Holland is a country of political, religious and cultural fervour. The Dutch are a nation of puritans, attracted to the ‘purity’ of extremisms. In the first half of the last century the country was the most prudish; in the second half of the century it took hedonistic secularism to its furthest limits. The Dutch live below sea level but they prefer to walk on the edge of an abyss.
In the 1970s there was not a country in Europe where the hatred for traditional Western values was as outspoken, where the praises of multiculturalism were sung as loudly, where the doors to immigration were swung open as widely as in the Netherlands. During the Reagan years, Dutch anti-Americanism and appeasement policies towards the Soviets were so extreme that an American pundit devised a name for it: “Hollanditis.”
Hollanditis is a Dutch state of mind. Everything that is extreme exists in Holland; what is not extreme does not get noticed.
Theo van Gogh was a typical Dutchman. In voicing his opinions, he could not be crass enough. He called Christians “pimps,” said that “Jewish diabetics made the crematoriums smell of caramel” and that Muslims worship “a pig called Allah.” Van Gogh fell into the abyss. The Christians shrugged and the Jews sued, but the Muslims slit his throat.
To get noticed in Holland, one has to be more extravagant than anyone else. Hence Theo van Gogh’s rants. Hence Pim Fortuyn’s “evidence” that he could not be a racist because he preferred gay sex with Moroccan boys rather than with the indigenous sons of the polders.
Fortuyn and van Gogh were trapped within the fever of the Dutch political, religious, cultural and ideological debate. In a country which proclaims that there are no social and moral limits and that nothing can be enforced, anyone who wants to be heard is forced to go beyond the limits of what is sensible and wise. That is the tragedy of public debate in the Netherlands. And that is also the tragedy of Geert Wilders.
Like Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, Geert Wilders addresses the real and urgent problem of the rapid islamization of his native land. Like Fortuyn and van Gogh, he has to be excessive. He has to walk on the edge of the abyss. Trapped within the Dutch system he can only attract the attention of his compatriots and ring the alarm bell by exaggerating. “Wilders is way too radical for us,” Belgium’s leading anti-Islamization politician Filip Dewinter said last week when he introduced a European network of likeminded politicians, “we are not going to tear up Korans, as Wilders says he is going to do. And Wilders will have to become even more radical if he wants to retain the media’s attention in the Netherlands.”
The Netherlands are currently bracing themselves for a 10-minute film which Wilders is about to release. The 43-year old leader of the Dutch Freedom Party PVV, calls his movie an “anti-Koran movie.” He admits that it is devised as a deliberate “provocation” of Muslims worldwide. Weeks in advance he has told the latter what he is going to do. It is perfectly possible to make a critical movie about the Koran without being deliberately provocative, such as the one this website posted two weeks ago. However, that is not the Dutch way of doing things.
When the Dutch tell Muslims that if they want to live in the West they must accept Western values (which is true) they confront them with kissing homosexuals and public nudity. When they say that the Koran teaches intolerance (which is true) they propose banning the book. The PVV’s official website states that [we have been informed that this is not the official website of the PVV. The official website is this one -- tl, Feb. 19, 2008] even the mere possession of the Koran – the “ownership in a household context” – should be made a criminal offence. This would turn many Islam critics, perhaps even Mr. Wilders himself, into a criminal under Dutch law. One has to be an anti-Koran puritan to propose legislation like that in a country teeming with sex shops that sell an abundance of kinky objects which Dutch citizens are allowed to “own in a household context,” and where ‘coffee shops’ serve cannabis.
Wilders’ radicalism is similar to that of Rita Verdonk, the former Dutch minister of Integration, who, in a belated attempt to turn the tide of immigration, decided to deprive Ayaan Hirsi Ali of her Dutch citizenship because the latter had entered the country as a fake asylum seeker (which was true). The result was a backlash against Mrs. Verdonk herself. It caused the fall of the Dutch government and general elections which resulted in a new government that flung open the floodgates of immigration once more.
It is a pity that the Dutch politicians who are aware of the dangers of Islamization respond so stupidly. Of course, Geert Wilders is entitled to his views and to making his film. I share his concerns about Islam. Of course, Mr. Wilders has a right to say and show whatever he likes, especially in the Netherlands where everyone can say and show whatever they like. It goes without saying that he is allowed to buy himself as many Korans as he wants to and tear them to pieces. I do not deny that Mr. Wilders is a courageous man, a hero even. But is he wise? Will his provocation, at this moment, in the present circumstances, advance the cause of the counter-Jihadist movement?
The Dutch government is preparing itself for the “fall out” of the Wilders movie, both in the Netherlands and abroad. Diplomatic staff has been instructed how to deal with violent protests. Embassy evacuation plans have been drawn up. The Hague has instructed its ambassadors in Islamic countries to tell the local authorities that Mr. Wilders’ opinions are not shared by the Dutch government (which, by the way, is something those totalitarian dictatorships do not understand, or wish not to understand).
