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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An embarrassing admirer: no one wants to see Theresa May succeed more than Marine Le Pen

The Prime Minister’s far-right cheerleader.

“In the UK, a woman has agreed to take on the task of carrying out Brexit. Theresa May does not take her position as Prime Minister lightly. She has undertaken great reforms to reindustrialise her country, to improve the education system, to make the social system fairer.”

As she will undoubtedly face difficult times negotiating Brexit, receiving praise from a prominent European politician should give Theresa May some comfort.

The problem is that the endorsement comes from France’s far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

When prompted on Le Pen’s new-found admiration for the Prime Minister, Downing Street unsurprisingly declined to comment.

Marine Le Pen is running to be French President in next year’s May election. Polls are consistently showing that she should qualify in first position for the second round of the election.

Republican (conservative) and Socialist candidates are now campaigning on who is best equipped to beat her. The National Front leader is today very much at the centre of the game in French politics.

Le Pen had been quite quiet over the summer, but at the beginning of September in Brachay (a village in the east of France), she delivered what was considered to be the first speech of her presidential campaign. As is usually the case with Le Pen, she focused on identity, immigration, security issues but also on the European Union – when she delivered those kind words about Theresa May.

For years, she has been advocating for France to leave the EU, and Brexit has given her new ammunition. Frexit will be at the heart of her presidential campaign, and it is likely that she will want to continue to identify with the British Prime Minister.

May is not only leading the UK out of the European Union, she is also pushing a new industrial policy and says she is keen to promote social mobility for the working classes. These priorities align with some of Le Pen's narrative, and are music to the ears of her electoral base.

Ten days ago, Le Pen reiterated her flattering comments on French television. And last week, speaking in the European Parliament chamber, she added: “The Brits have shown us that you can leave the European Union and you can come out better.”

Gilles Lebreton, another National Front Member of the European Parliament, echoes that sentiment: “I feel close to the Conservative party as it was brave enough to organise a referendum on Brexit and it has been honest in respecting its result,” he tells me. “Theresa May has great qualities: she is brave and she is respectful of the people’s vote.”

Being put on a pedestal by a far-right party is the last thing Britain needs as it seeks to redefine its place in the world.

Key Conservative MPs are keen to stress that they are not impressed with how Le Pen is exploiting Brexit to suit her political agenda. Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, says: “The Prime Minister has made it clear to our European partners and beyond that Britain will be an outward-looking nation forging a new global role.

“Others may put their own spin on Brexit to serve their own political interests but there is simply no comparison between the UK’s positive vision for Brexit and illiberal, intolerant movements in France or elsewhere.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Tory MP who campaigned to leave the EU, minimised the role Brexit is playing in giving far-right movements momentum. He argues: “Far-right parties in Europe have far more complex origins than dissatisfaction with the European Union and their rise predates the Brexit vote by many years.”

While Rees Mogg may have a point from a historical point of view, the timing of Brexit for Le Pen could not be better. It is an issue of legitimacy. She has campaigned to leave the EU for years against both the Socialist and the Republican parties. In her eyes, what the UK is achieving with Brexit is proof that she is right.

As she embarks on her presidential bid, there is no one who will want to see Theresa May succeed more than Marine Le Pen.

Philip Kyle is a French and British freelance journalist. He used to work in French politics and is now reporting on the French presidential campaign. He tweets @philipjkyle.