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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18 people to blame for Brexit

Personally, I blame the parents.

1. Nigel Farage

There are many awful things about Farage: the lies, the cynicism, the willingness to use dog-whistle racism to promote his own political ideas. But one of the most awful is that he's actually really, really good at politics. It's probably not a coincidence that he's got further than any hard right British politician in decades.

If Farage hadn't been so good at his job, then Cameron wouldn't have seen Ukip as such a threat. No Ukip surge in 2013-14 would have meant no referendum pledge.

That said, "Blame" is perhaps not the right word here – because today's news is exactly what Farage has wanted to happen all along. Nonetheless, he must take his share of the “credit” for today's news, and the fact the pound has fallen so far that Britain’s economy is now officially smaller than France’s, which was a promise I don’t recall appearing in any Ukip manifesto.

Blame-o-meter rating: 9/10

2. Alan Johnson

Former home secretary, once spoken of as the greatest leader Labour never had. His failure to provide visible leadership while ostensibly leading the Labour In campaign, though, raises a few questions about that assessment. Has anybody seen him? Do we know where he is? Does he still walk the earth?

Blame-o-meter rating: 8/10

3. Jeremy Corbyn

Another man who was surprisingly invisible for most of the referendum campaign. Sure, he bling-ed up for The Last Leg, and last Sunday he reminded Andrew Marr that EU membership would inevitably mean free movement of labour (a point that, while obviously true, was not entirely helpful).

But you'd be hard-pressed to say Corbyn has been passionate in his defence of Britain's EU membership. Given the importance of getting the Labour vote out, this really hasn't helped.

Blame-o-meter rating: 7/10

4. Ed Miliband

That said, if Ed Miliband hadn't been such a disaster as Labour leader – such as failing to quell fears about immigration and changing the party's internal election rules (so setting the scene for the election of Jeremy Corbyn, see above), losing – we wouldn't be in this mess. Thanks, Ed. Thanks for everything you did for us.

Blame-o-meter rating: 6/10.

5. Gordon Brown

Mind you, if Gordon Brown hadn't got cold feet about calling an early election in 2007, the last nine years of British political history would have been entirely different, so maybe we should blame him. Nice video of him talking about Europe in Coventry Cathedral, mind.

Blame-o-meter rating: 5/10.

6. Tony Blair

While we're blaming Labour leaders, it's almost certainly Blair's fault too. I’m too depressed to work out how right now, but I'm sure you can think of your own reason easily enough. There’s a space for you to fill it in below.

“Tony Blair is to blame for Brexit because..................”

Blame-o-meter rating: 6/10.

7. Harold Wilson

Okay, now we’re really getting back into history. But it was Wilson who held the 1975 referendum, thus setting a bloody dangerous precedent about asking the British people their views on complicated issues of international relations that we should really be leaving to the experts.

(Yes: experts know more about this stuff than the public. I said it. I’m a metropolitan elitist, so sue me.)

Blame-o-meter rating: 7/10.

8. Pollsters

Okay, there was a wobble a couple of weeks before the referendum – but the last week showed a definite swing back to Remain, allowing everyone on the Remain side to breathe out and start thinking everything would be fine.

As late as 1.30am, with results from the north-east already suggesting a Leave victory, Peter Kellner was still predicting a comfortable Remain win. Between this and the 2015 general election, it feels a lot like the British polling industry needs to take a long hard look at itself, and then maybe find a new job.

Blame-o-meter rating: 6/10.

9. Liam Fox

Disgraced former defence secretary, prominent leave supporter, the worst man in British politics, now pointedly not ruling himself out of the race for the Tory leadership. Despite being in disgrace. Disgraceful.

Blame-o-meter rating: 8/10.

10. Nick Clegg

Yes, we all miss the Lib Dems this morning, I'm sure. But Clegg's mishandling of coalition – especially the betrayal over tuition fees – led to his parliamentary party being all but wiped out last May, and the Tories getting a majority. David Cameron had always said any future coalition partner would have to agree to a referendum; but the arrival of a Tory government with a tiny majority made it inevitable.

