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
Christopher Furlong / Getty
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Theresa May will learn that bluster and insults achieve nothing in Europe

UK negotiators must adopt a more consensual approach. But time is running out.

Voters in France, Britain and the United States have had enough. They don't like how politics is done in their respective countries but their solutions are very different. In the UK and the USA, we see regressive hankering after, supposedly "glory days". The United Kingdom still apparently yearns for an empire, when Britain ruled the waves and held sway over large parts of the globe and won two world wars. 

There are many reasons why the new French President Emmanuel Macron was able to win a ground-breaking victory while the Anglo-Saxons seem unable to climb out of their self-imposed bunker. The UK and USA majoritarian, first past the post electoral systems will almost always lead to confrontational politics. In contrast, a proportional, multi-party system may encourage consensus building. Since parties cannot annihilate each other in the same was as they are able to in majoritarian elections, they must find other ways of operating. This could be called kinder, gentler politics. It’s also far more efficient as business is conducted by negotiation rather than being decided on the basis of who shouts loudest, and Theresa May must learn that art, and do so quickly.

The European Parliament is one of the best examples of a legislature where consensual politics is the way business is done. A chamber at present still comprising 28 member states will obviously function differently from one concerning an individual nation state. Nevertheless, the European Parliament is very much based on the way legislatures work in other European countries. The 751 MEPs form eight political groups spanning the political spectrum from hard left to ultra-right with two main groups, one centre-right and the other centre-left.

It is a system which requires consensus at all levels. When on occasion British MEPs, generally from the right-wing parties, have attempted House of Commons style barracking, it has been met with stony silence. Nigel Farage badly misinterpreted the European Parliament when in February 2010 he accused the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, to his face of having “all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.”

While elements of the British tabloid press loved this, the Europeans were acutely embarrassed. It did nothing to enhance Britain’s standing.   

This unshowy way of doing politics extends to European Parliament committee meetings. Legislation is taken forward by one MEP from the committee leading on the issue. Known as the rapporteur, this person is the lynch-pin as far as the report is concerned. It’s a very important role which is generally carried out in consultation with the shadow rapporteurs (like the lead minority member in the US Congress) appointed by the other political groups. The aim is to reach agreement by discussion and negotiation. Amendment to the report will, of course, be debated and voted on in the committee and finally in the plenary session of the European Parliament, but only after avenues for agreement have been exhausted.

There are some rather sweet touches to all of this. When a report goes through committee, for example, it is customary to thank the rapporteur and applaud them for their effort. 

Even though the positions of chair and vice-chair of European Parliament committees are always hotly contested there are sometimes agreements that two members of the same political group will share the position, In this scenario, each member would hold the post for half of the Parliament’s five-year mandate. I am currently experiencing this in my role as vice-chair of the Women's Rights and Gender Equality committee.

Ultimately it is about MEPs respecting each other, both as individuals and for their views.

It is a problem for the UK that May has no concept of Brussels and how business is conducted there. She probably has not had to finesse the art of negotiation in her previous portfolios. Consequently, her autocratic approach is particularly at odds with how business is conducted in the three EU primary institutions. It's not a problem exclusive to May. The Conservatives have an ingrained problem when it comes to comprehending the way politics is conducted in Brussels. We know that from David Cameron who was clumsy at best, both when he sought a renegotiated deal prior to the referendum with the European Union and when he tried to block Jean-Claude Juncker's appointment as President of the European Commission. The only renegotiation he obtained was a fig leaf and he returned pretending that he had achieved substantial concessions.

As she advances with the Brexit negotiations Theresa May must learn that to get what she, and Britain, wants she must be more in tune with the European way of doing things. She should always remember that there are 27 of them and only one of us. Compromise is second nature to almost all of the Europeans in their own state legislatures. When their Leaders are in the various EU ministerial councils, their compromising tendencies are amplified. Inevitably they react badly to what they see as bullying and bad behaviour. It is not too late for a Prime Minister elected on 8 June to find another way of doing things. 

However, a British change of heart must not be left too much later than that. If Britain is to leave the European Union we need the best possible deal. Bluster and insults never achieve anything in Europe.

Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour spokesperson in Europe on gender and equality.

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