Ten years after his death, his country struggles on.
On May 6, 2002, a Dutch sociologist and writer turned politician named Pim Fortuyn was gunned down in a parking lot in Hilversum in the Netherlands. He had just come from an interview (Hilversum, outside of Amsterdam, is the headquarters of the Dutch electronic media), one of many he had given in previous weeks in advance of the general election, which was scheduled for May 15. Despite the relentless smear campaign directed against him by the Dutch political and media establishment, Fortuyn's party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, was doing extremely well in the polls, and it looked as though, barring a major upset, he would actually become the next prime minister of the Netherlands.
The prospect was remarkable, for more reasons than one. For one thing, if Fortuyn won, he would be the first openly gay head of state or government of any country in the world, ever. But under the circumstances, his sexual orientation was barely more than a footnote. What really mattered, and what gave hope to so many voters in his country and to observers around the world, was that Fortuyn was a social scientist who had gone into politics for one reason and one reason only: because he saw that the precipitous rise of Islam in the West, and especially in his own nation, was a catastrophic development, and he was determined to do everything he could to preserve the liberty and equality that he cherished before it was too late.
An extremely intelligent, well-educated, and charismatic man, graced with humor and gifted with an extraordinary courage that enabled him to withstand the most brutal and unfair assaults from his ideological enemies, Fortuyn was poised, some of us felt, to become a Churchill – a hero of freedom who would inspire his fellow European heads of government to follow his lead. There were those of us who saw him as the man who might well save Europe. But those dreams were dashed in a moment, ten years ago last Sunday.
Time is relentless. It all seems so long ago now. Fortuyn's murder followed 9/11 by only a few months. Throughout his election campaign, the events of that day were fresh in all of our minds. Some of us, to be sure, had been clued into the seriousness of what we were up against even before the Twin Towers were taken down – but even for us, 9/11 brought the crisis of the West into sharper relief, and made the importance of Fortuyn's political quest even more obvious. He was the one major politician out there – not only in his country, but in any country – who was speaking, without hesitation, euphemism, or equivocation, the uncomfortable truths that needed to be spoken. And then – suddenly – he was gone.
The assassinations of certain people raise questions of historic dimensions. What would have happened with Reconstruction if Lincoln had lived to oversee it? What direction would race relations in America have taken if Martin Luther King, Jr., had not been cut down? The same kinds of questions attend upon the murder of Wilhelmus Simon Petrus Fortuyn. What would have happened to the Netherlands, to the Europe, to the West, during the first decade of the twenty-first century had he survived to become the prime minister of the Netherlands? The power of his rhetoric, of his mind, and of his personality, was beyond dispute. The power of his example as a prime minister, many of us believed, could be equally formidable. Fortuyn, we felt, might well prove to be the man who would chart a courageous, humane, and workable way forward out of the mess that Europe had gotten itself into.
But now he is history. The years have gone by, one after the other. His assassination was followed by that of a second Dutch critic of Islam, Theo van Gogh; by what may be fairly described as the forced exile of a third, Ayaan Hirsi Ali; and by the cruel and deplorable prosecution of a fourth, Geert Wilders. The Netherlands now – well – stumbles along. Ten years after his death, Sybrand van Haersma Buma, a Christian Democratic politician who was voted into Parliament in that May 2002 election that Fortuyn did not live to see, admitted to NRC Handelsblad that Fortuyn had given a voice to the voiceless, emancipating a whole class of Dutch people who had felt they had no say in their country's affairs – and that, during the decade since his death, all of the country's political parties have been trying without successful to figure out what to do.
The answer, of course, is really not all that difficult: face the facts. Tell the truth. Take responsibility. Do what he would have done. To mark the anniversary of Fortuyn's murder, De Volkskrant reprinted a February 2002 interview in which Fortuyn spelled out his views of Islam with great candor. The candor was very Dutch; the lack of regard for multicultural delicacies was not. “I have traveled a lot in the world,” Fortuyn said. “And wherever Islam is in charge, it's just terrible.” He noted further that thanks to the rise of Islam in the Netherlands, the advances of feminism were being rolled back and that “Turkish and Moroccan boys in the classroom” were driving gay teachers back into the closet. These were just two examples of the kinds of developments that every alert citizen of the Netherlands had noticed in recent years. What more did you need to know? How much more data did you need to collect?
Ten years later, those “Turkish and Moroccan boys” are men. Other “Turkish and Moroccan boys” are sitting in what used to be their classroom seats (only in much larger numbers). And the situation Fortuyn deplored has unfolded in pretty much the way he feared. Geert Wilders, to be sure, has been a gallant, noble successor who has done everything he has been able to do. But he's faced a challenge Fortuyn never did. The Netherlands' mainstream parties, and the rest of its cultural elite, learned their lesson from their encounter with Fortuyn – that renegade who came so close to yanking the reins out of their hands. He woke them up. From that experience, they learned never again to let themselves be surprised by an upstart from out of left field. They had demonized him as best they could, but after he was gone they became even more ruthless. They drove Ayaan Hirsi Ali out of the country; they dragged Wilders into court.
For this reason – and, quite simply, because the problems in the Netherlands have grown so much more formidable than they were when Fortuyn was still alive – saving that little country now is a considerably more challenging proposition than it was a decade ago. (Ditto Europe; ditto North America.) Without question, the best news for the Netherlands in 2012 is that Wilders is alive and well and full of fight – and it doesn't hurt, either, that his new book is selling like pannenkoeken in the U.S. One suggestion: buy it, if you haven't already. Give him your support. Help make it clear to the Dutch people that, despite everything their political and media establishment have done to destroy one after another of the crusaders for freedom that their country has produced, Wilders (whom the bien pensant types in the Netherlands routinely compare to Hitler) is recognized internationally as his country's – and, perhaps, the West's – last, best chance. Maybe – just maybe – this will put a bit more wind beneath Wilders's wings. In any case, nothing could be a finer tribute to Pim Fortuyn on the tenth anniversary of his murder.
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