Geert Wilders tries to break America

Luckily, his anti-Muslim tract gains little traction in the US.

The deepening of the Eurozone crisis – with Greece, Spain and Italy on the brink and threatening to bring the rest of the EU down with them – has stoked fears about the rise of the far-right and the future of European politics.

In Greece, the extreme right party Golden Dawn secured twenty-one parliamentary seats, making it the most far-right party to enter an European legislature since the Nazi era. Similarly, Marine Le Pen’s anti-euro, anti-immigrant National Front Party achieved a record 17.9 per cent of the April vote in the first round of France’s presidential election. These wins illustrate how frustrated voters, disenchanted with mainstream political parties, are increasingly turning to fringe parties on both left and right.

No wonder that Dutch MP Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party, has just released his new book, Marked for Death: Islam’s War Against the West and Me, in New York. With 24 seats in the Dutch parliament in 2010, Wilders’ party was the third largest bloc, supporting Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s minority coalition in return for a range of anti-Muslim concessions – a crackdown on immigration and a ban on the burqa. But last April, when Wilders pulled out of the coalition due to its support for austerity measures, Rutte’s government collapsed.

Wilders’ broad anti-Euro, anti-austerity agenda – calling for Netherlands’ budget policies to be decided domestically, not by the EU lawmakers in Brussels – has given him a platform to exploit the wave of opposition to austerity sweeping across Europe and beyond. A new poll shows that for the first time, his Freedom Party has outstripped the ruling Liberal Party in popularity, making them second only to the Socialists, who have doubled their seats to 30.

But Wilders’ Muslim thesis is so unhinged that it raises concerns about the resurgent legitimacy of far-right ideology under the stress of political and economic crisis. His Marked for Death essentially sets out a rationale for his call for an “International Freedom Alliance”, an umbrella organisation of groups and individuals “fighting for freedom against Islam”. The agenda is simple – the Qur’an should be banned, mosques forcibly shut down, Muslim women who wear a headscarf taxed, Muslim immigration halted, and potentially dangerous Muslims deported en masse.

Wilders’ hostility toward anything to do with Islam makes him incapable of recognising the growing impetus for reform across the Muslim world. For instance, Wilders takes aim at the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the intergovernmental body for 57 Muslim member states, as a clandestine vehicle for a global Islamic Caliphate conspiring to “elevate Shari’ah Laws over human rights.”

While the OIC is far from perfect, this overlooks how since 2005, under the leadership of Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the body has taken serious steps to promote internal Muslim reform – establishing the world’s first Muslim human rights commission to investigate abuses of “internationally-recognised civil, political, economic and social rights” in Muslim countries; issuing a comprehensive resolution condemning “all forms of terrorism”; while condemning Arab dictatorships trying to crush local democratic movements.

In his zeal to demonise Islam as a Nazi-like “totalitarian political ideology” and “existential threat”, Wilders turns a blind eye to such efforts for progressive Islamic reform. It is not a surprise, then, to find Wilders equally oblivious to the American Muslim experience. A study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security finds that American Muslim communities “have been active in preventing radicalisation”, and that the threat of home-grown terrorism, while already “minuscule”, has continued to decline. American Muslims regularly confront “individuals who express radical ideology or support for terrorism”, prevent “extremist ideologues from preaching in mosques”, and communicate “concerns about radical individuals to law enforcement officials”. No wonder even the RAND Corporation concludes that terrorists “would find little support in the Muslim community” in the US.

But then, published by notorious neoconservative outlet Regnery Publishing, Wilders’ Marked for Death offers little new in the profitable field of anti-Muslim scaremongering.  Indeed, it is no coincidence that his Freedom Party has for years received funding to the tune of six figures from many of the same US sources published by Regnery, such as Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes and Pam Geller – whose stale stereotypes about Islam are amply regurgitated in his book ad nauseum.

The US publication of Marked for Death in English thus reveals the extent to which US ultraconservatives are getting desperate. With upcoming elections on the horizon, they have thrown the ‘Wilders card’ in a vain attempt to project his alleged European experiences on to an American audience to scare them into voting against Obama – which is precisely why Wilders is marketing his book in the US, and not Europe.

Fortunately, his book’s boring message is falling on deaf ears. Bar an interview with the equally unhinged Sean Hannity on Fox News, Marked for Death has received negligible acclaim in the American press. Discerning readers will note the most obvious reason: in the name of defending “freedom”, Wilders’ political programme is based entirely on the idea of forcibly eliminating the freedom of all Muslims across the West to practise and speak about their faith – whether or not they oppose extremism (which most do). Only someone utterly ignorant of American history would attempt such a thing in the Land of the Free.

Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is an international security expert and Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development. His latest book is A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), which is now a documentary feature film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011)

Geert Wilders in 2011. Photo: Getty Images
Philipp Guelland/Getty Images
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Lock up your tourists: a holiday in some benighted Middle Eastern country isn’t “a celebration of life”

Of course, with Europe’s Mediterranean beaches now becoming de facto Bantustans for Syrian, Afghan and all manner of other exiles, they are looking a lot less attractive as sunlounger locations. 

That we always kill the thing we love may be a tedious truism, but that can’t make us feel any better when the warm body that we once cuddled and cooed to is lying on the ground at our feet while our hands are bathed in its warm red blood. Last week the head of the UN World Tourism Organisation, Taleb Rifai, spoke out, saying that travel as “a celebration of life” is under threat. Rifai, of course, was referring to tourism, rather than a broad idea of travel.

Apparently, global tourism rates have been rising faster than expected – there was a 4.4 per cent increase in 2015, the sixth consecutive year in which the numbers of people wearing garishly patterned shirts that don’t suit them went up. And what is the world total of tourists? A whopping 1.18 billion – which represents a hell of a lot of Germans lunging for the sunlounger ahead of you. If, that is, they aren’t stuck at home being bombed, shot, stabbed or sexually molested by the refugee cuckoos they’ve allowed into their gemütlich nests.

Rifai’s concern is just this: that the security measures taken by governments in response to the perceived terrorist threat will have a severe impact on an industry that accounts for one in every 11 jobs. (Yes, that’s right, one in 11! I was just as surprised as you to learn that one out of every 11 people I pass in the street very likely keeps a hot caramelised peanut stall.) But while we’re chewing over the statistics let’s just bite down a bit more on that 1.18 billion figure. It’s the equivalent of the world’s entire population in 1850 packing bucket and spade, shouldering their cumbersome Fox Talbot photographic apparatuses and buggering right off for a fortnight. Which rather suggests the question: who sold them their hot caramelised peanuts, aliens?

Look, I don’t want to piss on anybody’s parade (unless it’s the ghastly fake kind you find at Disneyland, complete with drum-twirling majorettes and Uncle Sam on stilts), and I appreciate it’s the time of year when hard-pressed workers of all stripes are making their holiday bookings, but isn’t the notion of a global economy substantially – if not primarily – dependent on vast hordes of tourists maddening by definition?

Currently, 9 per cent of global GDP comes from tourism, which accounts for a whopping 30 per cent of the world’s service industries. Western aid donors don’t like to allocate funds to tourism in the developing world but Rifai believes this is short-sighted, given that investment in such projects can have a multiplier effect as overall infrastructure, personnel training and other services improve.

I don’t want to come over all Paddy Leigh Fermor on you, but is a two-week package tour to some benighted Middle Eastern country really a “celebration of life”? I remember when the British tourists were all stuck in Sharm el-Sheikh last year how flabbergasted – not to say outraged – some of them were. “How could such a thing have happened to us?” they wailed, as if it were some sort of human right to be allowed to sip sugar water and paddle in the Red Sea at the tip of a peninsula that’s been the site of a savage insurgency for well over a decade. Left to me, if I’d been given the job of sorting self-aware sheep from gormless goats, I’d have made sure anyone who complained never got home.

Years ago J G Ballard wrote a short story predicated on just this idea: the thousands of Brit tourists sunning themselves in the Med receive a communication from HMG informing them that they are surplus to requirements and are being let go of. Far from being enraged by this summary curtailment of their citizenship, the doughty holidaymakers create a bizarre sort of “ribbon territory”, thousands of miles long, incredibly squiggly, but only a beach deep – then they declare unilateral independence.

Of course, with Europe’s Mediterranean beaches now becoming de facto Bantustans for Syrian, Afghan and all manner of other exiles, they are looking a lot less attractive as sunlounger locations. Still, I don’t imagine this will badly dent the numbers of tourists heading there for their hols, because the organising principle of tourism is, as Rifai makes clear, perception.

It is one thing to share a sable strand with a few washed-up beggars – the hyper-rich do it all the time in the Caribbean – but quite another to touch down in a country where every waiter and water-ski instructor nurtures a deep and burning desire to exterminate the infidel and establish Allah’s kingdom on earth. The only problem for the dumb and ovine tourists is that while they’re away in Tunisia or Egypt or Turkey enjoying a cheap holiday in someone else’s failing state, flying columns of refugees are occupying their own homeland.

There would be a sort of poetic justice in this if it really were to become a systematic scheme, whereby those whose work is deemed unproductive or irrelevant were simply swapped for the doctors, dentists and accountants who are now shivering to death in the waters off Lesbos.

I speak fearlessly about such penultimate solutions because I understand full well that the British economy can do without the product of my labours down t’word-pit; so I’m ready to celebrate life to the full. Are you?

Next week: Real Meals

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war