Geert Wilders’ struggle between patriotism and xenophobia
Geert Wilders, Frauke Petry, Harold Vilimsky, Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini during a right-wing conference in Koblenz, Germany.
Last month during an interview with Holland’s public broadcast-association, viewers were introduced to a gentler side of controversial politician and guiding force of Holland’s populist movement; Geert Wilders. Seeing as this interview was conduced less than two months before the election, one would suspect that this was merely a political puff-piece. The evidence of this is lacking however, seeing as his interview, famed Dutch reporter Rick Nieman, certainly did not back down on confronting Wilders’ numerous polemic statements and questionable policies-and it has to be said, that Wilders flubbed more than a few times when it came to answering them. Whatever one could say about Wilders’ political career, one could hardly accuse him for going for that cheap sympathy vote. For all his inherent flaws, he is one of the few politicians who has remained unapologetic for his divisive views and upfront character.
Just as his populist counterparts, his campaign runs on an apocalyptic narrative with the rhetoric following suit. Yes they might offend people, but its necessary because there is a great danger running amok in our nation. If people don’t like him for it, that’s just part of the game. The game is to never back down and stand firm into what you believe in. If your core-base beings to perceive that you are losing your footing, a sense of weakness you could say, everything could fall apart.
Nonetheless it was refreshing to this normally antagonistic character, speak candidly about the personal sacrifices he and his wife have made for his political career. After being shown a clip of Wilders twelve years past, back when he still able to roam the streets safely, just before he left his previous party (VV) and embarked on his controversial political quest, Nieman asked him how it felt seeing this 41 year old man who still had been able to have some semblance of a private life.
”When I see that it’s like looking at a different person,” Wilders admitted with a sudden tender spark in his usual stoic eyes ”and it hurts. My wife, whose the strongest woman of Holland for being able to go through this with me… And I can barely remember how it is to walk the streets alone or go to the park with my wife or to empty my mailbox. It’s something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.”
One could presume that this was merely a rehearsed statement, something to humanize his incendiary persona. Perhaps it was, but even so, its hard not to feel his story, if just for a bit; the man who sacrificed his personal freedom, has even stood trial, for the things he believed in. It’s the kinda glory that political heroes (or fools) are made off.
Wilders success as a politician surely lies on his talent for inciting passion among his base. This is often been the problem with combating populists; their liberal foes are often unable to unleash the same kind of energy in their constituents. One sees this behind the Brexit campaign, the Trump campaign as well as those standing behind Le Penn’s National Front. Their consistent social-media presence should be commended too. Whether its tweets or public appearances documented on alt-right news feeds, their supporters are constantly reminded of the importance of their mission. In order to be successful, politicians must slip into some social-media news feed that supporters from their side (or several sides) trust. People cannot be convinced by television reporters anymore, its all about what their ‘reliable’ news-feed verifies as truth.
Wilders’ successful assimilation on the social-media made him a celebrity not just in Holland but in alt-right propaganda circles around the world. Like Farrage, Le Penn and Trump, there’s a certain cultist personality surrounding Wilders when it comes to his supporters. To his staunch opponents he could be the next Hitler(as the pro-immigrant party Think has recently done) but to his core-base, he’s more than just a martyr for free speech; he’s the spirit of patriotism that has been lost in the political sphere. It’s not just that he can get things done, it’s the he’s the only man that can safe Holland from the Islamic forces who are trying to undermine Democracy and perverse Western values. More the point is that Wilders himself, believes this too.
One could assume that maybe he has a keen Machiavellian intellect, who knows exactly exactly how to prey on small-minded folks. Maybe so, but let’s assume he truly believes himself to be the ideological defense against the religious tyranny of Islam (though he prefers to call Islam an ideology too, for the simple reason that it becomes legal to stigmatize these believers). Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s trust him on his word that he believes that he’s doing this for the people, for an ideal that transcends the self.
