One of the most popular politicians in the Netherlands said Friday the country’s democracy is under threat and called for a five-year halt to non-Western immigration in the wake of the killing of a Dutch filmmaker by a suspected Muslim radical.
“We are a Dutch democratic society. We have our own norms and values,” right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders told The Associated Press in an interview. “If you chose radical Islam you can leave, and if you don’t leave voluntarily then we will send you away. This is the only message possible.”
In his first interview with the foreign media since the slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh on Nov. 2, Wilders said his own life has been repeatedly threatened. He said he has begun living under state protection and has even had to stay away from his own home.
Wilders split with the free-market coalition partner Liberal Party two months ago because it backed the candidacy of predominantly Muslim Turkey for the European Union.
He formed his own conservative party, the Wilders Group, which has one seat in the 150-member parliament. But a recent poll suggested his anti-immigrant message was reverberating through the electorate, and he would win 24 seats if elections were held todayup from 19 seats before Van Gogh’s murder.
Wilders said that without swift, bold action, Islamic fundamentalism will topple the country’s democratic system.
“The Netherlands has been too tolerant to intolerant people for too long,” he said. “We should not import a retarded political Islamic society to our country. There is nothing to be ashamed of to say this. It’s not Islam. I speak out against the facts.”
In Brussels, Belgium, European Union leaders met Friday to discuss immigration, one of Europe’s most pressing and sensitive issues. EU justice and interior ministers agreed to demand that new immigrants learn the language of their adopted countries and adhere to “European values” to guide them toward better integration.
Even as the number of immigrants arriving in Europe falls due to tougher policies, led by a sharp drop in the Netherlands, Wilders said closing the borders isn’t enough. Newcomers should be forced to integrate.
“If in a mosque there is recruitment for jihad, it’s not a house of prayer, it’s a house of war. If it’s not a house of prayer, it should be closed down,” he said.
Wilders, known for his radical positions and peroxide-blond hair, has been a member of parliament since 1998. He was born and educated in the southern city Venlo, near the German border.
“I’m very tough on radical Islam. I have the toughest ideas on beating this problem and I’m proud of it. I say nothing wrong. I’m no racist, no anti-Islamist,” he said.
Wilders and the police took the death threats more seriously following the slaying of Van Gogh, who had produced a television drama critical of how women are treated in some Muslim societies. The filmmaker was shot and stabbed to death, allegedly by a 26-year-old suspected Islamic extremist who holds Dutch and Moroccan citizenship.
The most recent threats were disclosed when two terror suspects, arrested Nov. 10 after a standoff in which several policemen were wounded by a hand grenade, were charged with threatening Wilders and other politicians, their lawyer said.
The latest video threat broadcast on the Internetin Dutch, with Arabic music in the backgroundcondemns Wilders for insulting Islam and offers the reward of paradise for his beheading.
Wilders’ style and cause are reminiscent of Pim Fortuyn, a flamboyant political outsider who put immigration on the national agenda before the 2002 elections. Fortuyn was shot to death by an animal rights activist days before the vote, but major parties since have largely embraced his ideas.
Wilders said he is not opposed to mainstream Islam but is concerned by studies saying 10 percent of the Dutch Muslim populationor about 100,000 peoplesupport radical Islamic views.
He cited a report by Dutch intelligence saying recruitment for jihad, or holy war, is taking place in as many as 20 mosques in the Netherlands, and said they should be closed and their imams, or preachers, arrested and deported.
“If we don’t do anything . . . we will lose the country that we have known for centuries. People don’t want the Netherlands to be lost, and this is something that I get angry about and I am going to fight for, to keep the country Dutch,” he said.