Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Bicyclists and the Jews

The Wilders Momentum | The Brussels Journal:
Yesterday’s local elections in the Netherlands resulted in a victory for the Freedom Party (PVV) of opposition leader Geert Wilders. On June 9th the Dutch will again be called to the voting booths for the general elections. Yesterday’s outcome reinforces the PVV’s momentum, which may result in a political landslide next June with repercussions all over Europe.
From the center-right to the center-left Europe’s establishment parties share the consensus that Islamization and EU centralization are inevitable and must be facilitated if the parties want to survive and hold on to power. Wilders, however, is a politician who, in a Buckleyan tradition, “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

On international issues Wilders adopts positions which also go against those of Europe’s ruling political and intellectual establishment. He is an opponent of Turkey’s entry into the EU, an outspoken defender of Israel and an advocate of stronger American-European relations. This makes him unpopular with the media, but it has not harmed him with the electorate.
Wilders has carefully avoided international contacts with foreign anti-establishment and anti-immigrant parties who have been tarnished by anti-Semitic elements in the past. Wilders regards support for Israel as the litmus test to decide with whom he is willing to cooperate. His only official contacts so far have been with the Danish People’s Party (DF) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Wilders has succeeded in making Islamisation one of the major themes of the coming elections. Ironically, the Dutch authorities have helped him by taking him to court over Fitna. They have accused him of racism and incitement to hatred and discrimination against non-Western ethnic minorities. Although Wilders is an elected member of Parliament, he could be taken to court because the Netherlands, unlike some of its neighboring countries, does not grant politicians immunity from prosecution.

The Public Prosecutor argues that by stating his opinions on Islam, Wilders has “insulted” Muslims. The politician, however, emphasizes that he has never said anything negative about Muslims; he has always carefully restricted his criticism to the ideology of Islam and has done nothing else but state what he honestly sees as the truth. Wilders asked the court for permission to summon 18 expert witnesses in his defense. These include academics, former Muslims, but also Islamist apologists of terrorism. In early February the court brushed aside the request, allowing Wilders to summon only two Dutch academics plus the Syrian born American author and former Muslim Wafa Sultan. Moreover, to prevent the trial from turning into a trial about the nature of Islam – with Islam in the dock rather than Wilders – the court ruled that the three experts will only be heard behind closed doors. Finally, the court decided to postpone the case for a few months.

If the case is reopened before June 9th, it will seriously hamper Wilders’ electoral campaign because he is obliged to attend the court’s sessions. On the other hand, it could gain him the sympathy of additional voters and bring his ideas even more into the foreground as the major theme of the elections.

If the PVV manages to become the largest party in the Netherlands, Dutch Queen Beatrix is expected to ask Wilders to try to form a coalition government, although the Queen is not legally obliged to do so. It is the tradition, however, that the leader of the largest party becomes the nation’s next Prime Minister.

In Almere last week, Wilders announced that one of the first things a PVV led coalition will do is introduce a ban on headscarves for civil servants and for all institutions, foundations or associations that receive municipal subsidies. He added: “For all clarity, this ban does not include crosses or yarmulkes, because those are symbols of religions that belong to our culture and are not – as is the case with headscarves – a sign of an oppressive totalitarian ideology.”
In other words, Wilders is distinguishing his position from the French model where banning Islamic symbols is seen to require, in the name of equality, banning all other "religious" symbols. In doing so, Wilders is contesting the West's reigning ethos of cultural relativism and our nihilistic outlawing of any and every form of "discrimination". Clearly, Wilders, in insisting on preference for Western traditions, is demanding we wake up to the reality of what our societies are, and discuss what they can and cannot be.

There is no future in trying to be all things to all people. The future is built by people signifying difference, taking stands in which others can then find things to exchange. But that doesn't mean we don't have to try to maximize the freedom for people to turn away their resentments and to realize what is possible in our societies, the freedom for new forms of exchange that will genuinely strengthen, not weaken, the foundational order of our socieities. At this point, the debate rightly turns us away from metaphysical abstractions and towards consideration of the actual course of events in our socieities. Are events unfolding in ways that promise some shared understanding of differences going forward, so that we can find useful and meaningful and relatively non-violent ways of trading in our differences and building a freer order? Or do present events, or the lack of events being allowed to unfold, only promise a loss of our ability to engage with those around us?

It is for the (Dutch) electorate to know the answers, to insist that their common sense understanding of what is going on supersede any intellectual's or any bureaucratic elite's attempt at capturing the world in some formula. What is essential is that we have politicians who attempt to represent the various possibilities. It is a great evil that one part of the Dutch or European political class is trying to outlaw the speech of Wilders and his party. This is the kind of event that should well lead voters to doubt the current regime.

Wilders' dictum that support for Israel is his litmus test in choosing allies is also a sign that he realizes that the events by which we build free socieities require some people to inhabit the position of harbinger, like those who were once suspected as social misfits for eschewing horses and the pedestrian pace of life in favour of the bicycle. Have you ever tried to ride a Dutch bicycle? How they ever became a nation of riders I do not know.

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