Contrary to popular belief, I don’t like to be nasty to people. While it is certainly true that I have a pugnacious side to my nature, I am a generally peaceful and conflict-averse individual. The day that I departed the Netherlands also happened to be election day (I somehow timed my departure from my brief trip to the UK to coincide with their election as well). In this election, Geert Wilders’ party, the Party for Freedom (Dutch pronounciation – partee for de fry-hide) won 24 seats, up from 9 in the previous election, making him non-trivially powerful in a parliament where government is formed by coalitions of many small parties. Geert is a particularly interesting figure because he is regarded as controversial owing to his strong anti-Muslim stance. Recently discussions I’ve had with friends who live in the Netherlands has revealed that part of his popularity stems from his perceived straight-talking nature, and because he says things that “everyone is thinking, but is too afraid to say”. Of course, most of these things turn my stomach, so I’m going to take this opportunity to read between the lines for all of those out there who have either been too lazy or too stupid to do so yet.
First off, this guy’s a fucking idiot. Unfortunately, he’s an idiot in a way that isn’t easy for ordinary people to detect, which makes him that very worst kind of idiot – the type that people take seriously. Sadly, these types are increasingly common in politics. The main thrust of what he says basically revolves around some rabid anti-Muslim sentiment with a bit of racism thrown in. This is really the main sticking point for me – regardless of what he actually says, and how sound his policies may sound, what he’s basically saying is “I am a racist, a xenophobe, and I hate Muslims” (even though he has been known to explicitly state the opposite, I’ll believe him when he gives me good reason to). If you vote for him, you are, by extension, saying the same things. A lot of people, at this point, accuse me of being some kind of liberal, leftie, hippie, apologist, appeasement nutcase who’s too afraid to face up to the horrible truth, or other such nonsense like that. While I would certainly agree that I am fairly left-leaning, I’m certainly no bleeding heart, and I’m not afraid of facing the truth. In this case though, I would say that I have a clearer perception of the truth than most.
What he’s basically saying is “I am a racist, a xenophobe, and I hate Muslims”. If you vote for him, you are by extension, saying the same things.
There is a very real issue here; that of the identity of a nation. These old white guys, who are used to being in charge of everything, feel threatened by all of these very different-looking, and different-behaving people. They don’t like their culture, customs, habits, and especially their religion. They don’t want them coming into their churches, their houses, or (god forbid) marrying their daughters. Obviously, enacting divisive social policies is going to fix all of this. If the concept of the Dutch national identity is based on some kind of ideal of a homogenized society based around a single religion, ethnicity, and culture, then obviously there is a problem. I would go so far as to say that, without realizing it at a conscious level, a large number of Dutch truly do perceive their national identity in those terms. There’s nothing very wrong with that, it just means that society needs to grow up a little bit and realize that things that are ordinarily viewed as traditions, and norms, are not immovable, fixed concepts that have been around for time immemorial (which is what conservatives always seem to imply with their “traditional values” nonsense), but they are dynamic and increasingly-rapidly changing things.
There are also secondary issues. Like the freedom to practice religion in general, and whether or not we can really place value judgements on the validity of religions in the world today. Various friends of mine assert that there is something fundamental about Islam that makes it more dangerous, or in some way inferior to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Without going into too much detail of the arguments for or against religion in general, as opposed to a completely secular society, and having read all of the Bible and most of the Koran, as well as religious texts of various other major world religions, I would say that none are particularly superior to any of the others. Wilders once said that Muslims should tear out half the Koran before coming to the Netherlands, which may be a valid point, but a great deal of the Bible would have to be removed as well if we were to be consistent in our application of religious discrimination.
The real problem is that while most of the very visible Christian extremism in the world today involves crazy people in the US getting their knickers in a knot over gay marriage and trying to repeal Roe vs Wade (and Sarah Palin, did I mention her?), the visible examples of Islamic extremism involve large fiery explosions. There are various reasons that the extremism has taken on the form that it has, and most are related to the fairly random distribution of wealth and, in particular, wealth inequality that exists around the world today. It is my opinion (and you’ll find that I have very strong opinions about this) that religion, at least as far as the belief in God is concerned, has absolutely nothing to do with the reprehensible behaviour of those who supposedly act on their God’s behalf. Religion has always been a convenient tool for wealthy, powerful people to use poor people to kill other poor people for profit; in all religions.
But the dirty world of politics is diluting these important issues. The “debate” isn’t about what’s really going on at all. It’s posturing about terrorism and national security. It is playing to the politics of fear, because using fear is a much easier way to control people than using rationality. Aristotle recommended two parts logos, one part ethos, and one part pathos, but modern politicians seem only to ever use pathos in their rhetoric; it’s cheap. The slightest logical scrutiny of the arguments involved quickly reveals them to be quite nonsensical. But why should that matter to the electorate? They don’t want to hear that there is a very important difference between the statements “all terrorists are Muslims” and “all Muslims are terrorists”; no, they want to believe that their scary brown neighbors who speak a different language are dangerous but it’s ok because the government is going to do something about it, thereby improving national security.
Everyone seems to want an excuse to be nasty to everyone else, so a religion, and now anti-a-religion has become the tool of choice. The power-hungry are simply trying to create an pitched battle where only small misunderstandings exist. Perhaps they truly believe all of what they say, in which case they are simply very stupid, but I don’t buy that; I think they know what they are doing, and that is more morally reprehensible than any of the crimes that they accuse the “other” of committing. But we must not allow ourselves to be sucked into this ridiculous game of political point-scoring based on ill-founded emotional appeals. Very real and complex issues that require considerable thought and introspection are being simplified and externalized and one of the world’s major religions is being used as a scapegoat. We could be level-headed about this, or we could slip into blame-game finger-pointing reminiscent of the world of playground bullying that most of us (but not all politicians) grow out of. People don’t want to think, and they’re giving that responsibility to their “leaders”. The world “leader” seems to imply that some kind of progress is being made, but in the case of Geert Wilders, anyone foolish enough to follow him is only being lead off a very steep cliff.
Wilders calls his party the party for freedom, but I say he is offering the opposite. Aung San Suu Kyi once said, “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear”. If you really want a free country, the first thing you must do is free your mind from fear, and the first thing that the Dutch should do, is free itself from Geert Wilders.