Don’t be distracted by Wilders

The way the press talks about Geert Wilders, you’d think he was on the verge of becoming the Dutch prime minister, and realising his plans to silence Islam and reclaim his country. In a liberal and pluralistic country like the Netherlands, that is far from the case.

Geert Wilders is a buffoonish Dutch fascist whose anti-Islam, anti-immigration rhetoric has been so foul and divisive that he has been under armed guard since 2004. His fierce but wavering support in the Netherlands disguises not only that his Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom, PVV) will fail to win today’s election, but that it is highly unlikely to play even a small role in government formation. The British media’s obsession with the bleached-haired demagogue is little more than sensationalism, and his role as a harbinger of doom for Western liberal democracy overplayed.

It is fair, however, to say that Wilders – and the views he espouses – is a problem. He advocates banning the circulation of the Qur’an, closing down all mosques, and ending all immigration from Muslim-majority countries – all vile and indefensible views. He’s like a blonde mosquito, buzzing around and creating controversy until he bites someone, by saying something just a little too unacceptable for public discourse. In fact, Wilders’ troughs in popularity roughly coincide with him taking his rhetoric to an extreme, and his spikes with Dutch courts attempting to silence him or indict him for hate speech, thereby infringing on that sacred right to free speech.

Nonetheless, Wilders (under Dutch law, political parties must contain two or more members in order to run for election; the PVV’s members are Wilders himself and the Foundation Group Wilders, the only member of which is… Wilders, so it is correct when I refer to the PVV’s platform and ideology as belonging to him alone) is only set to gain around 12% of the vote, putting him in a close second place. However, it appears that his popularity is fleeting, and his poll numbers have plummeted in recent weeks, thanks in part to Donald Trump’s bumbling anti-Islam administration across the Atlantic, and also simply to the realisation that he is nothing more than a hateful lunatic.

There is little room for ambiguity in one of Wilders’ campaign slogans, which simply reads: ‘Stop Islam’.

This view is easily justifiable: Wilders’ brother Paul was recently interviewed by German newspaper Der Spiegel. In it he describes Geert as a ‘horrible pest, egocentric and aggressive,’ as a man with ‘tunnel vision’ who ‘doesn’t believe in compromise.’ As we shall learn, this is damning for his chances of entering government. His Islamophobic views were coloured by time spent living in Israel, and by heavy immigration to his neighbourhood in Utrecht. Death threats made him paranoid, crystallising his extreme views of the religion and its adherents that go beyond even those of Donald Trump. One of Wilders’ campaign slogans simply reads: ‘Stop Islam’. There is little room for ambiguity in this message.

His unwillingness to make concessions means second place is scant consolation for Wilders’ movement, especially given that as many as 13 parties are set to enter parliament this week. Five of these – incumbents VVD, PVV, fashionable GroenLinks, liberals D66, and Christian democrats CDA – are currently separated by only a few percentage points in the polls, creating a very crowded field in which to manoeuvre. This will necessitate a large and potentially unwieldy coalition; so far, every single mainstream party has rejected the PVV as a partner. Furthermore, a governing majority will require the involvement of pro-European liberals D66 (Letterhole‘s choice in this election), and GroenLinks, the left-leaning green party led by Trudeau-esque pretty boy Jesse Klaver; both are a far cry from the waxwork hatemonger. This, and Wilders’ aversion to compromise, means that he is likely to be left out in the cold.

Despite the falsehoods peddled by Trump-supporting keyboard warriors, Russian proxies across the pond – incidentally, the majority of Wilders’ funding comes from the USA – and the sensationalist British press, Geert Wilders will not be the next prime minister of the Netherlands. In fact, he looks set to be an impotent opposition leader, shouting about Islam until he fades into ignominy and obscurity. The Netherlands is famously a relaxed, liberal nation that prides itself on its political pluralism. Wilders has been trying to put an end to this system for well over a decade now, and even in this polarised age, he cannot, and will not succeed.

Ultimately, a coalition led by incumbent prime minister Mark Rutte, taking in elements from the centre-right, centre, and centre-left looks inevitable. With Emmanuel Macron -– the likely next president of France – adopting similar plans, it seems that this kind of broad alliance is the best way to stem the tide of populism. Although it seems clear that the Netherlands will not be consumed in its wake, the future of France – and therefore of liberal democracy and the European Union – still hangs in the balance.

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