When I was asked to write a foreword to Geert Wilders’ new book, my first reaction, to be honest, was to pass. Mr. Wilders lives under 24/7 armed guard because significant numbers of motivated people wish to kill him, and it seemed to me, as someone who’s attracted more than enough homicidal attention over the years, that sharing space in these pages was likely to lead to an uptick in my own death threats. Who needs it? Why not just plead too crowded a schedule and suggest the author try elsewhere? I would imagine Geert Wilders gets quite a lot of this.
And then I took a stroll in the woods, and felt vaguely ashamed at the ease with which I was willing to hand a small victory to his enemies. After I saw off the Islamic enforcers in my own country, their frontman crowed to The Canadian Arab News that, even though the Canadian Islamic Congress had struck out in three different jurisdictions in their attempt to criminalize my writing about Islam, the lawsuits had cost my magazine (he boasted) two million bucks, and thereby “attained our strategic objective — to increase the cost of publishing anti-Islamic material.” In the Netherlands, Mr. Wilders’ foes, whether murderous jihadists or the multicultural establishment, share the same “strategic objective” — to increase the cost of associating with him beyond that which most people are willing to bear. It is not easy to be Geert Wilders. He has spent almost a decade in a strange, claustrophobic, transient, and tenuous existence little different from kidnap victims or, in his words, a political prisoner. He is under round-the-clock guard because of explicit threats to murder him by Muslim extremists.
Yet he’s the one who gets put on trial for incitement.
In 21st-century Amsterdam, you’re free to smoke marijuana and pick out a half-naked sex partner from the front window of her shop. But you can be put on trial for holding the wrong opinion about a bloke who died in the seventh century.
And, although Mr. Wilders was eventually acquitted by his kangaroo court, the determination to place him beyond the pale is unceasing: “The far-right anti-immigration party of Geert Wilders” (The Financial Times) . . . “Far-right leader Geert Wilders” (The Guardian) . . . “Extreme right anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders” (Agence France-Presse) is “at the fringes of mainstream politics” (Time) . . . Mr. Wilders is so far out on the far-right extreme fringe that his party is the third biggest in parliament. Indeed, the present Dutch government governs only through the support of Wilders’ Party for Freedom. So he’s “extreme” and “far-right” and out on the “fringe,” but the seven parties that got far fewer votes than him are “mainstream”? That right there is a lot of what’s wrong with European political discourse and its media coverage: Maybe he only seems so “extreme” and “far-right” because they’re the ones out on the fringe.
And so a Dutch parliamentarian lands at Heathrow to fulfill a public appearance and is immediately deported by the government of a nation that was once the crucible of liberty. The British Home Office banned Mr. Wilders as a threat to “public security” — not because he was threatening any member of the public, but because prominent Muslims were threatening him: The Labour-party peer Lord Ahmed pledged to bring a 10,000-strong mob to lay siege to the House of Lords if Wilders went ahead with his speaking engagement there.
Yet it’s not enough to denormalize the man himself, you also have to make an example of those who decide to find out what he’s like for themselves. The South Australian senator Cory Bernardi met Mr. Wilders on a trip to the Netherlands and came home to headlines like “Senator Under Fire For Ties To Wilders” (The Sydney Morning Herald) and “Calls For Cory Bernardi’s Scalp Over Geert Wilders” (The Australian). Members not only of the opposing party but even of his own called for Senator Bernardi to be fired from his post as parliamentary secretary to the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. And why stop there? A government spokesman “declined to say if he believed Mr Abbott should have Senator Bernardi expelled from the Liberal Party.” If only Bernardi had shot the breeze with more respectable figures — Hugo Chávez, say, or a spokesperson for Hamas. I’m pleased to report that, while sharing a platform with me in Adelaide some months later, Bernardi declared that, as a freeborn citizen, he wasn’t going to be told who he’s allowed to meet with.
For every independent-minded soul like Senator Bernardi, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, or Baroness Cox (who arranged a screening of Wilders’ film Fitna at the House of Lords), there are a thousand other public figures who get the message: Steer clear of Islam unless you want your life consumed — and steer clear of Wilders if you want to be left in peace.