Wilders believes hat he’s part of a revolutionary phenomena called ‘The patriotic Spring’, in which the common people are finally standing up against the elites, the engineers of multi-multiculturalism, so they can reclaim their sovereign identity. This has nothing to do with xenophobia, as Wilders and his counterparts have claimed, but all to do with a sense of patriotism that is making a comeback into the hearts and minds of citizens around the Western world. This is similar to Le Penn, who spoke about the dawn of a New age or Trump who states that his his presidency signifies power being given back to the people. Its true that its becoming increasingly hard to deny that, considering the popularity of Wilders and the likes, voters’ confidence in neo-liberal ideals have declined and that 2017 will be an essential year in understanding what future world-order we will have to live in. But if Wilders and Le Penn will stand victorious at the end of their campaigns, will this be because of this so called patriotic-spring? Or will this sense of patriotism been too intimately involved with xenophobia and its many ugly philosophical manifestations? It’s time to take a closer look at this so called ‘Patriotic Spring.’
There was no patriotic-spring in America
Wilders rightfully battered his liberal-extreme Tunahan Kuzu (head of Think) for his refusal to condemn Tayyip Erdogan judicial retaliation against those he believed to be involved in the 2016 Turkish coup. Kuzu’s valid point about how immigrants are beginning to feel unwelcome as political rhetoric turns more hostile towards them, is undermined by his support for the tyrannical practices of Erdogan- who naturally used the occasion to silence political troublemakers. In essence, Kuzu’s support for Erdogan validated Wilders core message. Kuzu became psychical embodiment for Wilders’ supporters that there are wicked Islamic agents out there, even in parliament, that are blind to the evils of their religion or native country and thus must be stopped. But even if Wilders was right in confronting Kuzu with this- and most of parliament confronted Kuzu’s ridiculous defense-, one can hardly forget Wilders uncomfortable fanfare and political support and allegiances. The first and easiest example, would probably be Donald Trump. We could possibly start with Brexit, but it was with Trump’s victory that gave the populist faith in the coming new world-order and where we can see very clear examples of the disastrous consequences of this so-called ‘patriotic spring.’ Wilders claims that Trump’s campaign ran on different issues, but it was guided by a similar spirit- the nationalist cause. After Trump’s victory, Wilders announced to his countrymen that ”what can happen in America. Can happen here too.” The populists were rejoicing his victory at a Right-wing conference in Koblenz, so much so, that Wilders tweeted in their spirit with the hashtag; ‘#we will make our countries great again.’ Its naturally very obvious why Wilders supports Trump, but in his support for him, we can already find disturbing cracks in this facade that he calls patriotism.
One could state that Wilders support for Trump lies in their shared focus on the immigration issue, but any problems with immigration in America is entirely different from Holland. For one, the assimilation of Muslims in America is basically a non-issue. School administrations have been altered to the wishes of a large Muslim populace. There has been no reports of Islamic schools with schoolbooks teaching them how to chop of hands of thieves. There is no great spike of crimes committed by Muslims nor are there regions where women don’t feel safe walking in mini-skirts in a largely Muslim neighborhood. There will also never be a political candidate who will preach similar allegiance to his Islamic faith- as right-wing pundits have claimed with Obama. The radical elements have mostly been spread in the European continents, and while there is always a chance of outside radicalization, America’s extreme vetting process and algorithmic monitoring by the state, nearly destroys any chance of this. If there is any form of radicalization, it will be because fragile minds surfed the wrong Internet sites. If there’s hardly any problem with Islamic terrorism entering the country, the issue of non-assimilation of native Muslims is even less of an issue. Whatever tiny semblance of danger there is, it does not lie in a lack of assimilation or influence on their influence on American culture- the hipsters at silicon valley are the ones that are changing American culture.