Last week, the Dutch were threatened by the Grand Mufti of Syria. In a speech, which this intolerant enemy of the West was allowed to give at the European (!) Parliament, he said that “Should it come to riots, bloodshed and violence [following the Wilders movie], then Wilders will be responsible.” Last Monday, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission said that the Iranian nation would definitely react to the Dutch insult. The former ambassador of Malaysia in the Netherlands warned that the movie will lead to “severe riots in the Muslim world.”
Dutch companies are anticipating a worldwide Muslim boycott of their products. They are distancing themselves as far as possible from Mr. Wilders. Doekle Terpstra, a member of the board of Directors of the Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever, told the Dutch media last month that “Geert Wilders is evil, and evil has to be stopped.” Geert Wilders is not evil; he is Dutch – as is Mr. Terpstra, who in hyperbolic language called upon the Dutch people to “rise in order to stop Wilders from preaching his evil message.”
Wilders’ message that the Koran should be banned is not “evil” either; it is an opinion, which Wilders, a member of the Dutch Parliament, is allowed to express – just as others in the Netherlands are allowed to express support for such things as trio marriages, paedophilia and “consensual sex between humans and animals.”
Moreover, Mr. Wilders also says sensible things. On Wednesday he published a letter in De Volkskrant, an Amsterdam daily, in which he pointed out that with their panicky reactions the Dutch authorities are proving that Islam is an intolerant ideology. “Imagine,” he said, “that I was going to make a film to demonstrate the Fascist character of the Bible. Say that I had advocated that the Bible should be banned. [...] Would Prime Minister [Jan Peter] Balkenende then […] have spoken of a serious crisis with international effects? Would there [...] have been a special meeting of ministers? Would the chief editors [...] in public broadcasting have conferred about how to deal with the film? [...] Of course not. […]”
Wilders states that Islam does not allow self-reflection and self-criticism. He says that a spectre of fear is haunting Holland. “It is not the cabinet […] but the fear of Islam that governs the Netherlands.” He points out that if his film leads “to economic boycotts, riots and other horrible things [that] says everything about the nature of Islam. Nothing about me.”
While that is true, Wilders, if he were a sensible and wise politician, would take into account the possibility of “economic boycotts, riots and other horrible things.” Unlike Christianity or Judaism, Islam demands that its followers retaliate when their faith, their holy book and their prophet are insulted, criticized, or even (in the case of the prophet) merely depicted. Of course, if Wilders or innocent Dutch citizens get killed as a result of the backlash over the Wilders movie, only Islam, only the perpetrators of the “horrible things” are responsible. But Wilders should ask himself whether people will see it that way.
Since 9/11 2001, since the French intifada and the Danish cartoon affair, Westerners have come to realize how dangerous the enemy is that they have foolishly invited within their borders. Western politicians like Mr. Wilders, Mr. Balkenende, Mr. Sarkozy, Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Brown, Mr. Bush and the others, fail their citizens if they do not neutralize the danger before it is too late. They are cowards if they shirk this duty in fear, but they are fools if they unnecessarily provoke the enemy while he is still within our borders – and they act irresponsibly if they do not repatriate their compatriots living in the enemy’s lands before setting out to provoke.
What will Wilders do if, as a result of his movie, Jihadists in the Middle East take hostages among the Dutch expats? How will Dutch public opinion react to that? If the Wilders movie results in (fatal) attacks on Dutch citizens and Dutch interests abroad, it might lead to an anti-Wilders backlash. The Dutch are not Danes. They have a history of swinging from one extreme to another. Like the Spanish after the Madrid bombings they might paint their hands white and surrender. Rather than banning the Koran, they might ban every criticism of Islam. In 1940, the Dutch surrendered to the Nazis after barely five days when Hitler bombed Rotterdam. The British never surrendered, despite the blitz. Perhaps Geert Wilders thinks that his compatriots are braver today than they were 68 years ago. I hope he is right (It is to Mr. Balkenende’s credit that he does not condemn Mr. Wilders for making the movie – compare that to the appalling behaviour of the British Labour government during the Danish cartoon crisis). But what if he is wrong?
While public opinion in the West did not perceive the Danish cartoons to be a deliberate provocation of Muslims, there is a real possibility that the Wilders movie will be perceived as such – especially because Wilders (or at least his party’s official website) explicitly presents it is a provocation. If there is a backlash in public opinion against Wilders, the positions of all who are critical of Islam might be affected and speaking out may become even more difficult than it already is. A wise general, a great leader, outsmarts a ruthless enemy rather than choosing martyrdom for himself, let alone for others. If Geert Wilders absolutely wants to act in the Dutch puritan tradition, by taking the purist anti-Islamic position, he should pronounce the D-word. Instead of banning the book, why not ban those who want to subject society to it?