Reactions to the anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders and his right-wing Freedom Party indicate how polarised Dutch society has become in recent years. An anti-racism organisation called Nederland Bekent Kleur (Look at the Person and not the Colour) has taken the initiative to set up a broad-based coalition to fight Mr Wilders’ policies.
Prominent Christian Democratic politician and former trade union leader Doekle Terpstra also denounced what they view as ugly trends in politics. Supporters of the initiative accuse Mr Wilders of promoting discrimination against Muslims and intolerance. The Freedom Party leader describes Islam as a dangerous, intolerant and fascistic religion. He says the Qu’ran should be forbidden and Muslim immigration banned.
Angry and worried
The latest controversy started last Friday when former trade union leader Doekle Terpstra wrote a letter to the editor in the national daily Trouw. He said the comments Wilders makes about Muslims and their religion were making him increasingly irritated. Terpstra wrote that “Wilders seems to get some kind of pleasure out of insulting people. Time and time again he creates a podium for himself at the Muslims’ expense and he creates ill feelings between Muslims and non—Muslims.”
Mr Terpstra asks why he seems to be the only one who is angry and concerned about the situation.
“It seems as if The Hague’s perception of Dutch reality is different from the one that I and many other people in this country have of what is happening in the cities, villages, streets and neighbourhoods.”
Prominent Dutch citizens
Terpstra has appealed to all “reasonable people” in the Netherlands to end their indifference and to denounce the ideas of Wilders and his Freedom Party. He has received a lot of responses – many prominent citizens and organisations have endorsed the appeal. In the TV programme Pauw and Witteman, Doekle Terpstra read a list of prominent people who endorsed the initiative.
The coach of Young Orange, the Dutch Under-21 football squad, Foppe de Haan says:
“I think Wilders’ statements lack nuance. He shouts a lot of things and stigmatises too many people. I work with young people from different backgrounds and my experiences have taught me that they can work together extremely well. If you hear Wilders you get the impression that the whole world is falling apart.”
“Irresponsible and dangerous”
The country’s two largest trade union federations and the Dutch Council for Refugees support Terpstra’s appeal. Rene Danen of Nederland Bekent Kleur says the groups will work together to set up a counter movement. One of the plans is to hold a nationwide demonstration.
Geert Wilders dismisses Doekle Terpstra’s idea as “disgusting, irresponsible and dangerous”. He says he should be able to speak his mind in parliament, especially since his ideas have the support of half a million voters. Terpstra says Wilders is again avoiding the issue.
“I am just asking for a dialogue, but this way the exchange of ideas ends even before it begins.”
Wilders unexpectedly got support from Femke Halsema, who leads the GreenLeft party in Parliament. She thinks it preferable to speak with Mr Wilders in a businesslike manner. Henk Kamp of the conservative VVD party says the initiative only avoids real problems such as immigration and integration.