But in the end the quiet life isn’t an option. It’s not necessary to agree with everything Mr. Wilders says in this book — or, in fact, anything he says — to recognize that, when the leader of the third-biggest party in one of the oldest democratic legislatures on earth has to live under constant threat of murder and be forced to live in “safe houses” for almost a decade, something is badly wrong in “the most tolerant country in Europe” — and that we have a responsibility to address it honestly, before it gets worse.
A decade ago, in the run-up to the toppling of Saddam, many media pundits had a standard line on Iraq: It’s an artificial entity cobbled together from parties who don’t belong in the same state. And I used to joke that anyone who thinks Iraq’s various components are incompatible ought to take a look at the Netherlands. If Sunni and Shia, Kurds and Arabs can’t be expected to have enough in common to make a functioning state, what do you call a jurisdiction split between post-Christian bi-swinging stoners and anti-whoring anti-sodomite anti-everything-you-dig Muslims? If Kurdistan’s an awkward fit in Iraq, how well does Pornostan fit in the Islamic Republic of the Netherlands?
The years roll on, and the gag gets a little sadder. “The most tolerant country in Europe” is an increasingly incoherent polity where gays are bashed, uncovered women get jeered in the street, and you can’t do The Diary of Anne Frank as your school play lest the Gestapo walk-ons are greeted by audience cries of “She’s in the attic!”
According to one survey, 20 percent of history teachers have abandoned certain, ah, problematic aspects of the Second World War because, in classes of a particular, ahem, demographic disposition, pupils don’t believe the Holocaust happened, and, if it did, the Germans should have finished the job and we wouldn’t have all these problems today. More inventive instructors artfully woo their Jew-despising students by comparing the Holocaust to “Islamophobia” — we all remember those Jewish terrorists hijacking Fokkers and flying them into the Reichstag, right? What about gangs of young Jews preying on the elderly, as Muslim youth do in Wilders’ old neighborhood of Kanaleneiland?
As for “Islamophobia,” it’s so bad that it’s, er, the Jews who are leaving. “Sixty per cent of Amsterdam’s orthodox community intends to emigrate from Holland,” says Benzion Evers, the son of the city’s chief rabbi, five of whose children had already left by 2010. Frommer’s bestselling travel guide to “Europe’s most tolerant city” acknowledges that “Jewish visitors who dress in a way that clearly identifies them as Jewish” are at risk of attack, but discreetly attributes it to “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” “Jews with a conscience should leave Holland, where they and their children have no future,” advised Frits Bolkestein, former Dutch Liberal leader. “Anti-Semitism will continue to exist, because the Moroccan and Turkish youngsters don’t care about efforts for reconciliation.”
If you’re wondering what else those “youngsters” don’t care for, ask Chris Crain, editor of The Washington Blade, the gay newspaper of America’s capital. Seeking a break from the Christian fundamentalist redneck theocrats of the Republican party, he and his boyfriend decided to treat themselves to a vacation in Amsterdam, “arguably the ‘gay-friendliest’ place on the planet.” Strolling through the streets of the city center, they were set upon by a gang of seven “youngsters,” punched, beaten, and kicked to the ground. Perplexed by the increasing violence, Amsterdam officials commissioned a study to determine, as Der Spiegel put it, “why Moroccan men are targeting the city’s gays.”
Gee, that’s a toughie. Beats me. The geniuses at the University of Amsterdam concluded that the attackers felt “stigmatized by society” and “may be struggling with their own sexual identity.”
Bingo! Telling Moroccan youths they’re closeted gays seems just the ticket to reduce tensions in the city! While you’re at it, a lot of those Turks seem a bit light on their loafers, don’t you think?
But not to worry. In the “most tolerant nation in Europe,” there’s still plenty of tolerance. What won’t the Dutch tolerate? In 2006, the justice minister, Piet Hein Donner, suggested there would be nothing wrong with sharia if a majority of Dutch people voted in favor of it — as, indeed, they’re doing very enthusiastically in Egypt and other polities blessed by the Arab Spring. Mr. Donner’s previous response to “Islamic radicalism” was (as the author recalls in the pages ahead) to propose a new blasphemy law for the Netherlands.
