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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The Macron Con #2: Emmanuel's “feminism”

Call him Manu, the “college bro” feminist.

This is the second in a series: “The Macron Con”, also called “Why Emmanuel Macron isn't a liberal hero”. Each week, I'll examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Read episode 1: Macron's unhealthy obsession with symbolism.

President Macron is a feminist. That's, at least, according to him. “I am a feminist,” he claimed on 2 December last year, then a presidential candidate, at the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society. He then added that to him, the “most important” thing was to be “a feminist recognised by women as such”. And women? Well, not all of them do – because while Macron’s vocal support of feminism as a cause is obviously important, his actions paint a more complex reality.

Days after his election, Macron declared he really wished his prime minister would be “a woman”. This was his choice entirely – the newly-elected President names the prime minister, who names their cabinet – and yet he picked a man, Edouard Philippe. “I never actually expected him to pick a woman,” says Fatima El Ouasdi, director of Politiqu’elles, a French non-profit fighting against sexism in politics. She says she never did because, when Macron discussed the PM’s nomination without mentioning names, “he said ‘he’ everytime”.

Feminists were similarly frustrated a month later, when several MPs from his party declared their support for a female Speaker. The party, En Marche!, having just won a parliamentary majority, the possibility of parliament electing France’s first female Speaker was entertained. Two women and a man from En Marche! ran. The man, François de Rugy, won. To El Ouasdi, it demonstrates a “lack of political will”. As she puts it: “It wasn’t a priority for the party, otherwise it would have been done.”

In theory, equality is Macron’s favourite hobbyhorse; but in practice, “we’re not there yet at all,” says El Ouasdi. His cabinet has been praised for its equality – it is composed of men and women in equal measure – but out of four of the most important ministries, only one, Defence, was given to a woman, Sylvie Goulard. When she left the cabinet in a reshuffle following trouble in her party MoDem, half the most important ministries (Justice and Defence) rightfully went to women. But to El Ouasdi, in the French government as well as in general politics, “quantitative equality isn’t the same as qualitative”.

That’s especially true in parliament, where 224 women were elected as MPs in May – the highest score ever, but still lower than their 353 male counterparts. Macron’s party proudly announced it was running with as many female candidates as male; but this has actually been the law since 1999.

The PR picture was perfect, though. During the campaign, when En Marche! called for candidate applications and received more from men than women, Macron took to social media to call for women to step up. The French feminist group Osez le Féminisme called it a “PR coup”: “He was essentially calling for women to apply the law,” said spokeswoman Claire Serre-Combe. “It’s nothing new.” Political parties in the past have often sent more female candidates to constituencies they expect to lose, so Macron’s only innovation was to send female candidates for winnable seats, which looks less like proactive feminism and more like not discriminating on the basis of gender.

Read more: The Macron Con #1: The French President's unhealthy obsession with symbolism

Macron has made many pledges for equality and has called women’s rights “an absolutely fundamental subject of our society’s vitality, economy, and of our democracy”. His vocal support shows a will to make feminism “a great national cause”, El Ouasdi says, but pledges have not all been kept. “He promised a ministry for women’s rights,” she says, “And in the end we got a state secretary for equality between men and women, which isn’t the same.”

These deceptive pledges may lie in Macron’s own vision of feminism. He has declared: “I believe in alterity [a philosophical concept of otherness], and true alterity for a man, is the woman. I am profoundly feminist because I love what is irreducible in the other that is woman.” Such a comment is “reductive” in its definition of women and “problematic” in its exclusion of LGBT+ people, El Ouasdi says.

Osez Le Féminisme has said in a press release that the group remains “vigilant and mobilised” against “liberal policies that aggravate casualisation of women’s lives.” Like most of Macron’s critics, French feminists worry that the president’s project will not help the working class. “It would be good if he were more concerned about poor female workers and housewives,” says El Ouasdi. She hopes the law will recognise women’s own difficult working conditions, for instance by adapting cleaners’ schedules to working hours.

Whether Macron will act on his pledges, including making “a great national cause” to fight violence against women, remains “to be seen”, El Ouasdi says. But it may be difficult, as the upcoming budget will see cuts in all ministries – with women’s refuges feared to be deprived of 25 per cent of their current subventions. State secretary for Equality Marlène Schiappa has called “fake news” on the numbers, but confirmed cuts will happen. “Where’s the great national cause, @EmmanuelMacron?” tweeted French feminist Caroline De Haas.

Macron can keep claiming he is a feminist. But as long as his unkept promises pile up, his feminism will resemble your college boyfriend’s – signs up for gender studies class, quite likes the concept, still ends up moaning about women’s rights activists being “too feminist”. Not cool, bro.