Dutch Anti-Islam Politician Taps Into Resurgent Nationalism

Geert Wilders frames his opposition to both Europe and immigration as part of a nationalist campaign.

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders listens to a court proceeding in Amsterdam, June 23, 2011
Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders listens to a court proceeding in Amsterdam, June 23, 2011 (Reuters/Robin Utrecht)

Dutch politician Geert Wilders called on Sunday for a “new patriotism” to simultaneously “liberate the nations of Europe” from the European Union and fend off what he considers the Islamization of Western culture.

While the Freedom Party leader still peppered a speech in Los Angeles with familiar anti-Islam rhetoric, comparing the religion to a totalitarian ideology, he notably framed his resistance to immigration from non-Western countries as well as the Netherlands’ European Union membership as part of a nationalism that he believes is resurgent across the continent.

Wilders specifically mentioned France’s Front national, Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement in Italy, the United Kingdom Independence Party and Euroskeptic former Czech president Václav Klaus as allies in his effort to halt political integration in Europe and abandon the euro.

While there are considerable differences between these groups — Front national, for instance, is protectionist whereas UKIP favors free trade; Grillo is a leftist who, like Klaus, has little to say about immigration whereas the others oppose it — they do all tap into a resurgent nationalism which Wilders argued had been suppressed by elites who mistakingly believed it caused the Second World War. He urged Europeans to redeem the nation state.

The spirit of a people cannot flourish outside the body of the nation state. The nation state is the political body in which we live. We must preserve and cherish it. So that we can pass on to our children our national identity, our democracy, our liberty.

The European Union and Islam equally threaten the European nation state, he added. The former because it “is built on a negation of democracy”; the latter because it doesn’t conform to Europe’s Judeo-Christian and humanist traditions.

Wilders’ Freedom Party, which outpolled both the ruling Labor and liberal parties in a recent survey, has emphasized its Euroskepticism since the Dutch had to participate in bailing out profligate member states of the currency union in the Mediterranean while their own economy contracted, necessitating budget cuts and tax increases. Wilders first tried to connect the two by arguing that European policies prevented the Netherlands from curtailing immigration from Muslim countries, something he said he came to realize while his party backed Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s first government with the Christian Democrats which failed to persuade other European countries to change the bloc’s migration rules.

The latest approach looks more promising. It puts Wilders’ party, which has otherwise defied conventional labels — it is usually described as far right even as it cherishes welfare state programs and has embraced Keynesian economics — in the national conservative end of the political spectrum where there is virtually no competition. Rutte’s pro-business party also campaigns on law and order issues but is economically as well as socially liberal. The Christian Democrats have a strong leftist minority in their party that fiercely criticized their alliance with Wilders in the last government. Neither is particularly Euroskeptic.

If Wilders manages this transformation, he might expand his Freedom Party’s appeal to include a right-wing constituency that has so far regarded him as a firebrand whose populist policy proposals seemed ideologically incoherent. That would also help make it a permanent force in Dutch politics, now doubtful given Wilders’ resistance to party democratization and his struggles in finding respectable candidates.

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