Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Political Capital of Hatred

I suppose Geert Wilders first came to public attention on a global scale through the release of his "documentary" film Fitna. The IMDb synopsis of this film should explain while I used scare quotes in the preceding sentence:

Fitna is a 16 minute long film by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom in the Dutch parliament. The name comes from the Arabic word fitna which is used to describe "disagreement and division among people", or a "test of faith in times of trial". The movie offers a critical view of Islam and the Koran. Interspersed with extremely violent verses of the Koran, it shows graphic views of terrorist violence, and also unexplained disturbing images of children with bloody heads (associated with some Shiite observances of the Day of Ashura), and images meant to conjure up concerns about female circumcision. No attempt is made to contextualize these issues, or suggest that there might be Muslims who are not in full support of these actions or verses of the Koran which might provide a different balance. Instead there are bar graphs showing the explosive growth of the Muslim population in the Netherlands and in Europe, and a clear insinuation that unless something is done to stop them, Muslims will soon take over and destroy the freedoms the Dutch people cherish. The final call in the movie is to "Stop Islamisation" and "Defend our freedoms."

As this synopsis explains, Wilders is only secondarily a filmmaker. He is primarily a politician, leading a Dutch political party that may be an experiment in how much political capital may be accrued from a platform based almost entirely on discriminatory hatred. In a story prepared for BBC News, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reporter John Tyler describes the Party for Freedom (PVV) as one "that calls Islam a backward religion, wants a ban on headscarves in public life and has compared the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf." The question of political capital is important enough to Tyler to serve as the focus of his lead paragraph:

Geert Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) has become the biggest party in the medium-sized city of Almere, and the second biggest in the political capital of the Netherlands, The Hague.

It has been my experience that ideologues tend to be less aware of irony than the rest of us. This is the way I felt in reading Wilders' own words in response to the above data in a speech about the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Netherlands:

The national campaign begins today. Today, in Almere and The Hague, tomorrow in all of the Netherlands… On 9 June, we'll conquer the Netherlands.

This is, to say the least, ironic language for a man determined to tar all Muslims with the brush of Adolf Hitler. This is so close to Hitler's famous "Today Germany, tomorrow the world" speech that it is both ludicrously funny and utterly frightening at the same time.

It is useful to bear in mind why these elections will be taking place. They were called when the current coalition dissolved and the cabinet fell, all over intense debate about whether or not the Netherlands should continue to supply NATO with troops in Afghanistan. This provides fertile ground for a hate-based politician who may be well on the same trail to demagoguery that Sarah Palin seems to have been trying to blaze. As Tyler observed, Wilders shares with Palin the advantage of public discontent with a government that just does not seem to work any more:

Mr Wilders is also riding a wave of anti-establishment sentiment. Many Dutch voters are tired of politics-as-usual. That is reflected by the relatively poor showing in these municipal elections by the two major parties that formed the recent governing coalition, the Labour Party and the Christian Democrats.

So is hatred the political capital that will determine the outcome of the June election; or are the current numbers a statistical aberration, rather like a slot machine that spits out a modest payoff to convince you to keep playing it? Usually, only elections in global "hot spots" tend to attract attention. Has the Netherlands become one of those "hot spots?"

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