By Juliane von Mittelstaedt
Geert Wilders is sitting on a plane, glancing at the clouds below and occasionally turning the page of a newspaper. A cameraman from a Dutch news agency is sitting behind him, filming his every movement.
The plane lands in London, after the short flight from Amsterdam. Wilders, 46, the head of the populist right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV), is the first to disembark. This is the first time he has been to Britain in eight months.
He is not detained by a border official this time, as he was in February, when the British government denied Wilders entry into the country after declaring him a "serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society." He went anyway, with 50 journalists in tow, and he was sent back to the Netherlands immediately. His poll ratings went up dramatically after the London incident, and he owes much of his recent rise in popularity to the British decision. Now that the government has overturned its ban and he is permitted to enter the country once again, Wilders plans to make it a triumphant return.
Aside from a lunch with a member of the House of Lords, Wilders doesn't have much to do in London, but he needs a few more photos. A limousine takes him from Heathrow Airport to the Houses of Parliament, where he intends to give a press conference. A group of Islamists is already standing in front of the parliament building, shouting "Wilders, go to hell!" and carrying signs that read "Islam will rule the world." Wilders couldn't have wished for a more perfect setting for one of his appearances.
He gives a speech, which is short, probably because there isn't really much to say. He says that his being in London is a victory, not a victory for him personally, but "a victory for freedom of speech."
The usual questions follow: Why do you want to ban the Koran? Do you want to ban the Bible, too? Wilders gives his standard responses. Islam, he says, is not a religion but a fascist ideology, and the Koran is no different from Hitler's "Mein Kampf." And if that book is banned, he says, the Koran should also be banned. When making this argument Wilders, usually quotes the great British statesman Winston Churchill who, as he is quick to point out, once made the same comparison. Quoting Churchill would be highly appropriate for this appearance before the global press in London, but Wilders is so agitated that he has completely forgotten about the British war hero.
"We have good relations with our Muslims. The only one who is creating tension is you," says one journalist. "The Jews were the last group that was persecuted in Europe because of its religion," another reporter calls out. "I accept no parallels," says Wilders. Finally, he says that it's important to not just debate with friends, or there would be no debate. Then he gets up and leaves.
Last of a Generation
Geert Wilders is an exceptionally gifted right-wing populist, the last of a generation determined to stir things up in Europe. In Switzerland, Christoph Blocher was ousted from office, in Austria right-wing politician Jörg Haider died in a car accident, and German politician Ronald Schill was caught on video snorting cocaine in Brazil.
Wilders stands a chance of becoming prime minister of the Netherlands. The country's next parliamentary election is scheduled for May 2011, and his party, the PVV, has been leading in the polls for months. According to those polls, if elections were held today the PVV would capture about 20 percent of the vote. It performed almost as well in the European elections in June as the ruling Christian Democrats.
The leader of the PVV is featured on the cover page of some newspaper every day, and every headline about Wilders on the Internet gets three times as many clicks as a headline about Jan Peter Balkenende. Although Balkenende is the Dutch prime minister, Wilders already holds considerable sway over the government. Since he left the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy in 2004, he has applied great pressure on Dutch administrations with his campaign against Islam. Many of his sentences begin with the words "One ought to be allowed to say that…," followed by statements like: Dutch culture is better than that of the Muslims; there is an Islamic invasion; the Muslims are turning Europe into an Arab colony. The reality is more complicated than that, but Wilders prefers to use simple words.
He wants to "recapture" the Netherlands from the hands of the Islamists, street-by-street and neighborhood-by-neighborhood. Wilders uses expressions like "Moroccan street terrorists" and "the Islamization tsunami" -- soundbites that are made for headlines. For him, Muslims are people who pollute the public space with their headscarves, their "beards of hate," burqas and mosques. Wilders even recently called for a tax on headscarves: 1,000 ($1,500) per person and year. But he insists that he has nothing against Muslims, only against Islam.
This is an abstruse verbal balancing act, but the people of this small, wealthy, liberal country are not troubled by Wilders' outrageous remarks. Much has changed in the Netherlands since the day, five years ago, when a fanatical Islamist shot and killed the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, then slit his throat and pinned a threatening message to his chest with a knife. Nov. 2, 2004 was the Netherlands' Sept. 11, and after that day many politicians declared that the country was now at war.
It was the day that Geert Wilders' rise to prominence began.
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