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
Emmanuel Macron, looking innocent after having compromised his promise to feminists to name a female PM.
Show Hide image

Macron said he wanted a female Prime Minister, so why did he pick a man?

Macron says he's a feminist. He must do better for women in his cabinet

He repeated it several times on the campaign trail: Emmanuel Macron, France’s newly elected and youngest ever President, is a self-declared feminist. During the months leading to his election on 7 May, Macron was vocal about gender balance within his campaign team and his party’s parliamentary candidates. Crucially, he declared in March that he “wished” his Prime Minister would be a woman.  

But in the week leading to his inauguration last Sunday, of half a dozen names rumoured to be in the running for “Matignon” (the Prime Minister’s residence), only two were women. Then the Elysée palace announced yesterday that Macron had chosen Edouard Philippe, the Republican mayor of the northern city of Le Havre.

“I will choose the most capable, the most competent,” Macron had said at the time he wished it would be “a woman.” Was there no woman Macron thought would be “capable” enough to earn the title of Prime Minister? French presidents have total freedom to name their PM – even, as Macron has done, so called “cohabitations” in which the President and the PM are from different parties.

And it's not just Philippe's gender that suggests an early watering down of Macron's committment to equality, it's the new Prime Minister's voting record. He abstained on the law legalising gay marriage and voted against allowing adoption for gay couples.

Macron successfully campaigned on a “neither left nor right” platform, but he very much needs the votes of the actually right-wing who make up half of the French electorate to win June’s parliamentary elections and rule effectively. Hence the moderate Republican Prime Minister: Edouard Philippe is follower of Alain Juppé, the most liberal candidate who ran (and lost) in the Republican primary. (Juppé himself wasn’t exactly PM material: Macron’s first reform is set to be the “moralisation of politics”, and Juppé was sentenced to two years away from public office for misuse of public money in the early 2000s).

Yet even with the necessity of naming a Republican Prime Minister, the party is not short of experienced women qualified for the job. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a Republican and former minister under Nicolas Sarkozy who ran for mayor of Paris in 2014, was one of the names that circulated last week. She has expressed support for Macron and called on the centre-right to “accept the hand he is offering” to rule France. The centrist MEP Sylvie Goulard, who backed Macron at the beginning of his presidential bid and organised his meeting with Angela Merkel last March, was another.

France has had only one female Prime Minister: Edith Cresson led Francois Mitterrand’s government for just one year, from May 1991 to April 1992. Michèle Alliot-Marie, the first woman to be named Interior Minister in 2007, also became the first female Foreign Affairs Minister in 2010, both during Sarkozy’s mandate. She remains the only woman to have held either position.

Until September at least, Macron will sit alongside Germany’s Angela Merkel, his closest international ally, and will face Theresa May’s in Brexit negotiations. He’s already compromised the ideal he set himself – a female PM. The least he can do, both for his own record and for France’s, would be to ask Edouard Philippe to pick a woman as Foreign Affairs Minister.

0800 7318496