Where would we be without the Netherlands? In its 17th-century golden age, it helped pioneer capitalism, individual liberty, and peaceful religious diversity. Even today, it punches far above its weight both economically and culturally. Yet this country of just under 17 million people has also been at the forefront of the single most disastrous multinational policy of our time: the post-war decision to take in hordes of unvetted immigrants from the Muslim world.
This big-hearted but soft-headed folly (in which the general public had no say) involved several catastrophically misguided assumptions: that people born and bred under deeply corrupt political systems would, upon finding themselves in a staggeringly generous welfare state, seek out jobs, work hard, and contribute to the economy rather than set about fleecing the government; that people whose native cultures were characterized by sexual repression, sexual inequality, and sexual violence could quickly and easily assimilate into one of the planet’s most peaceable, equitable, and sexually liberated societies; and, above all, that devout believers in Islam who had never in their lives questioned the doctrine of jihad, the wickedness of Jews, the subordinate status of infidels, and the justness of punishing apostasy and homosexuality with death (and who, if literate, might never have read any book other than the Koran) could become proud, law-abiding citizens of a diverse and sophisticated secular democracy.
No, the post-war immigrant wave wasn’t a total mess. Today, Sikhs and Hindus in the U.K. are more productive and prosperous, on average, than ethnic Britons; in the Netherlands, residents who trace their roots to the former Dutch colonies of Indonesia and Suriname have proven, by and large, to be success stories. The same can’t be said, however, about Dutch Turks and Arabs, above all Moroccans, who formed — and, for the most part, continue to live in — claustrophobic sharia enclaves marked by high unemployment; low levels of integration: such formerly exotic phenomena as female genital mutilation, forced cousin marriages, and “honor killings”; and a profound contempt for infidel society, upon which its young male residents have inflicted growing levels of brutal crime. (A 2011 government report found that 40 percent of Dutch Moroccans between ages twelve and 24 had been arrested, fined, charged, or accused of a crime in the previous five years — a striking statistic, given the reluctance of many victims to report crimes and of many police officers to take aggressive action in Muslim communities.) As elsewhere in Europe, secular Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, ex-Muslims, and others who left the Islamic world precisely because they wished to escape sharia and live in freedom have found that their own rights are of less interest to authorities than the demands of patriarchal religious and community leaders.
Yet even as Islam in the Netherlands grew apace — both Amsterdam and Rotterdam are now about 25 percent Muslim (by comparison, the figure for the U.S. is only 1 percent) — precious few Dutch officials and media commentators dared to address the issue. The result?
First, the brief, meteoric political career of Pim Fortuyn, whose no-holds-barred criticism of Islam won him immense support and brought him tantalizingly close to the premiership prior to his murder on May 6, 2002 (the country’s first peacetime political assassination since 1672).
Second, the grisly murder, on November 2, 2004, of writer and director Theo van Gogh, whose short film Submission, about Islam’s abuse of women, had outraged his Dutch-Moroccan jihadist killer, Mohammed Bouyeri — who, in a note stuck to Van Gogh’s corpse with a knife, vowed that the Netherlands and America, too, would soon be brought down.
Third, the successful effort by the political establishment to anathematize Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch-Somali member of the parliament who had quit Islam after 9/11 and become an eloquent critic of her former faith — and who, in 2006, emigrated to the U.S., where she has remained a powerful voice on the subject.
And fourth, the rise of parliament member Geert Wilders, who, after being expelled from the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (or VVD, in its Dutch abbreviation) in 2004 for his “extreme” views on Islam, formed the Freedom party (PVV). For the Dutch establishment, Wilders has been public enemy No. 1 ever since. On several occasions, he’s been called on the carpet by intelligence, security, and Ministry of Justice officials who’ve demanded that he moderate his anti-Islamic language. In 2008, a coalition of political, business, academic, and religious leaders conspired unsuccessfully to freeze him out of the public square. (“Geert Wilders,” said its leader, “is evil, and evil has to be stopped.”)
Although Wilders is thoroughly persuasive in his insistence that his opposition to Islam is rooted in a devotion to individual liberty, free speech, freedom of religion, women’s equality, and gay rights, the Dutch media have routinely labeled him “far right,” and foreign reporters (some of whom don’t know any better, and some of whom do) have echoed this misrepresentation. Because of death threats, he’s lived with bodyguards around the clock since 2004. In 2009, he was briefly banned from the U.K. He’s twice been put on trial, essentially for violating limits on free expression. The first time, in 2011, he was acquitted; last December, he was found guilty.