In this back-to-front world, Piet Hein Donner and the University of Amsterdam researchers and the prosecutors of the Openbaar Ministrie who staged his show trial are “mainstream” — and Geert Wilders is the “far” “extreme” “fringe.” How wide is that fringe? Mr. Wilders cites a poll in which 57 percent of people say that mass immigration was the biggest single mistake in Dutch history. If the importation of large Muslim populations into the West was indeed a mistake, it was also an entirely unnecessary one. Some nations (the Dutch, French, and British) might be considered to owe a certain post-colonial debt to their former subject peoples, but Sweden? Germany? From Malmö to Mannheim, Islam transformed societies that had hitherto had virtually no connection with the Muslim world. Even if you disagree with that 57 percent of Dutch poll respondents, the experience of Amsterdam’s chief rabbi and the gay-bashed editor and the elderly residents of Kanaleneiland suggests at the very minimum that the Islamization of Continental cities poses something of a challenge to Eutopia’s famous “tolerance.” Yet the same political class responsible for this unprecedented “demographic substitution” (in the words of French demographer Michèle Tribalat) insists the subject remain beyond discussion. The British novelist Martin Amis asked Tony Blair if, at meetings with his fellow prime ministers, the Continental demographic picture was part of the “European conversation.” Mr. Blair replied, with disarming honesty, “It’s a subterranean conversation” — i.e., the fellows who got us into this mess can’t figure out a way to talk about it in public, other than in the smiley-face banalities of an ever more shopworn cultural relativism.
That’s not enough for Geert Wilders. Unlike most of his critics, he has traveled widely in the Muslim world. Unlike them, he has read the Koran — and re-read it, on all those interminable nights holed up in some dreary safe house denied the consolations of family and friends. One way to think about what is happening is to imagine it the other way round. Rotterdam has a Muslim mayor, a Moroccan passport holder born the son of a Berber imam. How would the Saudis feel about an Italian Catholic mayor in Riyadh? The Jordanians about an American Jewish mayor in Zarqa? Would the citizens of Cairo and Kabul agree to become minorities in their own hometowns simply because broaching the subject would be too impolite?
To pose the question is to expose its absurdity. From Nigeria to Pakistan, the Muslim world is intolerant even of ancient established minorities. In Iraq half the Christian population has fled, in 2010 the last church in Afghanistan was razed to the ground, and in both cases this confessional version of ethnic cleansing occurred on America’s watch. Multiculturalism is a unicultural phenomenon.
But Europe’s political establishment insists that unprecedented transformative immigration can only be discussed within the conventional pieties: We tell ourselves that, in a multicultural society, the nice gay couple at Number 27 and the polygamous Muslim with four child-brides in identical niqabs at Number 29 Elm Street can live side by side, each contributing to the rich, vibrant tapestry of diversity. And anyone who says otherwise has to be cast into outer darkness.
Geert Wilders thinks we ought to be able to talk about this — and indeed, as citizens of the oldest, freest societies on earth, have a duty to do so. Without him and a few other brave souls, the views of 57 percent of the Dutch electorate would be unrepresented in parliament. Which is a pretty odd thing in a democratic society, when you think about it. Most of the problems confronting the Western world today arise from policies on which the political class is in complete agreement: At election time in Europe, the average voter has a choice between a left-of-center party and an ever so mildly right-of-left-of-center party and, whichever he votes for, they’re generally in complete agreement on everything from mass immigration to unsustainable welfare programs to climate change. And they’re ruthless about delegitimizing anyone who wants a broader debate. In that Cory Bernardi flap Down Under, for example, I’m struck by how much of the Aussie coverage relied on the same lazy shorthand about Geert Wilders. From The Sydney Morning Herald:
“Geert Wilders, who holds the balance of power in the Dutch parliament, likened the Koran to Mein Kampf and called the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile . . . ”
“He provoked outrage among the Netherlands’ Muslim community after branding Islam a violent religion, likening the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf and calling the Prophet Mohammed a pedophile.”
