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Dutch report Dutch report
by Euro Reporter
2010-06-11 08:50:51
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Anti-Islam party's success worries Dutch Muslims

Opinion polls had predicted the anti-Muslim Party for Freedom would do well in Dutch elections this week - but not this well. Led by the controversial politician Geert Wilders, the party nearly tripled its representation in parliament, from 9 seats to 24, according to exit polls. That has Dutch Muslims worried. "We are all concerned now. It's like we are not welcome any more," said Ibraham Spalburg, the head of SPIOR, an umbrella organization of Muslim groups around the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Once famously tolerant, Dutch "society has changed a lot in a very dramatic way," Spalburg said. "It's like Islamophobia. It's not nice any more."

Holland is not alone in its apparent distrust of its rapidly growing Muslim population. Switzerland voted to ban minaret construction last year, and France and Belgium are considering bans on Islamic veils such as the burqa. "Today's election result in the Netherlands is the latest evidence of rising anti-Muslim sentiment across western Europe," Lucy James, a research fellow at the Quilliam Foundation in London, told CNN.  "Far-right parties such as Wilders' have increasingly targeted anti-Muslim votes by manipulating popular grievances - such as economic recession, unemployment and housing - and laying the blame for these problems on Muslim immigrants," she said.  "Europe is therefore less witnessing a 'clash of civilizations' than a deft manipulation of people's fears by far-right populists," she said. The Quilliam Foundation describes itself as a "counter-extremism think tank."

Negative views of Muslims have become slightly more common in France and Spain in the past half-dozen years, while British and German views are about where they were in the middle of the last decade, according to Richard Wike, associate director of the Pew Global Attitudes Project.  British views toward Muslims are consistently less negative than those found in France, Germany and Spain, he added.  The project has not polled the Netherlands. Spalburg understands that native Dutch people - especially older ones - may be nervous about the fast growth of the country's Muslim population. "They see minarets around them, or women with scarves, and they don't like to see them in the public space," he said. The Netherlands has just under a million Muslims, representing 5.7 percent of the population, according to "Mapping the Global Muslim Population," an October 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington.

It has relatively low levels of social hostilities related to religion, it found in a separate study, "Global Restrictions on Religion," in December. But Wilders is fanning the flames with "propaganda," Muslim leader Spalburg says. "Wilders is saying all the time he was wants to stop the Islamicization of Holland," Spalburg said. Wilders - a potential kingmaker in the formation of the next Dutch government - faces criminal charges of inciting discrimination and hatred over comments he has made about Islam over the years. They include an October 2006 interview with the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant in which he said he wanted to stop the "tsunami of Islamization," and another in September 2007 with Radio Netherlands in which he said the Quran should be banned. Wilders' film "Fitna," which he released online in March 2008 to international outcry, is also named in the charges against him. The film features disturbing images of terrorist acts superimposed over verses from the Quran in order to paint Islam as a threat to Western society. He is due to go on trial in October.

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Geert Wilders profile


The 46-year-old firebrand has made deep cracks in a long tradition of Dutch consensus politics with bold strides onto the shaky ground of multicultural tolerance. "We dare to talk about sensitive subjects like Islamisation and we use plain and simple words that the voter can understand," is how Mr Wilders, creator of the anti-Islam film "Fitna", explains his rising popularity. His 17-minute commentary, featuring shocking imagery of attacks in New York in 2001 and Madrid in 2004 combined with quotes from the Koran, Islam's holy book, has drawn outrage in several Muslim countries.

It was released in March 2008 despite opposition from the Dutch government who feared it might spark a militant response similar to that which followed the publication in Denmark of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Nicknamed "Mozart" for his platinum-dyed mop of hair, Mr Wilders describes his far-right label as "nonsense". He has been living under 24-hour protection for the past six years due to death threats. Mr Wilders started his political career in the Dutch liberal VVD party which he quit after 14 years in 2004, partly over its support at the time for Turkey's EU membership bid. Having started off as a policy adviser and speech writer for the VVD, Wilders was elected a municipal councillor in 1997 and a lawmaker the following year, becoming an independent member of parliament when leaving the party in 2004.

He created the PVV for parliamentary elections in 2006, campaigning to "limit the growth of Muslim numbers" in the Netherlands, and taking nine out of 150 seats. Arguing that "Islam is the Netherlands' biggest problem", Wilders has urged parliament to ban the Koran, comparing it with Hitler's "Mein Kampf".  Wilders goes on trial in October on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims. He was barred from entering Britain in 2009 to stop him spreading "hatred and violent messages". He was able to overturn the ban however after winning an appeal against the decision at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. He subsequently visited Britain last month.


       
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