Muting the volume on the television set is something of a habit. On the rare occasions I happen to be watching a programme on a commercial channel it’s second nature to press the mute button when the ads intrude; for those of you familiar with Virgin’s catch-up service, venturing into the realm of catch-up when searching for a missed show requires another press of mute in order to silence the cacophony of crap trailers on a loop that appear the second you enter that realm. Similarly, if the phone rings, it’s mute that’s called upon again; if it’s a programme I’m watching, I can still see the image albeit without the soundtrack.
This happened the other week when ‘Newsnight’ was about to begin; being distracted by the phone conversation, I looked up at the screen and seriously thought I was seeing a trailer for a new Harry Enfield series; Enfield was playing an unfamiliar suited and booted character being pursued by cameras, possibly a politician, with a bizarre haircut somewhere between boxing promoter Don King and early 60s Brit rocker Heinz. Then I saw the ‘Newsnight’ titles and realised it wasn’t Harry after all, but far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders. It didn’t seem quite as funny then.
Geert Wilders, he of the aforementioned peroxide mane, is the leader and founder of Holland’s Freedom Party, and is hoping to become Prime Minister of the Netherlands when their parliamentary elections take place three weeks from now. He’s made a name for himself by spouting simplistic, rabble-rousing sound-bites that he uses to galvanise the same marginalised natives that both Brexit and the triumph of Trump have been attributed to. His inflammatory opinions are hardly unique in his homeland, but the Dutch no longer have South Africa to act as a more conducive climate for their more extreme and outspoken sons. In 2017, they’re stuck with them. Another colonial enclave, the Dutch East Indies, forms half of Wilders’ lineage as his mother was Indonesian, so it’s true to say he has the old Dutch approach to governance in his blood.
Wilders has paid a price for his controversial public image. He lives surrounded by armed guards 24/7 for his own safety, with perennial death threats the consequence of having made shit-stirring into an art form by referring to Holland’s Moroccan population as ‘scum’ whilst promising to ban the Koran and close mosques should he succeed in his aim; however, the need to campaign has led to him emerging from hiding and adding to his contentious statements. They may garner him a devoted following, but render him a cult figure that has little appeal beyond circles that rarely recognise shades of grey.
Although Wilders describes himself as a right-wing liberal and has claimed his biggest political inspiration is Margaret Thatcher, his stated policies have naturally attracted a far-right following; it’s a wonder he doesn’t take to the stage with the strains of ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ as a warm-up tune. Whatever salient points he may have to make about the various failures of mass immigration and assimilation of immigrants into Dutch society are utterly lost in the headline-grabbing cheap shots that are guaranteed to alienate as many as they attract. He advocates freedom of speech, which is laudable, and sees his own virtual imprisonment as evidence it is under threat; yet he contradicts the freedom of speech principle by advocating the banning of the Koran. It’s supposed to work both ways, as Voltaire pointed out over two-hundred years ago.
Wilders made a name for himself outside of the Netherlands with his 2008 film short, ‘Fitna’, which focused on the loathsome agenda of Radical Islam; amounting to fifteen minutes of stating the bleedin’ obvious, the film provoked predictable responses on both sides of the divide that Wilders would clearly prefer to remain intact. The extremist Islamists fell into his trap, as he knew they would, and then he was able to point to their reaction as an example of how he was right about Islam all along. Essentially, the film confirmed what we already knew and offered nothing that could be seen as a positive way out of a miserable cultural cul-de-sac.
A figure such as Wilders is symptomatic of a particular breed of European politician whose views, having been written off as beyond the pale for years, are now suddenly in synch with a Europe-wide craving to topple the ruling elite; but these views are straightforward old-school divide-and-rule tactics that acknowledge a problem without suggesting an alternative from which all concerned can benefit.
It’s hard, as with Marine Le Pen, not to regard Wilders as a cynical opportunist exploiting the current uncertainties in Europe; even if one admits there are genuine problems that excessive immigration can bring into communities, figures such as Le Pen and Wilders seem more content to fan the flames of intolerance rather than attempting to resolve the difficulties that have arisen in many European countries over the last decade. Tackling the latter is a far harder task than simply saying ‘ban the Koran’; much easier to appeal to concerns by adopting a ‘Shock Jock’ persona and telling certain sections of the electorate what they want to hear, opting for simple solutions to complex situations that require more than Wilders is capable of delivering.
© The Editor