A Setback for Geert Wilders

Why don't the Dutch get it?

Last week, even as the Islamic world was erupting in yet another bout of Koran-fueled fury that put the 2006 explosion over the Danish cartoons in the shade, the Dutch electorate, apparently having decided that the clash of civilizations was yesterday's news, handed Geert Wilders's Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) , or Freedom Party – the only one of the Netherlands's several major parties that is seriously critical of Islam and of the country's current immigration and integration policies – its first setback ever. While the two top parties received about twenty-five percent of the vote apiece, up about five percent from the last election, the PVV got ten percent, down from fifteen.  It remains the third largest party, but just barely, with fifteen out of 150 seats in the House of Representatives, while the fourth, fifth, and sixth largest parties will have fifteen, thirteen, and twelve seats respectively.

“For the first time since he founded the PVV in 2004,” reported De Volkskrant on Friday, “Geert Wilders lost an election, and substantially so.  How can that be?”  The newspaper Trouw claimed to have the answer: “The Netherlands of 2012 is radically changed....the protest vote for the PVV has disappeared.”

On Saturday, I met Wilders's right-hand man and fellow Member of Parliament, Martin Bosma (48), at a café in Amsterdam, to discuss the election results.

“Rumors of our death are greatly exaggerated,” he said with a tired grin.  It had been a long week and he hadn't had much sleep.

Bosma rejected the idea that the election had been a referendum on immigration – in fact, he pointed out, “immigration was not a subject during the campaign.”  The PVV didn't bring it up, and “if the PVV doesn't bring up immigration, nobody does.”  This time around, with the Euro in what seem like its death throes, the PVV decided to focus its campaign on the EU.  Should the Dutch should continue to slavishly follow directives from Brussels which, among other things, compel it to cough up 56 billion euros a year to subsidize Greece and other countries?  The PVV said no.

Alas, the Dutch have always been temperamentally conservative, and, as Bosma put it, “leaving the EU feels like an adventure” – a leap into the unknown.  (Of course, the EU itself was an “adventure” that was foisted on them, step by step, without their approval; but now it's the status quo, and Dutch voters are reluctant to reverse it.)  And so, on Election Day, the PVV took a dive.

Still, Wilders and Bosma are in it for the long haul.  “Ten years from now, everybody will agree with us,” Bosma told me.  “At least about the EU.  About mass immigration, I don't know.  Maybe they'll still be in denial.”

This I frankly don't get.  How can so many Dutchmen, at this late date, still be in denial about the reality of Islamic immigration?  How – especially – can they be in denial about it at a time when violent mobs are attacking Western embassies in one Muslim capital after another?

Bosma shrugged.  “It's far away,” he said about all the Middle Eastern mayhem.  He gestured toward our fellow customers, most of them elite Amsterdam types sipping lattes.  “Ask anybody here what they think of Islam.  They'll say that, well, there are rotten apples everywhere.”

“Even after everything that has happened?”

“Yes.  They're deluding themselves.  They don't want to face the truth.  Because if you face it, you have to do something about it.”

But how can they not feel any responsibility to keep their country from going down the drain?  Bosma suggested that many Dutch people simply don't think about their country that way: “The Dutch form of nationalism is internationalism.”  Besides, bending over backwards to accept the unacceptable “proves that we're good human beings.  And as soon as you start asking questions, you're a right-wing extremist.”  Still, he insisted, the bloom is at least somewhat off the multicultural rose.  “Multiculturalism has lost its self-confidence and its glory.  People don't wear it on their sleeve anymore.”

He emphasized, moreover, the well-known fact that when it comes to multiculturalism there's a big difference between the Dutch elites and the rest of the population.  “Every morning at 8:30,” he said, elite multiculturalists in the Netherlands drop their kids off at the “white schools” in which they've enrolled them so as to avoid contact with Muslims – “and then, at 9:00, they're behind their desks, calling Geert Wilders a racist.”

Bosma recently published a candid and illuminating memoir in which he discusses the modern history of Dutch immigration politics and recounts his own political migration.  Born into a social democratic family, he began as a journalist, working first at a small-town Dutch newspaper and later, in New York, at CNN, ABC, and the New York Times; he also studied sociology at the New School, where he encountered, and found nourishment in, the works of Friedrich Hayek, William F. Buckley, Allan Bloom, and Leo Strauss (none of whom, he points out, was ever discussed at the University of Amsterdam).

After Theo van Gogh was slaughtered by a Dutch-born jihadist in 2004, Bosma quit his high-level executive job in Dutch radio and went to work with Geert Wilders, performing a wide variety of tasks – writing speeches, strategizing, creating a website – for their fledgling anti-immigration party.

Not all Dutchmen reacted to van Gogh's death in the way Bosma did.  Many ran for cover.  Wilders's  blunt talk about Islam scared them.  Even some of those who were eager to help Wilders's cause insisted on doing so anonymously.  “We had to function,” writes Bosma, “as a kind of half-underground resistance organization.”

One irony Bosma notes in his book is that opposition to mass immigration in the Netherlands was once a left-wing – and thus acceptably mainstream – cause.  The first party to explicitly criticize the large-scale admission of Muslims into the country was the leftist DS '70.  But “what once was accepted as mainstream,” writes Bosma, “would later be seen as extreme.”

Since the nineties, polls have shown consistently that most Dutchmen oppose mass immigration.  Yet during the same period, the political and cultural elite was forming a pro-immigration consensus. Ignoring the will of the people, the ruling parties oversaw a huge influx of Muslims that transformed the country forever.  Wilders's motive for founding the PVV was to return power to the people.  Yet over the years the people's very powerlessness had bred a widespread fatalism about immigration.  “Mass immigration has always been treated as weather or climate,” Bosma told me.  “It's there and we can't do anything about it.”

Sooner or later, however, something's got to give.  “Your Ph.D.s leave and your illiterates come in,” he sighed, summing up the Netherlands' current situation.  “You can't do that forever.”

On his website, Bosma features a quotation from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead: “I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline....The sky over New York and the will of man made visible.”  Bosma doesn't include the next few sentences, but they're worth quoting too, and have a special poignancy in the post-9/11 era: “What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window – no, I don't feel how small I am – but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.”

Reading these words from Ayn Rand, I find myself wondering for the thousandth time: why don't the Dutch feel this way about the Netherlands?  No other country I know, after all, is a more magnificent example of the will of man made visible.  Much of it was reclaimed from the sea, and protected from it for centuries thereafter, through the use of technology that even today remains awe-inspiring in its ingenuity.  Amsterdam, this glorious jewel, used to be nothing but swamp.  To travel around the Netherlands is to marvel at the pristine beauty of its cities and villages; to read its history is to be stirred by its longtime role as a beacon of freedom, a refuge for people whose religious beliefs or lack thereof made them anathema in their own lands.  In short, it's a country whose people, one would imagine, would feel a deep obligation to protect and preserve for their posterity this extraordinary inheritance that their forebears worked so diligently and brilliantly to create.  It's a mystery to me, and a cause for lamentation, that so many of them don't feel this way.

Yet – well – at least ten percent of them do.  That's something.  And Geert Wilders and Martin Bosma are hanging in there – persevering valiantly, in the face of non-stop vilification and demonization at home and abroad, in their effort to keep this small land free.

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