Blame-o-meter rating: 7/10.

11. Young people

Those who voted mostly voted Remain (75 to 25 among the 18-24s); but they were, as ever, vastly less likely to show up at all than their pro-Brexit elders.

"Some of my friends are already doing appalled statuses/whatsapping crying faces when i know they didn't vote," reports a colleague. These people have no one to blame but themselves, and also their parents, because...

Blame-o-meter rating: 6/10.

12. Old people

...let's not let the real demographic villains off the hook here. If the young were lazy, the old were all too enthusiastic, and voted for Brexit in droves. Among the 50-64 age group, Leave won a majority of 56 per cent; among the 65+, it was 61 per cent.

It's very difficult not to read today's news as one last "screw you" from the Baby Boomers to their kids.

Blame-o-meter rating: 8/10.

13. The people who voted for Leave because they didn’t think Leave would win

This sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? It’s not. Look:


Screenshot from ITN.


14. Margaret Thatcher

Until the late 1980s, Thatcher was broadly in favour of Europe – in 1975, indeed, she campaigned enthusiastically for Britain to stay in, and in 1986 it was her government who got the Single European Act onto the books.

But in September 1988, she gave a speech in Bruges about the limits of European integration, and pretty much from then on she pretended she'd never been in favour of the whole shebang in the first place. In the early 1990s, it was Thatcher who orchestrated the rebellion against the Maastricht Treaty from the backbenches.

If Conservative psychosis is to blame for today's news, then it was Thatcher who drove her party mad.

Blame-o-meter rating: 9/10.

15. Rupert Murdoch

In this, though, she had help from the British media – and especially its most high-profile mogul.

Murdoch has reportedly admitted that the reason he's so anti-EU is that it's a threat to his own interests. Whatever his reasoning, 30 years of nonsense about red-tape, straight bananas and wicked EU plots to merge Pas-de-Calais with Kent has certainly had an impact on public attitudes to the EU. If you tell people something is bad for 30 years, and then ask them to vote about it, some of them are going to think that it’s bad.

Blame-o-meter rating: 9/10.

16. The entire political class, 1988 to the present day

Mind you, the fact that almost no British politician has had the guts to explain why the papers are talking bollocks, and that EU membership is in Britain's national interest – for the better part of 30 years – is basically unforgiveable. Spineless shower, the lot of them.

Blame-o-meter rating: 9/10.

17. Boris Johnson

The collapse of the Hapsburg Empire began with an assassination. The collapse of the United Kingdom – even, the entire European Union – might begin with Boris bloody Johnson's over-sized ego. Lacks grandeur, somehow, but there you are.

It wasn't enough for Boris that his origin story was writing fibs about Europe for the Telegraph: he had to lead the campaign against the bloody thing because he thought it would be the best way to marginally advance his own prospects. As journalist Martin Fletcher tweeted last week, "Boris Johnson is now campaigning against the cartoon caricature of the EU that he himself created".

Maybe, now Cameron has resigned, he'll finally get what he wants and ascend to the highest rung. That'll be a great comfort in six months’ time once we're all living on lichen: that the prime minister is funny on the news. Great stuff, Britain.

Blame-o-meter rating: 14/10.

18. David Cameron

There is one other man for whom no excuses can be made. In his 11 years leading the Tory party, Cameron has always treated Europe as an issue of short-term party management rather than long-term statesmanship. He alienated the mainstream European right by taking the Tories out of the EPP. He refused to help with the migrant crisis, in case it annoyed his party, thus failing to build the political credit necessarily for a renegotiation that might have actually convinced the voters.

And he called a referendum – gambling with the stability and security of the nation he was meant to be leading – to bolster his chances of winning re-election in 2015.

Cameron was never great, but he was always lucky – until, one day, he wasn't lucky either. Whatever happens over the next few weeks, it seems likely that the verdict of history will be damning.

Blame-o-meter rating: 10/10.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.