The odds of refugees committing terrorist attacks in America is, according to Politfact, is 3,6 billion to one. There is no Trojan horse among the flock and if there is one, the chances are astronomical. Trump’s travel and refugee ban against these seven Muslim countries therefore has nothing to do with making his country safe, because none of these countries pose a threat. In fact, the ban has caused unnecessary misery to innocent children, families and even patriots such as those who translated for soldiers in war-zones.
Neither does Trump’s hard-line stance against Mexicans have any ideological comparison to Wilders’ mission. Illegal-Mexicans certainly pose no cultural threat to their legal compatriots, and the correlation with a surge of crime and an influx of Mexican or immigrants in general pose little factual data. Wilders often speaks about the influx of crime due to the rise of immigration, but if has a semblance of truth in Holland when it comes to petty crimes, it does not apply to America. There problem here lies in that law-enforcements in America don’t share their data- a huge problem actually if one wants to get to the bottom of this- and thus actual figures are not exactly known. Whatever studies there are have shown that when it comes to illegal immigrants, there’s no factual data to prove that they are a legitimate threat. Nonetheless Trump’s executive orders on illegal immigrants in America border on in the inhuman, as families have been torn apart due to the new judicial freedoms granted by the border and immigration patrol. There is nothing patriotic about any of this. Trump’s actions in office are actually the complete opposite, with him isolating press-agencies for not supporting him and even calling out his intelligence service as acting like Nazi-Germany.
Trump’s campaign was empowered by xenophobic rhetoric exemplified by his misinformation (some of it concocted by white-supremacists) he shared on twitter or by the support of xenophobes. Even if this constitutes a small percentage of Trump’s base- though with Jeff Sessions in his cabinet, it’s hard to disagree that there isn’t some racist element contained there- the connection is there. The connection is far too close.
By supporting Trump, simply for his nationalistic ideals, Wilders sets out the idea that Trump’s isolationistic stance on American foreign policy is the only thing that matters despite the differences between the two. This is a common theme in Wilders’ support for others: the need for sovereignty trumps democratic ideals, makes the indefensible forgivable.
Whatever could explain Trump’s rise in the presidency or the current situation in America, it seems that Wilders eponymous ‘patriot spring’ has little chance of explaining it.
The great contradiction
Wilders does differentiate himself to other populist candidates with for example his liberal stances concerning gay rights. Nevertheless, in the Koblenz conferences he stood there proudly smiling among extreme-right wing leaders from Germany (Frauke Petry), Italy (Matteo Salvini) and naturally France (Marine Le Penn), besides the fact that all of these politicians oppose same-sex marriages. This besides the fact that Wilders often use the talking point that Islamic forces are opposed to to same-sex relationships which to him is a democratic right. Some have claimed that Wilders is simply using this talking point not because he truly cares about LGTB rights but as a cynical political ploy to gain the trust of more liberal minded or even LGTB people. Again, when it comes to questioning the inner motivations of politicians, all bets are off. But since Wilders hasn’t seem to deviate from this position, it seems that Wilders does believe in equal rights for LGTB couples.
Another major thing that separates Wilders from his ‘fellow patriots’, is his support for Israel. This has even been controversial among extreme-right wing voters who often accuse him of being a Zionist conspirator. Marine Le Penn as many well know, has some parental history to deal with when it comes to antisemitism, and she has gotten far despite the sins of the father. But her uncompromising stance on nationality above all, applies even to French Jews who, if she were to rule, must give up their dual citizenship with Israel. Frauke Petry’s Alternative for Germany party is notorious when it comes to its strains of anti-antisemitism within her party.
In an interview with Europamagazine, Wilders was asked about how he felt about the holocaust denial made by a member in Petry’s party. Though Wilders states to not agree with their illiberal stance of gay-rights or the antisemitic remarks, he still considers that they have a common goal and that even with such differences, they can work together on a better world.
