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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What does it mean for a leader when their entire country’s music culture rejects them?

The lack of good-quality artists performing at Donald Trump’s inauguration shows how weak his connection is with the country he’s about to govern.

Donald Trump’s inauguration planning has been bumpy. After numerous rejections, X Factor winner Rebecca Ferguson offered to sing, providing she could perform the protest song about lynching, “Strange Fruit”. In the last few days, a Bruce Springsteen Tribute Act has dropped out of the line-up. I hear it’s touch-and-go with the marching band.

The list of singers who have rejected the “opportunity” to play at Trump’s inauguration is extensive. Elton John, Charlotte Church, Céline Dion, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Kiss – so far, but the list continues to rack up. Those who have agreed are hardly household names: the Talladega College marching band, 3 Doors Down, Jackie Evancho (???), the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and someone called “DJ Ravidrums”. For context, Barack Obama had Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin.

From a musical perspective, Trump is screwed. While Obama was the subject matter of anthems (“My President” by Young Jeezy/ “Changes” by Common/ “Black President” by Nas), Trump is like an over-keen uni student attempting to organise a club night four days into Freshers’ Week. He’s already printed the goddamn posters, and keeps asking you whether you’ve bought your ticket to “Leeds’ FRE$HEST t e c h n o night – Artists TBC.”

To be fair to Trump, he has inspired some good music: YG’s “FDT” (that’s “Fuck Donald Trump” for all you non-YG fans out there) is a real hit.

Of course, the President-Elect is not the first political figure to have anti-establishment art created about him. Far from it. Punk centred around anti-authoritarianism: fuck Thatcher, fuck the Queen, et al. Public Enemy, Gil Scott-Heron, and Dead Kennedys all created anti-presidential songs during the Seventies and Eighties with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in their crosshairs.

There will always be a counter-cultural movement dissenting from the mainstream, raging against the machine – but what happens when it’s not counter-cultural, but just er, all culture? When even the mediocre Christian rock bands won’t play at your inauguration?

Trump does not worry about the backlash against him, but he should. Good music is born out of communities, which speaks to experiences. From lines like “When a n***a tryna board the plane / And they ask you, ‘What’s your name again?’ / ‘Cause they thinking, ‘Yeah, you’re all the same’” or “America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey,” Trump could do with paying attention. Indeed, W.E.B. Du Bois writes in The Souls of Black Folk, “There is no true American Music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave.” Music has always been a political tool, and we should not underestimate its rhetorical power.

This is why Obama’s musical reach was so important. His appreciation of contemporary music spoke to a political awareness of American culture, one that he wanted to engage with and listen to. The recent Ta-Nehisi Coates piece My President was Black opens with the writer’s first-hand experiences of this – from Obama inviting musicians like Jay Z and Chance the Rapper to the White House, to holding music events.

“The Obamas are fervent and eclectic music fans,” Coates writes. “In the past eight years, they have hosted performances at the White House by everyone from Mavis Staples to Bob Dylan to Tony Bennett to the Blind Boys of Alabama.”

Heck, Obama even released two Spotify playlists.

The implications of Obama’s enthusiasm showed an affinity to the people he represented, an awareness of his times, and built a responsive community: one of artists, rappers and singers who want to celebrate in his existence. Obama’s love of music was a sign of an appreciation of the cultures that were producing it. Like a call and response, Obama spoke to the people, and the people called back.

Politics and music will always be interlinked. This is why people were angry over Kanye’s friendship with Trump – the “abomination of Obama’s nation” ignoring his fans, his community, to associate with a man with such a flagrant disregard for black voters. This is in part why we mourn dead musicians. This is why we sing at rallies and marches. The two are inextricably linked, and it is not wise to underestimate the power of the form.

Trump will, inevitably, brush away the foreboding cultural signifier of a musical community rejecting him like a defensive child who doesn’t care. America is divided and it feels like we’re on the brink of something terrifying. Ignoring the masses of people and their voices will be a big mistake. Are you listening, Mr President?