THE defeat of the racist Freedom Party of Islamophobe Geert Wilders in the Dutch general election Wednesday sends a message far beyond the borders of the Netherlands. That message is that bigotry really can be defeated at the ballot box and that the populist anti-immigration tide is not unstoppable.
When it came down to it Dutch voters saw the appalling direction in which their country’s politics were being taken and drew back in horror. Wilders, however, has warned that Holland has not seen the last of him. His “patriotic spring” would still happen. The serpent of race hate is not to be killed with a single blow.
But this electoral result is not entirely good news. Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD party lost ten seats while the Freedom Party gained five. Wilders’ anti-migrant message clearly did have an effect. Moreover Rutte’s campaigning saw him make dangerous accommodations with the race-hate policies of the Freedom Party. He insisted that he too would be tough on immigration and as importantly on the insistence that Muslims living in the Netherlands needed to do a better job of integrating in Dutch society. It remains to be seen the extent to which he puts any of this dangerous rhetoric into practice.
Wilders will be seeking the first opportunity to declare that the Dutch have been betrayed by Rutte and his promises. Decent voters who believe in toleration and welcome the benefits of multiculturalism will be no less concerned that Rutte will actually implement some of his more objectionable anti-immigrant measures.
But for the moment, the defeat of Wilders when he was widely predicted to do far better at the polls, even to have his Freedom Party emerge as the largest single bloc in the new parliament, will give pause for thought to Europe’s other racist parties. The French have elections in May and the Germans in September. The greatest Islamophobic danger undoubtedly comes from Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France.
Like Wilders, Le Pen’s xenophobic policies embrace dislike of the EU and its free movement of labor as well as a barely concealed promise to crack down on migrants, for which read Muslims, many of whom have long held French nationality and are proud of being French citizens. One of the saddest elements of the National Front campaign has been the publicity given to Muslims who say that they support the party’s planned ban on further immigration of fellow Muslims. These people should be ashamed of their betrayal of decent values.
The one big difference between France and the Netherlands along with Germany, is that the French are in an economic hole whereas Dutch and German voters have little to complain about in terms of their prosperity. It is the economic card that Le Pen and her party will play upon. And with every complaint about French unemployment will be the implicit message that there would be more jobs for ethnic French people were it not for the presence of immigrants, both from the Muslim world and from elsewhere in the EU.
But for the moment all who are dedicated to combating race hatred and Islamophobia must take some comfort in the humiliation of the disgusting Wilders by Dutch voters. Had he won to the degree feared, his success would have given alarming momentum to European bigotry.