But how is this not contradictory? Alleging yourself with parties with some deeply xenophobic strains and anti-democratic strains cannot really be considered patriotic. Le Penn’s party especially, despite the homophobia and xenophobia, has a deeply troubled Russian connection that rivals nearly the Trump scandal. With money from a bank connected to Kremlin having been poured into her campaign, vehemently defending Putin, even his occupation of Crimea. She is even willing to make an exception for Russia when to the dual-citizenship issue, citing that Putin’s regime is a ”Europe of Nations.” All of this deeply suspicious, especially since Russian influence on elections have become a major threat for European stability. Any so-called patriot, whether left or right, has a duty to oppose the undemocratic and if there’s anyone who exemplifies tyranny in the modern world it’s Vladimir Putin.
If Wilders cares so deeply about preserving Western values, it makes little sense collude or support candidates that have such xenophobic and autocratic ties. If he’s willing to do that with Erdogan then why not with Putin? The reason is very obvious: Putin is an ally when it comes to divergence of the European Union, something he so intimately desires because that’s the only way for Holland to become a sovereign nation and thus take some semblance of control over its fiscal, monetary and above all immigration policy. But there’s more than one tyrannical force wreaking havoc upon the world, and it’s not just Sharia Law and its illiberal effects on women and same-sex relations. Putin has murdered political dissidents and journalist and infects the Western world with Russian propaganda. He has a lot of criticism when it comes to Angela Merkel and his liberal opposition, yet when it comes to the tyrannical connection of an ally, he doesn’t bark as loudly or even remains silent.
If Wilders is supposedly the idealist he says he is, he should oppose his populist friends for this massive hypocrisy. Since he hasn’t, it will be continually hard to perceive him as the noble rebel amongst the establishment. He will seem like just another politician playing his base, doing whatever it takes to get elected- no matter what disturbing ties he must make in order to gain the necessary votes. The New establishment Wilders craves to replace the current one, seems to have been compromised from the start.
A wasted sacrifice
The end game is a sovereign-nation. That’s what it all boils down. When he speaking about that he wants less Moroccans in his country, he defends it by stating that it’s nothing to do with racism, that it’s a stance against other nationalities. According to him, the (Islamic) cultures from such countries do not mix with traditional Western culture based on Judaism, Christianity and Humanism. It’s the cultural-relativists that are in the way, that are regressing the progressive values of the Western world.
It’s very easy to point that these three imaginary orders (human beliefs that stand beside physical reality) are more closely connected to Islam than Wilders thinks. Wilders and his right-wing kin constantly make the notion that Islamism is a medieval culture but in fact, it’s far more modern than many would likely to admit. But such a subject that should be part of another essay- John Gray brilliantly delves into the epistemology of these belief systems in his books Black Mass and Al-Qaeda: What it Means to Be Modern. The point however that even though there is certainly a festering problem within the Islamic culture in the Western world, he would have done better to support this by enabling the reformation of this religion, these voices that are coming out in the open more and more such as from Maajid-Nawaz.
What is not patriotic is sacrificing the European-Union for your war on Islam. The economic consequences of Holland leaving the EU are not very hopeful. He might state that England is doing better than ever, but as most economics have predicted, the real consequences have yet to happen. In the core, there was certainly grievances with the European-Union that should be addressed, but the victims of seceding from will mostly influence your beloved common-man and give more power to the tyrant that lives awfully close to the continent. It’s unclear yet if Wilders will stand victorious in the 15th of march election and in truth, the future of the European-union hangs rather in the balance of France than Holland. It remains to be seen. As the previous results have shown; anything is possible.
Whatever one thinks about Wilders or his politics, its hard to deny him some respect for sacrificing his life for his ideals. One could also state that he brought this life upon himself but the mere fact that he has to be in constant security detail, proves at the very least, that there is some problem worthy of being addressed. But in the end, it was a problem that could and should have been handled more humanely. If the Liberals couldn’t do it, he should have found a way somewhere in the middle.
There’s a way to addresses the Islamic problem without alleging yourself with this false of patriotism. Ironically, it seems that if he doesn’t alter his political course, which is very doubtful, his personal sacrifices will be wasted.