Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), is known for his anti-Islamic remarks, his striking blonde mane and the many death threats he has received. It’s less well known that he spent most of his time on a kibbutz chasing girls and once named Syria as his favourite holiday destination. He even watches Arabic television channels every evening. Geert Wilders spoke to Chalaan Charif and Nicolien den Boer from RNW’s Arabic desk.
Geert Wilders’ office in The Hague is a high security stronghold. Once the parliamentary security people have established that the journalists are who they say they are, the real screening begins. No less than four burly bodyguards tell us what we can and can’t do (“No filming in Mr Wilders’ room” “Photographs? Only against the backdrop of an empty anonymous wall.”), search our bag of recording equipment and bombard us with questions. (“Do you have any weapons? Are there any secret compartments in your bag?”).
For three years now Wilders has been under heavy guard because of regular death threats. After his proposal a few weeks back that the Qur’an should be banned, more threats streamed in.
Radio Netherlands: Mr Wilders, when we came in our bags were carefully searched. That is unusual for us, but you must be accustomed to strict security precautions. What kind of life do you lead?
Geert Wilders: It’s not a lot of fun. It’s terrible for my family and me. And it shouldn’t have to happen in a democracy, whether you’re from the Party for Freedom or from Green Left. If you don’t agree with me, approach me with your arguments not with death threats.
RN: Aren’t you becoming isolated from the rest of society?
GW: I’d love to be able to drink a beer in a bar again, something I haven’t been able to do for three years. I do have less contacts than the average politician, but I communicate through my website a great deal. If you see how our party is doing [in] the opinion polls, that doesn’t smack of alienation.
(RN: The PVV has nine seats in parliament—for a while polls gave them twice that number, but this has fallen back to thirteen seats.)
RN: Your remarks seem to be getting more extreme. A couple of months ago you were talking about tearing out parts of the Qur’an, now you want it banned completely. Are you thinking: “what can I come up with next that will get me the most media attention”?
GW: No, it’s not that. I’ve been engaged with Islam for more than ten years. I’ve visited a lot of Muslim countries, I’ve studied the Qur’an, I’ve spoken to professors here and abroad and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that freedom of worship is better served by banning a book which does not allow freedom. You know the Qur’an prescribes the death penalty for people who want to leave Islam, the so-called apostates. Of course, I’m not averse to media attention, I’d be lying if I denied it.
RN: So why not ban the Bible too, or any other book full of violent passages?
GW: For Muslims the Qur’an is quite literally the word of God. Christians do not have that with the Bible. I realise perfectly well that banning the Qur’an is a drastic measure but if banning it ensures that one less homosexual get beaten up . . .
Of course, the Moroccan street terrorists who beat up on Amsterdam gays don’t do it with the Qur’an under their arms. But when they get home it’s lying there and they’ve grown up with the idea that homosexuals are lower than pigs. The government has a responsibility to give a clear signal that it’s not okay to read that kind of book or to tell people that gays are inferior.
RN: Research among radical Muslims in Amsterdam shows that some of them embrace radicalism because of the anti-Islamic atmosphere in the Netherlands. Doesn’t that make you responsible for the increasing radicalism?
GW: That’s a really ludicrous accusation. All I’m doing is pointing out existing radical behaviour: people abusing women or beating up homosexuals. I’m looking for a cause. I read the Qur’an and I see the connections. I point them out and I want them made illegal. I don’t accept that I am doing anything to radicalise people, except standing up for the laws and constitution of this country. Moreover, I don’t regard all Muslims as the same. I do make a distinction between people and religion. I think Islam is a terrible religion but I have nothing against people who act according to our laws and our values and that’s not possible with that book in your hand.
RN: If it were up to you, how would the Netherlands look in ten years time? We’ll give you a couple of minutes. . . .
GW: I would stop immigration from Muslim countries because I think it’s watering our culture down too much. I want Dutch culture to be the dominant culture alongside the other cultures, which I would add are more than welcome. Many Dutch people feel as though they’re living in a foreign country. You shouldn’t mock those people; you have to take them seriously. It also doesn’t help the ethnic minorities here to integrate into society when you let in tens of thousands more each year. It’s trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it. I wouldn’t allow any more mosques, there are enough already. I would close all Islamic schools. I would promote a return to decency, I think it terrible that we want to cut 600 million euros on spending on the elderly and on disabled care, while money is being spent on leftwing games like the general amnesty (for illegal immigrants)
RN: You believe Dutch culture is better than Islamic culture. Aren’t you doing exactly the same as the fundamentalism in the Middle East that you despise so much? They too are afraid of outside influences and think their culture is better than so-called degenerate western culture?
GW: But I’m not afraid. Cultural relativism just makes me sick. You know the kind of thing: everyone is welcome; we’ll be one big melting pot of cultures. It gives me goose bumps when I hear the prime minister talking that way. Of course, we shouldn’t imitate everything in a culture we ourselves criticise. Just try walking down the street with a Bible in Saudi Arabia or calling yourself a Christian in Iran.
RN: But you’re doing exactly the same, aren’t you?
GW: Exactly. The Arab countries don’t want to become Christian or multicultural and, regardless of what I think of their culture, that is their right. They’re independent states. I might criticise them for human rights abuses or for supporting terrorism, but it’s not up to me to decide what culture or religion Saudi Arabia or Yemen should have.
RN: How did you become so anti-Islam?
GW: I lived in Israel, in the West Bank, between the ages of 17 and 19. I wasn’t at all political then, I was much more concerned with chasing girls. We were regularly shot at from the Palestinian side of the border and that made me decide to see the whole of the Middle East and to try and understand it. I’ve travelled all over the region; I did work experience and spent my holidays there as well. I discovered one constant in the region: the people are extremely friendly but the political and religious leaders are corrupt and immoral. They treat their own people like animals, I really feel for them.
I also visited numerous think-tanks and research institutes in Germany and France. The dangers posed by radical Islam were recognized there long ago. But here in the Netherlands? Even after the 9/11 attacks and the bombings in Madrid and London, there is no sense of urgency here in the Netherlands. We don’t like conflict or confrontations. This is a country of consensus; we sweep problems under the carpet. We would much rather hold hands and sing carols underneath the Christmas tree.
RN: How is it that, after so many visits to the Middle East, you still see Islam as the only problem?
GW: It’s not the only problem, but it is the biggest. Look at the Middle East; the greater the role of Islam, the worse it is for the people there. Israel is still the only democracy in the region.
RN: It has been suggested that you’re an Israeli spy.
GW: Nonsense. I don’t only get my information from Israel. I read Arab newspapers on the internet and I watch English language Arab broadcasters. I’m a bit of an information freak. A book like this (points to Qur’an) is so fascinating I can read it fifteen times.
* RNW Internet translation (imm/jc)