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The Netherlands' Fearmonger: Geert Wilders' One-Man Crusade against Islam

By Juliane von Mittelstaedt

Part 3: The Populist without Qualities

Otherwise, not much is known about Wilders. He once worked in a German pickling plant to earn money for a stay in Israel. He studied law and worked for the Dutch social security agency before going into politics. He is married, but all that is known about his wife is that she is a former diplomat from Hungary.

He always wears the same black suits and, preferably, a thin red tie. Sometimes he replaces the red tie with an ice-blue, moss-green or rapeseed-yellow tie -- all bold colors, no nuances. The only speck of personality he allows himself to reveal in public is his hair color.

Photo Gallery

3  Photos
Photo Gallery: The Peroxide Populist

Wilders is a populist without features, without scandals and without a public personal life. It seems as if he were playing a role, the role of the right-wing populist Geert Wilders, an actor playing himself, always remaining at a distance from the world and himself. His habitat is the gray zone between justified criticism of Muslims who are unwilling to integrate into Dutch society and blunt xenophobia. As a result, he seems to be capable of repelling criticism, such as comparisons to the Nazis, like it was drops of water -- the Teflon man of Dutch politics. This is what makes him so successful and so dangerous -- because his intolerance is expanding in the center of Dutch society like an oil slick.

His mementoes and awards, lined up on a sideboard in his office like soccer trophies in a teenager's room, document his slow climb from ostracized parliamentary outsider to head of his party. In 2007, he received the "Clear Speech" prize and the "Politician of the Year" award. " Fitna," his anti-Islam film, was released in 2008. And in 2009, he received the Florida Security Council's Free Speech Award and the American Freedom Alliance's Hero of Conscience award. Wilders likes to see himself as the last man standing in the fight for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.

Critics, on the other hand, tend to see him as a dictatorial ruler of his own personal realm, the PVV. The party has only one member: Geert Wilders. He is its parliamentary leader, chairman, chief ideologue and treasurer rolled into one. He has even denied party membership to his eight fellow members of parliament. He also forbids them from going into the parliamentary press club, because the PVV's domestic policy spokesman once punched the bartender there when he refused to serve him any more alcohol.

The Fear of Losing Control

Wilders is obsessed with the fear of losing control: over his party, his members of parliament, the news and his public image. He only appears on talk shows if he is the only guest. He refuses to talk to moderate Muslims, who have invited him to attend discussions countless times. He prefers to attack and then withdraw to observe from afar the indignation his comments elicit. His most effective line of attack is his call for a ban on the Koran. Wilders, like everyone else, knows that he will never achieve a ban on the Koran. But he enjoys the provocation.

His other positions are well known. He supports the values of the majority culture and a ban on immigration. In this respect, Geert Wilders hasn't been more creative than Haider and others, but there is one difference: With Wilders, everything somehow always comes back to Islam. Proposals to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67? "If we had decided against immigration and in favor of older people, we could easily have saved the €4 billion that we're now missing," says Wilders. His biggest political victory is that he has managed to paint the Muslims as the Netherlands' main problem. In doing so, he has probably Islamicized the country more than the Muslims have themselves.

Wilders' latest idea, now, in the midst of the economic crisis, is to calculate the true costs of immigration -- non-Western immigration, to be exact. In other words, he wants to know how much Muslims are costing the government. He has set up a Web site to collect public comments. People write about things like how much the bus driver at an Islamic school earns, or that someone was recently compensated by the government because of the mosque on his street. All of these anecdotes are to become part of Wilders' accounting of immigration, and to lead to a convenient number that concentrates people's fears and anger. It will be Wilders' key number in the 2011 election campaign.

Beer Buddy

Until then, his goal is to win the smaller elections and to enlarge the trophy collection on his sideboard. On this day he adds a new trophy: the "Bock Beer Prize" of the beer brewers' association. It was awarded to Wilders after the association conducted a survey to find out with which parliamentary floor leader the Dutch would prefer to drink a bock beer. They voted for Wilders. It's a prize awarded by the man in the pub -- for a right-wing populist, perhaps the most important prize of all.

The representative from the brewers' association is waiting in a sterile conference room in the parliament building. He is somewhat agitated and even trembles a little as he holds the trophy in his hand, a beer glass on a plastic base.

The door flies open and Wilders walks in, accompanied by three bodyguards and a spokeswoman. He looks at the trophy, looks at the brewer and looks at a gift basket filled with bottles of bock beer. "Fantastic," he says.

The brewer gives a short speech about the relationship between politics and beer. The men pose for a photo. Fantastic, Wilders says three times, as if he were his own echo. Then he grabs the gift basket and walks out of the room, behind a phalanx of bodyguards.

Geert Wilders, it seems, is unstoppable.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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