By Altaf Moti
The 2023 general election in the Netherlands has resulted in a shocking and unprecedented outcome: the far-right populist Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, has won 37 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, becoming the largest party for the first time. Wilders, who is known for his anti-Islam and anti-immigration views, has celebrated his victory as a “historic moment” and a “revolution” for the Netherlands. He has also vowed to form a coalition government with other parties that are willing to cooperate with him, which is not easy as most of them have ruled out working with him due to his extreme and divisive views.
Wilders’ political and religious priorities
Wilders’ views on Islam and immigration are not only controversial but also radical and discriminatory. He has called for a ban on the Quran which he compares to Mein Kampf, the closure of all mosques and Islamic schools, the withdrawal from the European Union and the stop of all immigration from Muslim countries. He claims that Islam is a violent and totalitarian ideology that threatens the freedom and identity of the Netherlands. He has also been convicted of inciting discrimination for leading a chant that he wanted “fewer, fewer, fewer” Moroccans in the Netherlands.
Wilders’ political and religious priorities are not limited to Islam and immigration but also include other issues such as health care, social security and national sovereignty. He argues that the Netherlands should withdraw from the European Union or at least hold a referendum on the Netherlands leaving the EU. He believes that the EU is a bureaucratic and undemocratic institution that erodes the sovereignty and security of the Netherlands. He also opposes the EU’s policies on migration, climate change and human rights. He advocates for improving the health services and social security of the Dutch people especially the elderly and the low-income groups. He claims that he represents the interests of the ordinary Dutch citizens who have been neglected by the political elite. He also defends the Judeo-Christian values and culture of the Netherlands, which he believes are under attack by Islam and multiculturalism. He also supports the state of Israel and its right to exist. He says that he is not against Muslims as people but against Islam as an ideology. He claims that he respects the freedom of religion but not the freedom of ideology.
The fear of Islamophobia among Dutch Muslims
The election results have sparked fear and anxiety among the Dutch Muslim community who constitute about 6 percent of the population, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan origin. They worry that Wilders will implement his agenda of banning the Quran, closing mosques and Islamic schools and stopping immigration from Muslim countries. They also fear that they will face more discrimination and violence from Wilders’ supporters, who view them as a threat to the Dutch values, culture and security. They also feel marginalized and excluded from the mainstream political and social discourse as they are often portrayed as a homogeneous and problematic group rather than as diverse and individual citizens.
The fear of Islamophobia among Dutch Muslims is not unfounded as they have experienced it for decades especially since the rise of the radical right in the political scene. They have faced discrimination and prejudice in various aspects of their lives such as employment, education, housing and health care. They have also encountered verbal and physical abuse, vandalism, and hate crimes, especially after terrorist attacks in Europe or controversial statements by Wilders. They have also lived in segregated and isolated neighborhoods where they have less contact and interaction with the non-Muslim majority. They have also been vulnerable to radicalization and extremism as they have faced social and economic marginalization, religious and cultural discrimination, and political and ideological polarization.
The challenges and obstacles to integration and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Netherlands
The fear of Islamophobia among Dutch Muslims is not the only emotion that they have as they also have other emotions such as defiance, resistance, support and sympathy. Some Dutch Muslims feel defiant and resistant to Wilders and his views as they refuse to accept his legitimacy and authority. They vow to fight against his agenda and to defend their democracy and values. They also seek to mobilize and organize themselves and other minorities to challenge Wilders and his party in the political and social arena. They hope that other parties and people will join them in their struggle and solidarity.
Some Dutch Muslims feel support and sympathy for Wilders and his views, as they agree with some of his economic and social policies. They believe that Wilders represents the interests of the ordinary Dutch citizens, who have been neglected by the political elite. They also think that Wilders has moderated his positions on Islam and immigration, and that he respects the freedom of religion, but not the freedom of ideology. They hope that Wilders will improve the health services and social security of the Dutch people, especially the elderly and the low-income groups.
However, the emotions and opinions of Dutch Muslims are not enough to overcome the challenges and obstacles that they face in integrating and cooperating with the non-Muslim majority in the Netherlands. They also need to overcome the barriers and biases that exist in the legal and institutional framework and mechanisms that protect and promote their rights and interests. They also need to overcome the segregation and isolation that exist in the social and spatial structure and dynamics that shape their lives and interactions.
The examples and prospects of integration and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Netherlands
There are examples and prospects of integration and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Netherlands that show that the situation is not hopeless but rather hopeful. There are examples of successful integration and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims in various fields and sectors such as education, health, culture, sports, and civil society. There are also prospects of dialogue and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims in various platforms and forums such as media, academia, religion, and politics.
Some examples of successful integration and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Netherlands are:
– The online hotline Meld Islamofobie, which was launched in 2015 by a group of Muslim women activists to document and combat cases of Islamophobia and discrimination in the Netherlands. The hotline also provides legal and emotional support to the victims, and raises awareness and education among the public. The hotline works in cooperation with other civil society organizations such as the “Collective against Islamophobia and Discrimination” (CTID) and the “Anti-Discrimination Bureau” (ADB).
– The Muslim political party NIDA, which was founded in 2013 by a group of young Muslims who wanted to represent the interests and values of the Muslim community in the Netherlands. The party is inspired by the Islamic concept of nida, which means “call” or “voice”. The party advocates for social justice, environmental sustainability, and interreligious dialogue. The party has won seats in the municipal councils of Rotterdam and The Hague and has formed coalitions with other progressive parties, such as the GreenLeft and the Labour Party.
– “The Turkish-Dutch Friendship Foundation” (TNSV), which was established in 2004 by a group of Turkish and Dutch professionals who wanted to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between the two communities. The foundation organizes cultural, educational and social activities such as language courses, seminars, workshops, festivals and exchange programs. The foundation also supports projects that benefit both the Turkish and the Dutch society, such as the “Turkish-Dutch Business Forum”, the “Turkish-Dutch Health Network”, and the “Turkish-Dutch Women’s Platform”.
– The “Moroccan-Dutch Dialogue Platform” (MDP), which was created in 2006 by a group of Moroccan and Dutch leaders who wanted to improve the relations and integration of the Moroccan community in the Netherlands. The platform facilitates dialogue and consultation between the Moroccan and the Dutch authorities, institutions and organizations on issues such as education, employment, security, and citizenship. The platform also encourages the participation and empowerment of the Moroccan youth, women, and entrepreneurs and supports initiatives that foster social cohesion and diversity.
Some prospects of dialogue and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Netherlands are:
– The media outlets that provide factual and balanced information and analysis about Islam and Muslims in the Netherlands such as their history, diversity, challenges, and contributions. They also seek to raise awareness and understanding of the issues and problems that Muslims face in the Dutch society, such as discrimination, marginalization, and radicalization. They also highlight the positive stories and examples of integration and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims. For instance, the article by Jan Keulen from Middle East Eye reports on the increasing Islamophobia and fear among Dutch Muslims, but also on the initiatives and efforts to counter it, such as the online hotline “Meld Islamofobie” and the Muslim political party NIDA.