Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Call Wilders what he is: a racist

Call Wilders what he is: a racist
Published: 11 June 2009 13:11 | Changed: 16 June 2009 14:19
Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom has all the hallmarks of an extreme-right party. Why then do the Dutch prefer to call it populist? asks René Danen.
By René Danen

Geert Wilders
Photo AP
News - Extra Dutch seat in EU parliament for Wilders

The foreign media routinely describe Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom as an "extreme-right" party. Yet the Dutch media, including NRC, seem to be deadly afraid of calling the PVV by its name, preferring to describe it as "populist" or "anti-Islam".

After Wilders released his [anti-Islam] film Fitna, for instance, the Dutch government was mostly worried about its effect on Dutch trade interests. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon went much further in denouncing Fitna. He said there was "there is no justification for the hate speech or incitement to violence" in the film and that taking legal action against the film was not a violation of the principle of freedom of speech.

Dutch politicians moved on as soon as the Fitna hype died down. Luckily, the Amsterdam appeals court later ordered Wilders to be prosecuted for "incitement to hatred and discrimination". There was good reason to do so if you look at some of Wilders' positions.

The PVV wants to close the borders to people who belong to one particular religion, and ban the houses of worship and schools for one population group. Wilders once told De Limburger newspaper that he wants to "tear down the mosques". He told HP/De Tijd newsweekly that "it is okay for the Netherlands to have Jewish and Christian school but not Islamic schools". In other words: pure discrimination.

Wilders has also said that his utopia is a Netherlands without immigrants, and that it is unacceptable that Dutch cities could one day have a majority of non-white people. He is also anti-democratic. He is the only member of his private party. PVV parliamentarians are not elected by the party but appointed by Wilders himself. The PVV meets behind closed doors in meetings where no one has the right to vote. So the main defining characteristics of an extreme-right party - nationalist, anti-democratic and racist - are all found in the PVV. What makes an extreme-right party?
Because of the many differences between the various extreme-right parties it is difficult to come up with a wholesale definition. According to the German political scientist and philosopher Urs Altermatt, some of the characteristics of an extreme-right party are:

- racism: the belief that one race is superior to another; the term is used more and more often to describe xenophobia;

- authoritarianism: favouring a concentration of power in a strong leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people;

- accepting violence as a means to work out social and political conflicts.

The party also likes to flirt with violence. Wilders has referred to his own parliamentary group as a "motley crew marching into parliament". He has said Moroccan football hooligans ought to be knee-capped, and that race riots are "not necessarily a bad thing".

When the racist Centre-Democrats entered the political arena in the eighties and nineties, Dutch public and political opinion united against it, and the party never won more than a couple of percentage points of the vote. After its leader, Hans Janmaat, was convicted for discrimination in 1996, the party disappeared from the parliament altogether. A similar tough approach to the PVV's discriminatory viewpoints - in the public debate as well in the courts - is called for now.

Yet, the opposite seems to be happening. Calling racism by its name has become the newest taboo in the Netherlands. At a time when everything is debatable in the Netherlands, and some politicians are even defending the right to give offence, still no one dares to call xenophobia by its name. It is almost as if racist politicians can only exist in other countries. We have no problem condemning [Belgian Vlaams Belang leader Filip] Dewinter or [French National Front leader Jean-Marie] Le Pen because of their views, but we seem determined to keep pretending that there is no xenophobia in the Netherlands.

Foreign research proves the opposite is true. Last March, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights said he was deeply worried about the "racist, anti-Semitic and other intolerant tendencies in the Netherlands, notably intolerance against Muslims." In an earlier report the council had expressed surprise that so few Dutch politicians were speaking out against the PVV's hatespeech. In the Netherlands, the Anne Frank Foundation researched the PVV and concluded that it was indeed an extreme-right party. A report by the association of Dutch municipalities said many towns have more problems with extreme-right youth than with Muslim extremism.

Still our own media and politicians continue to deny that the Netherlands has a racism problem. The most striking example was a statement by Rita Verdonk at the launch of her new nationalist party, Proud of the Netherlands: "We keep seeing these reports accusing us of discrimination. But Dutch people just don't do that!"

The left-wing liberal party D66 is the only party in the Dutch parliament to openly address Wilders' xenophobia. The Green party GroenLinks is reluctantly following suit. But the other mainstream parties should also step up to the plate, instead of leaving the fight against racism to the courts. They should speak out against racism - in parliament and in the streets.

Pretending that the PVV doesn't exist is clearly not working as a strategy - its recent success in the European elections is proof of that. Calling it what it is - a racist party - and firmly condemning its viewpoints will.

René Danen is a former politician and the president of the foundation, Nederland Bekent Kleur (The Netherlands shows it colours).