I want to enter the European Parliament in the next elections - I expect to gain one or two seats - primarily to abolish (it)."
Wilders cannot name any European politician he feels close to.
"As a liberal, I feel close to the conservatives and liberals, but I am not sure they want to cooperate with me. I definitely would not like to work with Le Pen and like-minded parties - fascists - in whose category many people mistakenly place my party."
Following his call in August to ban the Koran as a "fascist book," Wilders recently announced he is producing a film about the Muslim 'holy scriptures' which will be released later this month.
"I receive death threats daily. My opinions are strong, but I am not violent. Still, I have to live with personal security guards around the clock.
"I lost several friends because they feared to become a target too. It also affects my family. That is particularly painful. What I miss most in my life today? Freedom."
7 January 2008
[Copyright dpa 2008]