Opinion

Financial Times Smears Netherlands’ Rutte as Bigot

The newspaper selectively quotes from a debate to make it appear Rutte said the opposite of what he meant.

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 5, 2016 (European Parliament)

In an hour-long election debate with Geert Wilders on Thursday night, Prime Minister Mark Rutte took his far-right opponent to task for treating nonnative Dutch as second-class citizens. He pointed out that Wilders wants to ban the Quran, close mosques and deny voting rights to dual citizens.

Because Morocco won’t allow even the descendants of Moroccan nationals to renounce their citizenship, Wilders’ proposal would disenfranchise some 400,000 Dutch citizens, including the speaker of parliament, Khadija Arib.

It is a plainly racist proposal, and Rutte called Wilders out on it — thrice. He asked Wilders to consider the effect of his rhetoric on the hundreds of thousands of Dutch Muslims of good will, not in the least children, some of whom Rutte teaches civics and sociology every week on a middle school in an immigrant neighborhood of The Hague.

He demanded an apology from Wilders for his infamous promise to voters in 2014 that he would arrange for there to be “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands. Far from apologize, Wilders said he wanted fewer Somalians and Syrians as well, and he accused the liberal party leader of presiding over the “destruction” of the Netherlands by admitting so many non-Western immigrants.

Rutte, once again, ruled out forming a coalition government with Wilders’ Freedom Party.

Here is how the Financial Times summarizes the exchange:

Rutte … felt compelled to insist that he wasn’t in fact a Muslim — twice. Ahead of the debate, Rutte told [de] Volkskrant he was ready to seal Dutch borders in the face of another EU migrant crisis and declared the country’s values “nonnegotiable” for foreigners.

Rutte’s preternatural ability to pander to the far right is part of the reason he is a shoo-in to keep his job for the next four years.

I don’t know if the author, Mehreen Khan, speaks Dutch, but it doesn’t sound like she listened to the debate.

Bias

I’m not an unbiased observer. I’m a member of Rutte’s liberal VVD and will vote for him on Wednesday.

But this isn’t just a question of interpretation. This is about deliberately picking out a few of Rutte’s statements, quoting them out of context and making it appear he argued the opposite of what he meant!

When Rutte said he wasn’t a Muslim, he followed up those remarks by saying Muslims should enjoy the same religious freedoms in the Netherlands as other faith groups and that even he, as a non-Muslim but prime minister of one million Muslims, was offended by Wilders’ rhetoric.

Rutte said he would consider closing the Dutch border in the event of another migration crisis, but in the context of wanting to avoid such a scenario, and he criticized Wilders for proposing to seal the Dutch border permanently by pulling out of the EU.

Values

The part about “nonnegotiable” Dutch values is correct; values like religious freedom for Muslims and freedom of speech for Wilders, who has lived under constant and government-funded security for fifteen years to protect him from the death threats of Muslim fanatics. I don’t believe Rutte was trying to pander to the far right. At least to me, as a fellow VVD party member, this is about defending what we believe in: an open and free society.

I don’t think that’s incompatible with Islam. I do think it’s incompatible with some versions of political Islam if it would deny the equality of men and women, if it would deny full rights to Christians, gays and other minorities, if it would subordinate secular to religious law, outlaw cartoons and muzzle a firebrand like Wilders.

Khan may disagree with some of those liberal values, disagree they are liberal values or disagree that they should be nonnegotiable. But to imply that Rutte only speaks up for them when he is trying to steal voters from the far right (almost none of whom are persuadable, just 3 percent of voters swing between the two parties) is extremely ungenerous and unfair.

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