Mark Davis profiles anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who's come from the fringe to have a deciding vote over who governs the Netherlands.
Our story last week on the so-called Ground Zero mosque in downtown New York generated a lot of comments out there in viewer-land and this week on that score - the latest edition of 'Time' magazine has been asking a very pointed question. Given the nature of the debate thus far - Dateline would have thought the answer to that question was becoming obvious. Well, the temperature in what is already a heated issue is set to go right up! In two weeks time, on September 11, to be precise, controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders is planning to actually be at Ground Zero in the Big Apple to spread his unapologetically anti-Islam message. Not too long ago, Wilders was seen as little more than a right-wing racist crank. But, when Mark Davis recently caught up with him in Amsterdam, he found that the Dutch, like this country, as we speak, were in the throes of cobbling together a new government and the divisive Geert Wilders could well be the kingmaker.
REPORTER: Mark Davis
It is a fine day in Amsterdam and a very Dutch homecoming parade is under way. The city has come out in force for its defeated World Cup team - the best of the Dutch spirit and national pride is on display. But there is a darker side of Dutch nationalism that is being played out here right now and it is anything but in the background.
TV COMMERCIAL, GEERT WILDERS (Translation): Every day new planes arrive - filled with people looking for a lucky break. The sluice gates are still wide open - headscarves, burkas, minarets, welfare dependency and crime;. It does not end. What Holland needs now is a holt to immigration of people from Islamic countries.
Geert Wilders' time has come. A long-time politician, it seems he has found a key message that is hitting the right notes for the Dutch electorate. TV commercials are often overly dramatic but in person, Wilders can make his ads seem almost subtle.
GEERT WILDERS, POLITICIAN, PVV: Our culture which is based on Christianity, Judaism and Humanism, is better than the retarded Islamic culture and this is tough to say, but it is true. We should defend who we are and get rid of this cultural relativism because at the end of the day it will kill us.
REPORTER: You can be proud of your own culture but why use terms like 'retarded'? I mean it is a deeply offensive term, is it not?
GEERT WILDERS: If it is true, I don't care if people are offended. My aim is not to offend people. We don't have anything against Muslims if people behave according to our laws.
REPORTER: But you do. You do have something against Muslims. How can you say that on one hand, you don't want any of them here, and then say you have got nothing against Muslims? You have got a lot against Muslims.
GEERT WILDERS: No, we don't have. I even acknowledge the fact that the majority of the Muslims in the Western world and certainly also in the Netherlands today, are law-abiding people. But still, the more Islam would come to our free society, the more is the Islamic culture will become dominant and the less freedom we will get.
And there is good news for the multicultural cabinet;..
In parliament since 1998, Wilders has been largely a fringe figure.
GEERT WILDERS (Translation): We have a dog tax, we have a flight tax, a goods tax, why not - as my first proposal - the introduction of a headscarf tax. A head rag tax - I would call it! Just once a year, Chairman, pick up a permit and fork out 1000 euros - I say the polluter pays.
A figure easily mocked by the major parties.
GEERT WILDERS (Translation): The cabinet..
WOMAN IN CABINET (Translation): This is too absurd to reply to, but I am also for a tax on peroxide hair - Which is also bad for our environment.
But no-one is laughing now. In June national elections, Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, against all predictions, achieved a stunning result. The biggest party in the Netherlands won 31 seats - Geert Wilders' party won 24 and polling this week suggests that he now leads the most popular party in the Netherlands.
GEERT WILDERS (Translation): Better security, less crime, less immigration and less Islam is what Holland has voted for.
Wilders has moved from the fringe of politics to being a kingmaker in the current coalition negotiations.
GEERT WILDERS: The Netherlands is a democracy. We won fair and square in a transparent, democratic way and 1.5 million people in Holland made us the biggest winner of the Dutch elections a few weeks ago.
REPORTER: Why? What do you put it down to?
GEERT WILDERS: We are not part of the political elite. We are a new political party. Second, we are the only party that really says as strong as we do that we are fed up with the mass immigration from non-Western countries - or more especially from Islamic countries.
