Early this month, another Schiedam native, a 30-year-old man known in his police dossier as Farid A., was found guilty of issuing death threats over the Internet. When the conservative Dutch politician Geert Wilders described Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat last year as a “terrorist leader,” Farid A. posted a picture of him on an Islamist website urging: “Wilders must be punished with death for his fascistic comments about Islam, Muslims, and the Palestinian cause.” That was a year ago, and since then, Wilders has done even more to tick off Muslim radicals. He left the conservative Freedom and Democracy People’s party (VVD) after a personal spat with the party leadership, promising to launch his own “Geert Wilders List,” along the lines of the one-person movement that turned the gay populist Pim Fortuyn into the most popular politician in the Netherlands in early 2002. Wilders has focused on Turkey, crime, and the unsustainability of high immigration. He has warned that many of the more than 1 million Muslims who live in the Netherlands “have already opted for radical Islam,” and has urged closing extremist mosques.
There is a market for his forthrightness. In early November, a poll in the left-leaning daily de Volkskrant showed that Wilders could win several hundred thousand votes, which would translate into nine seats in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the national legislature. When the gadfly filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot and knifed in southeastern Amsterdam on November 2, the letter that his killer pinned with a knife to his corpse contained a promise to do the same to the Somali-born feminist VVD member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Wilders got similar threats shortly thereafter. There were two results for Wilders. First, his popularity shot through the roof: A second poll in de Volkskrant showed Wilders would now win almost 2 million voters, taking 28 seats, or a fifth of the parliament, and that he was drawing support across party lines and in every single sector of Dutch society, despite—or perhaps because of—perceptions that he is a single-issue candidate.
But Wilders also had to go into hiding. He now appears in public only for legislative sessions in the Hague, where he travels under armed guard. He complained in mid-December that the death threats had hampered his ability to build his party. The head of a conservative think tank told newspapers he had been advised by security personnel to stay away from Wilders. Anyone who declared himself for one of those 28 seats that looked ripe for the plucking would thereby place himself on a death list, too. One strange but highly professional video that can be downloaded off the Internet shows drawings of machine guns, then photographs of Wilders with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and then captioned panels reading:
name: geert wilders
sin: mocking Islam
reward: Paradise, in sha Allah
In early December, an appeals court in the Hague confirmed the punishment of Farid A. of Schiedam. He was sentenced to 120 hours of community service.
Dutch multiculturalism, when Bolkestein and Scheffer began to question it, was an unassailable certitude. Now it lacks a single full-throated defender. Wouter Bos, the new leader of the PvdA, many of whose members privately think the country has overreacted to the van Gogh murder, insists that “Islam is part of our country,” and faults those who, “under the pretext of women’s rights, try to claim that Islam doesn’t belong here.” He seems to want to punt the Netherlands’ problems away to blue-ribbon committees and international bodies when he warns that we “underestimate the international character of the threat we’re dealing with: radical political Islam.”
Nonetheless, Bos, too, has been stung by recent history, particularly his party’s great blunder of treating Pim Fortuyn (a former PvdA intellectual himself) as some kind of sociopath or prankster. Bos admits that in recent years, “tolerance became a pretext for not addressing problems.” When asked whether his party would enter a coalition with Wilders, he does not rule it out.