Muslims in the Netherlands have reacted with an understandable mixture of trepidation and anger to the electoral triumph of the far-right, anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders. Should they be afraid?
‘I don’t know if Muslims are still safe in the Netherlands,’ Habib El Kaddouri, a spokesman for Dutch Moroccans, dramatically informed the news agency ANP. On the face of it, who can blame Muslims for worrying about what Wilders’ unexpected — and frankly stunning — victory might mean for their future prospects. After all, Wilders is no friend of Muslims or Islam. No mosques, Korans or headscarves is the political clarion call of his Freedom Party (PVV). It is unashamedly anti-Islam: ‘We want less Islam in the Netherlands,’ it proclaims. In all, the PVV won 37 seats in Wednesday’s vote — more than any other party, and double its total at the last election in 2021. It is no longer some extremist fringe of no great political consequence.
For Dutch Muslims, Wilders has long been an enemy hiding in plain sight. In 2017, he described the biggest problem facing the Netherlands as ‘Islamisation’. This process, Wilders claimed, constitutes an ‘existential threat’ to ‘our identity, our freedom. Who we are. Everything.’
He has dismissed Islam as a fascist ideology of ‘a retarded culture’ and a ‘backward religion’. He even compared the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In 2016, he was convicted of discrimination after calling Moroccans ‘scum’ at a campaign rally, remarks that he has not withdrawn.
Wilders knows what he is doing. Even though there are other migrant groups in the Netherlands, public debate around immigration and multiculturalism has focused on non-Western migrants, mostly those of Moroccan and Turkish origin. This is, in part, because these groups likely account for the growth of Islam within a largely secularised Dutch society: about five per cent of the population in the Netherlands is now estimated to be Muslim, compared to less than one per cent in the 1970s.