GEERT WILDERS TV COMMERCIAL (Translation): Come on Fleur;;. As you can see, it is not always easy to row against the tide - but things are going really well with the PVV - More people are supporting us - so if you want to help us forward us an extensive letter of application with your CV.. firstname.lastname@example.org
Like him or not, Wilders' rise in the past 12 months has been spectacular. This was his first TV ad when the election was announced. It wasn't announcing policies - it was a call for candidates. A call answered by scores of like-minded citizens - many now parliamentarians who shared his views about ending all Islamic migration to the Netherlands, and they hope, to all of Europe.
GEERT WILDERS: Of course you have to use arguments, and I have a lot of arguments - a lot of facts - it is very difficult to make clear to the people that Islam is not just another leaf on the tree of religions. It is not to be compared with Christianity. It is a violent ideology like communism and fascism and we should deal with it that way. If we don't, at the end of the day, Islam will eat us.
When the election results were announced, every party declared that none of them would negotiate with Wilders.
GEERT WILDERS: I have now more than 50% of the vote. My party is the third-biggest party in the Dutch parliament. In the polls, we are by far the largest party in parliament and now so, believe me, if I really would be extreme, and the Netherlands is a tolerant country, I would have 0.02% of the vote.
But after two months of failed coalition talks in the Hague, Wilders' bloc has proven too tempting for the Liberals and the Christian Democrats. It is widely reported now that Wilders will form a government with them, next week. And there can be little doubt about what his policy demands will be.
GEERT WILDERS: We want to stop building more mosques. We don't want more Islamic symbolism in the Netherlands. We want the closure of Islamic schools.
A ban on the burqa and on the Koran among them;.and a rather bizarre immigration test that ensures that not only Muslims are blocked, but anyone tainted through association as well.
GEERT WILDERS: So if there is a political will;.It will be possible and we will all benefit from it.
REPORTER: I can accept you clearly have problems with Islam but it is in the definition, isn't it? And it's in the implementation. How do you bring in a rule that says you will have immigrants from around the world, but not if you are Muslim? Is there a form?
GEERT WILDERS: It's not, once again - our criteria is not whether you are Muslim or not. We say no immigration to everybody from Muslim countries. It could mean if you are not a Muslim and you come from Egypt, you are also not accepted.
REPORTER: I am a Christian from Lebanon, I am a Jew from Egypt;
GEERT WILDERS: From whatever country you are from, as long as it is an Islamic country, and the United Nations has a list what are the Islamic countries - a country where a 50% of the people are Muslim indeed - and those people from those countries are not allowed to come. So we are not saying that if you are Muslim, we are saying that if you come from that country, in reality it means that 99% of those people are Muslim indeed. I agree with that. But this is not the criteria.
In cities like Rotterdam, with large migrant populations, it can be an edgy moment to even raise Geert Wilders' name.
REPORTER: Do you feel under threat?
MAN: Yes, of course. Every Islam is getting threatened at this time. I see it actually like a fool who is talking, you know.
MAN 2: When Geert Wilders is in Rotterdam, and I see him, he is a dead ma
REPORTER: Well he might be, too.
To others, like local councillor Fatima Lamkarat, Wilders' victory inspires more fear than anger.
FATIMA LAMKARAT: They are so many voters that don't know the PVV, his party - that they want to ethnically reduce everybody in Holland - There are a lot of people who don't even read what he wants.
Fatima works as a social worker, mostly in the Muslim areas of Rotterdam and claims many of her clients and friends, all Dutch citizens, are considering leaving Holland.
WOMAN: I was really disappointed.
Disturbed - not so much by Wilders, but by the sudden affirmation of his views by so many Dutch.
WOMAN: If you watch TV, if you read the newspapers, you feel a little bit threatened.
FATIMA LAMKARAT: No matter of what you do, it is never enough. You just get fed up with that feeling. Because the message that Holland gives immigrants is you have to learn the language, you have to get an education, you have to get a job. Well, I did that, and still you tell me that I don't belong here. 'Verkijk is maar' in Dutch - 'Verkijk is maar?'