Tony Eastley on ABC Radio:
“Geert Wilders, who controls the balance of power in the Netherlands’ parliament, has outraged Dutch Muslims by comparing the Koran to Hitler’s work Mein Kampf and calling the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile . . . ”
Golly, you’d almost think all these hardworking investigative reporters were just cutting-and-pasting the same lazy précis rather than looking up what the guy actually says. The man who emerges in the following pages is not the grunting thug of media demonology but a well-read, well-traveled, elegant, and perceptive analyst who quotes such “extreme” “fringe” figures as Churchill and Jefferson. As to those endlessly reprised Oz media talking points, Mein Kampf is banned in much of Europe; and Holocaust denial is also criminalized; and, when a French law on Armenian-genocide denial was struck down, President Sarkozy announced he would immediately draw up another genocide-denial law to replace it. In Canada, the Court of Queen’s Bench upheld a lower-court conviction of “hate speech” for a man who merely listed the chapter and verse of various Biblical injunctions on homosexuality. Yet, in a Western world ever more comfortable in regulating, policing, and criminalizing books, speech, and ideas, the state’s deference to Islam grows ever more fawning. “The Prophet Mohammed” (as otherwise impeccably secular Westerners now reflexively refer to him) is an ever greater beneficiary of our willingness to torture logic and law and liberty in ever more inane ways in the cause of accommodating Islam. Consider the case of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, a Viennese housewife who has lived in several Muslim countries. She was hauled into an Austrian court for calling Mohammed a pedophile on the grounds that he consummated his marriage when his bride, Aisha, was nine years old. Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff was found guilty and fined 480 euros. The judge’s reasoning was fascinating:
“Pedophilia is factually incorrect, since pedophilia is a sexual preference which solely or mainly is directed towards children. Nevertheless, it does not apply to Mohammad. He was still married to Aisha when she was 18.”
So you’re not a pedophile if you deflower the kid in fourth grade but keep her around till high school? There’s a useful tip if you’re planning a hiking holiday in the Alps. Or is this another of those dispensations that is not of universal application?
A man who confronts such nonsense head on will not want for enemies. Still, it’s remarkable how the establishment barely bothers to disguise its wish for Wilders to meet the same swift and definitive end as Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh. The judge at his show trial opted to deny the defendant the level of courtroom security afforded to Mohammed Bouyeri, van Gogh’s murderer. Henk Hofland, voted the Netherlands’ “Journalist of the Century” (as the author wryly notes), asked the authorities to remove Wilders’ police protection so that he could know what it’s like to live in permanent fear for his life. While Wilders’ film Fitna is deemed to be “inflammatory,” the movie De moord op Geert Wilders (The Assassination of Geert Wilders) is so non-inflammatory and respectable that it was produced and promoted by a government-funded radio station. You’d almost get the impression that, as the website Gates of Vienna suggested, the Dutch state is channeling Henry II: “Who will rid me of this turbulent blond?”
There’s no shortage of volunteers. In the Low Countries, a disturbing pattern has emerged: Those who seek to analyze Islam outside the very narrow bounds of Eutopian political discourse wind up either banned (Belgium’s Vlaams Blok), forced into exile (Ayaan Hirsi Ali), or killed (Fortuyn, van Gogh). How speedily “the most tolerant country in Europe” has adopted “shoot the messenger” as an all-purpose cure-all for “Islamophobia.”
It’s not “ironic” that the most liberal country in western Europe should be the most advanced in its descent into a profoundly illiberal hell. It was entirely foreseeable, and all Geert Wilders is doing is stating the obvious: A society that becomes more Muslim will have less of everything else, including individual liberty.
I have no desire to end up living like Geert Wilders or Kurt Westergaard, never mind dead as Fortuyn and van Gogh. But I also wish to live in truth, as a free man, and I do not like the shriveled vision of freedom offered by the Dutch Openbaar Ministrie, the British immigration authorities, the Austrian courts, Canada’s “human rights” tribunals, and the other useful idiots of Islamic imperialism. So it is necessary for more of us to do what Ayaan Hirsi Ali recommends: share the risk. So that the next time a novel or a cartoon provokes a fatwa, it will be republished worldwide and send the Islamic enforcers a message: Killing one of us won’t do it. You’d better have a great credit line at the Bank of Jihad because you’ll have to kill us all.
As Geert Wilders says of the Muslim world’s general stagnation, “It’s the culture, stupid.” And our culture is already retreating into pre-emptive capitulation, and into a crimped, furtive, (Blair again) subterranean future. As John Milton wrote in his Areopagitica of 1644, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience.” It is a tragedy that Milton’s battles have to be re-fought three-and-a-half centuries on, but the Western world is shuffling into a psychological bondage of its own making. Geert Wilders is not ready to surrender without exercising his right to know, to utter, and to argue freely — in print, on screen, and at the ballot box. We should cherish that spirit, while we can.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. This article is adapted from his foreword to Geert Wilders’ Marked for Death: Islam’s War against the West and Me.