His crime? He asked supporters at a political rally whether they wanted more or less of the European Union. They shouted back: “Less!” Did they want more or less of the Labor party? “Less!” And, last, did they want more or fewer Moroccans? “Fewer!” No, it wasn’t the most delicate way of raising the issue, nor one that was fair to every individual Moroccan. But Wilders has never taken the delicate approach. In the Netherlands, that probably wouldn’t work. The country has long run on the principle that the only way to manage a small, ideologically diverse, and conflict-shy democratic country is to seek, patiently and respectfully, to hammer out a national consensus on every issue — a consensus with which every segment of the populace will be happy. This approach worked pretty well generations ago, when Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and nonbelievers alike aspired to live and let live under a secular government. But when pious Muslims who buy into classical sharia lock, stock, and barrel become part of the mix, this kind of consensus is impossible unless the non-Muslims are willing to sacrifice major tenets of democracy on the altar of sharia.
Many leading Dutch figures have, indeed, demonstrated a willingness to make just such a sacrifice. Job Cohen, while mayor of Amsterdam from 2001 to 2010, proposed that, in the name of social harmony, Dutch authorities let Muslim men conduct their marital relations in accordance with sharia law — meaning that they should be allowed to have intercourse with their wives at will, to beat them if they resisted, or, presumably, to do even worse to them if they ventured outside of the home with their heads uncovered or (heaven forbid) exchanged a friendly word with an infidel male.
Dutch author Ian Buruma agreed, calling in his book Murder in Amsterdam (2006) for an “accommodation with . . . Muslims” that would involve allowing “orthodox Muslims” to “consciously discriminate against their women.” (Writing about Buruma’s book in The New York Review of Books, British intellectual Timothy Garton Ash approved.) Then there’s Piet Hein Donner, who was the Dutch minister of justice from 2002 to 2006. When a 2006 poll found that 63 percent of Dutchmen viewed Islam as “incompatible with modern European life,” Donner’s reaction was to repudiate their implicit rejection of Islamic law and to look forward, sanguinely, to a time when Muslims would form the majority of the Dutch population: “If two-thirds of all Dutchmen wanted to introduce sharia tomorrow,” he insisted, “it would be a disgrace to say, ‘This is not permitted.’”
As it happened, while Dutch elites were embracing appeasement in this pusillanimous fashion, Islam was dramatically transforming the Netherlands — especially its major cities and many of its mid-sized ones — in ways that have made it, among much else, more dangerous for women, for gays, and for Jews. Often it has seemed that Wilders is the only public figure talking frankly about any of this. During the last couple of years, consequently, the PVV has risen in the polls even as support for the Labor party, the longtime powerhouse of the Left, has almost totally collapsed. Meanwhile, in response to Wilders’s growing strength, the VVD (whose leader, Mark Rutte, is the current prime minister, heading up a VVD/PvdA coalition cabinet) has proffered watered-down versions of the PVV’s proposed immigration reforms. As the Netherlands closes in on its March 15 parliamentary elections, however, the PVV and VVD are neck and neck.
Late February brought a shock: A member of Wilders’s security team, a Dutch Moroccan whom the government identified only by the Kafkaesque name “Faris K.,” was arrested for having possibly shared confidential information with a jihadist group — the very possibility of which, needless to say, only underscores the grim realism and urgency of Wilders’s message. At this writing, all that has been established for certain is that in 2007, Faris was investigated for criminal ties, and his brother Mohammed was dismissed from the Utrecht police force for leaking state secrets to lawbreakers.
A victory at the polls by the PVV would amount to a third earth-shaking populist rejection of a leading Western nation’s political establishment.
“It was really crazy to include a man with such a history on a police team where he was indirectly responsible for Wilders’s security,” veteran Dutch journalist Carel Brendel told me by e-mail. “This is the more worrying as the Brussels terror attacks showed that criminals and jihadists sometimes work together.” But such craziness is standard practice in the Netherlands, where authorities still hesitate to institute sensible safeguards for fear of being considered racist.
So what will happen on March 15? In the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump (both of which Wilders applauded), a victory at the polls by the PVV would amount to a third earth-shaking populist rejection of a leading Western nation’s political establishment. Yet given the number of major parties in the Netherlands (no fewer than eleven are represented in the parliament), and given the flat-out refusal of every last one of them ever to form a government with the PVV, it’s extremely unlikely that Wilders will end up as prime minister.
Hans Moll, a former journalist for the newspaper NRC Handelsblad, tells me that as bad as things have gotten in Europe, most Dutch voters still haven’t been traumatized enough to shake off their deep-rooted pragmatism and will therefore “grant the VVD another chance.” Brendel agrees, stating flatly that Wilders won’t be a part of the next government “and he knows it.” They may be right. Which would be sad news, for another VVD victory will amount, at best, to a postponement of the necessary and inevitable — and, at worst, to a failure to grasp one last opportunity to rescue Dutch liberty before it’s too late.