MAN 3: It is like a kick in the stomach, and you feel you start at one again. Let's be honest about this. His marketing team is brilliant.
The electoral verdict is in on Wilders and the reverberations are being felt across the migrant community. But next month, Wilders is facing another verdict that is potentially more threatening to his career.
GERARD SPONG, LAWYER: But this is a case in which I also see my personal opinions in it. But they are certain limits.
One of the Netherlands' most prominent lawyers, Gerard Spong, is leading an action to prosecute Wilders under Holland's strict hate-speech laws for comparing the Koran to 'Mein Kampf', amongst other things. It is no minor charge, carrying a possible jail term and a criminal conviction.
REPORTER: Is it appropriate to bring this sort of action against a man who essentially is a democrat?
GERARD SPONG: I don't care, also democrats can commit crimes and it is a crime in my opinion what he has done. So, in our laws it does not differ between democrats and not democrats. You are a criminal or not a criminal. That is the point.
REPORTER: You talk a lot about criminals but you could very soon be a criminal yourself.
GEERT WILDERS: Yes, unfortunately we have in the Netherlands hate speech laws. The maximum penalty is two years in jail for things I said about Islam as a leader of the biggest winner of the Dutch elections. This, of course, is ridiculous. So I am confident that I will be acquitted. But, hey, you never know.
GERARD SPONG: Everyone in this country - political leader or not - heading a big political party or not - everyone in this country is bound to our criminal code.
The prosecution is clearly weighing heavily on Wilders. Jail terms aside, a criminal conviction would make international travel to pursue his broader ambitions extremely difficult.
GEERT WILDERS: I would rather have 10 seats less in parliament, to be honest, and have no court case than have this court case. What will happen if I will be convicted? I am a parliamentarian and a convicted criminal because of a crazy hate speech law that we should have abolished centuries - decades ago.
But it seems there is no stopping Geert Wilders.
GEERT WILDERS (Translation): Naturalised citizens with dual nationality who are quilty of crime, like many of the Moroccan street-terrorists, must surrender their Dutch passports and leave the country.
Threats of prosecution haven't moderated his language. Nor, it seems, have death threats, which he receives constantly.
GEERT WILDERS: I pay a high price for it and in the process of fighting for freedom - my party's name is Fighting for Freedom - I have lost my own freedom almost for six years now. I am on 24-hour police protection and travelling around in armoured cars with a lot of police and I lived in prison cells with my wife - not as a criminal but to be protected in army barracks. Now I live in a safe house from the government. Unfortunately it continues.
Last month al-Qaeda circulated this slick magazine documenting the delights of murder and mayhem with Geert Wilders scoring special attention.
GEERT WILDERS: The threats are terrible and my personal life is hell but I cannot say it is worth it because then I would perhaps be an idiot but it will not stop me.
Wilders is not just an international target, he is looking for an international audience as well.
GEERT WILDERS, US SPEECH: These are dramatic times. The Europe you know is on the verge of collapsing. We are now witnessing profound changes that will forever alter Europe's destiny. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, all cultures are not equal. That Islam should be compared with other totalitarian ideologies like communism or fascism; Not one person from the Muslim countries should be allowed to immigrate to our societies any more;. We expel them - we tell them, "There is the door, you have to leave our societies."
Wilders has just announced he is forming a worldwide anti-Islamic organisation - visiting all Western countries, including Australia, to establish local chapters. This presentation to the Florida Security Council is his standard fare - part speech, part slide night.
GEERT WILDERS: It is an international struggle to defend our freedom and to stop Islam. We will work in many countries. It will be based in the US, and will focus on also many European countries. We will also visit Australia. We will try to help grassroots organisations to support this message and to also try to get some leverage on a political level. My mail box is full of letters and e-mails from Australia, from Canada, from Norway, from Taiwan, from everywhere, the people want to do something with this message and I believe we should give them the opportunity and some shelter.
In the weeks ahead, Wilders will be sworn into government, face a criminal trial and head to New York on September 11 to oppose the building of a mosque near the World Trade Centre.
