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
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US presidential debate: Hillary Clinton might have triumphed over Donald Trump but does it really matter?

The former secretary of state landed some solid blows on the tycoon but in the age of post-truth politics what matters more is how people feel.

There is a phrase that has become nearly ubiquitous, a sort of bitterly ironic catchphrase for journalists covering the 2016 presidential election in general – and Donald Trump in particular – and it is this: “lol nothing matters”.

Its glib boys-on-the-bus nihilism conceals a deeper truth. This campaign has degraded to the point at which truth and lies have become largely interchangeable. What is real matters less now than what people feel.

Hillary Clinton won most of the exchanges in the first presidential debate Monday night. The clash was at times oddly stilted, even boring; early skirmishers, the two opponents spent much of the first half of the debate warily circling, rather than engaging. The next debate will almost certainly make much better television.

But once she hit her stride the former secretary of state landed some solid blows on Trump over his preposterous pursuit of the “birther” conspiracy theory, and pressed him hard over his refusal to release his tax returns – something every presidential candidate for half a century has done – and his lie about not being able to do so while under an "audit". (No such prevention exists, of course, but: lol nothing matters.)

In the key part of that exchange, Clinton said: “So you’ve got to ask yourself, why won’t he release his tax returns? And I think there may be a couple of reasons. First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be. Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks,” she said, in probably her best moment of the night.

“Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes,” she continued, pressing home her advantage.

At which point, Trump leaned into the microphone, not to object, but simply to petulantly interject: “That makes me smart.” Clinton had clearly got under his skin.

Not every Clinton line landed, mind. A particularly painful example: early in the debate, and then again later, she tried to coin the agonizingly cringeworthy phrase “Trumped-up trickle-down,” causing a collective wince from the Twitterati.

But many of the things Trump said were obvious, even lazy, lies. When Clinton took him to task for saying that climate change was “a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese”, Trump responded “I did not, I did not, I do not say that,” despite the fact that he hadn't even bothered to delete a tweet by him from 2012 saying literally just that. When Clinton said that Trump had at first supported the invasion of Iraq – which he did – he flatly denied it. 

At other times, he was simply incoherent or so infuriatingly vague as to be completely adrift from meaning.

It was telling, though, that Clinton called several times for “fact-checkers” to get on top of Trump's delusional ramblings and hold him accountable. CNN's post-debate poll gave the victory to Clinton, 62 percent to 27 percent – a rout. But CNN's audience skews Democratic by ten points. Clinton can call for fact-checkers as much as she likes, but only a fraction of a percentage of viewers, and only a minescule fraction of a fraction of Trump-leaning viewers, will probably ever seek out or even recognise that kind of fact-checking as legitimate.

So what happens next? The truth is we don't know at all. None of us know. It has become bleakly popular to say that we now live in a “post-truth” era, but in reality it is more that truth has become balkanized. Social media has made it possible for people to live in their own silo of separate truth.

Towards the end, Clinton channelled Fox News's Megyn Kelly, pressing Trump on his opinions towards women – quoting that he had called them “slobs” and “fat pigs”. To anyone for whom Trump's campaign is transparently ludicrous and misogynistic to the core – which is to say, pretty much my social and social media circle, and, let's face it, if you're reading this article, most likely yours as well – this was a win.

But that echo will only ring true to the political operatives, journalists, or people in our silo, who share a certain set of values.

This election is teaching us that we are no longer a representative sample. Trump – Donald Trump – after a two-year tidal wave of appalling bigotry, despite being a joke to you and to everyone you break bread with, went into Monday's debate with Hillary Clinton on Monday afternoon in a virtual tie. A virtual tie! Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton! Think, for a second, how off-piste that means we now are.

Where are most people now getting their information from? A bunch of places, all of them totally diffuse, much of it from what their friends, sociopolitical and geographic peer group share with them on social media. It's this catastrophic diffusion of truth which has brought us here. Some of the collapse of authoritative media was absolutely the media's fault. Some of it was due to technological and social changes that were out of anyone's control.

But it has led us to this place: where lol nothing matters.

 

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.