GEERT WILDERS, US SPEECH: Ladies and gentlemen, we also have to stop the building of new mosques in our societies.
A visit to that will effectively be the launch of his international organisation. It is likely that September will be quite a month for Geert Wilders and probably the rest of us as well.
GEERT WILDERS, US SPEECH: We will never give in. We will never give up. We will never surrender. Thank you very much. Thank you.
GEORGE NEGUS: Mark Davis filming and reporting there in the Netherlands. And Mark has joined us in the studio. Mark, good to see you.
MARK DAVIS, VIDEO JOURNALIST: Hi, George.
GEORGE NEGUS: Fascinating stuff, to say the least.
MARK DAVIS: Quite a guy, one to watch, I think.
GEORGE NEGUS: You're not kidding. Looking at the notes, ironically. coincidentally, it's weird, to get up in the Dutch parliament and be the kingmaker that we were talking about, you actually need 76 seats out of 150.
MARK DAVIS: Exactly the same size parliament - same dilemma. Except he is sitting with 24 seats so that makes him a little bit more persuasive than our four independents and Green - It is a massive bloc, a massive bloc;
GEORGE NEGUS: A very different problem than Katter and Windsor and these other guys.
MARK DAVIS: Well, he makes Bob Katter look pretty relaxed, doesn't he?
GEORGE NEGUS: He does indeed. Can I ask you this? Is he a pathological Islamophobe, which he appears to be, or a political opportunist who realises that there is a place for this kind of ideology, this kind of politics.
MARK DAVIS: No, I am sure it is certainly heartfelt. I don't think it is opportunistic. It is opportunistic for people around him and clearly other people are riding this tide. He has had this message for some time. It was regarded as a fringe message but his time clearly has come and people are totally gravitating towards him.
GEORGE NEGUS: Not just in Holland, clearly.
MARK DAVIS: Not just in Holland. His ambition is very much international. He is almost - Holland is behind him - he is getting so many connections.
GEORGE NEGUS: He thinks he's bigger than that already?
MARK DAVIS: Undoubtedly. He has got a lot of support from America.
GEORGE NEGUS: Hence his visit to New York City to Ground Zero on September 11th. Now that is outright provocation.
MARK DAVIS: It will be explosive, I think. Part of the reason the American right-wing like him is he is able to say things that they can't. I mean, the Americans have been actually quite - they're prepared to bomb Muslims but they are then very measured in the language they use about Muslims at every level - even the right-wing institutes etcetera. They are more modest about how they refer to Muslims in their own country.
GEORGE NEGUS: Obama, of course, he is on the record as saying American freedom of religion as a tenet, it's a great schtick. If they want to put a mosque downtown, right on Ground Zero - that should be the case in America if it is the land of the free that it claims to be.
MARK DAVIS: Well, I think Americans hold that as one of their articles of truth - belief in religious freedom. And it has been tested through this whole conflict with the Islamic world. But this guy is able to throw the - lob the hand grenade that they don't wish to lob themselves.
GEORGE NEGUS: He can say things that Americans might even hesitate to say. One final thing before we go, because we are running out of time, he obviously is worried about that court case - that citing of hatred and discrimination. That could be a big problem for him. That could be the hand grenade that's lobbed in his pocket.
MARK DAVIS: Well he is not taking it lightly and it is not the prosecution as such or any jail term - if he receives one it would make him a hero in Holland. I think the problem for him is he really does want to travel. He does see this as an international war against -
GEORGE NEGUS: A worldwide the crusade.
MARK DAVIS: He won't get into other nations if he is carrying a criminal charge for hate speech.
GEORGE NEGUS: Fascinating stuff, and as you said we haven't heard the last of that bloke. That's for sure. Mark, thank you.
MARK DAVIS: Thanks, George
GEORGE NEGUS: And there's more about Geert Wilders on our website. And tell us what you think of the curious Mr Wilders or any of tonight's stories, for that matter at sbs.com.au/dateline.
Original Music composed by
Footage courtesy of Florida Security Council and PVV.
29th August 2010