In the midst of the largest refugee crisis the world has seen, the concerning consequences of Brexit, and the unnerving policies being implemented by the leader of the supposed “free world,” the rise of the far-Right in Europe was perhaps predictable. With a number of elections on the horizon in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, the political climate across Europe shouts of unrest, fragility, and discontent.
First, to set the tone for the upcoming run of political elections in Europe, is the Dutch election on March 15. Inciting media interest is far-Right leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), Geert Wilders. One of the Netherlands’s longstanding politicians, it seems somewhat ironic that Wilders began his political career working for the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the party that is now his biggest rival and whose leader, Mark Rutte, has unequivocally refused to form a coalition with Wilders. Now leader of populist party, PVV, Wilders’ policies take a heavily Eurosceptic and Islamophobic stance, not dissimilar to those of Marine Le Pen of the National Front in France and Frauke Petry’s party, alternative for Germany.
In 2014, Wilders was convicted of inciting discrimination for leading a chant against allowing Moroccans to live in the Netherlands. During the trial, not only did he receive substantial publicity, but he also gained an unexpected surge in support for his party. Wilders claimed that the trial was a politically-motivated attack that “restricted the freedom of speech.” In projecting a narrative which cast himself as the victim, Wilders normalised his xenophobic vitriol against Moroccans. Recently addressing Moroccans as “scum who make the streets unsafe,” Wilders has continued to tap into, and exacerbate, a culture of concern and fear over immigration in the Netherlands. Speaking in ambiguous clichés, Wilders obsessively states that “the Netherlands must be ours again.” Precisely what this means is left to guesswork and echoes the recent nationalistic rhetoric favoured by Trump, pro-Brexiters, and the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria).
A major concern of Wilders’ nationalistic narrative is the way in which it has shifted the policies of other Dutch political parties to the right of the political spectrum. This concept, known as the Overton Window, is the normalisation of more radical politics through the manipulation of public thought, often aided (even if unintentionally) by the media. Trump has obviously benefited from this. The continual and prolific publication of what, at first, seemed far-fetched and unconvincing policies, soon became the key to his rise, rather than his demise as many media outlets had anticipated. The same can be said for Wilders’ use of controversy to dominate the news media. Using his own political volatility and need for 24/7 police protection (following the 2004 assassination of political filmmaker, Theo van Gogh) to encourage a distrust of Muslims, Wilders has managed to focus Dutch political discourse on the place of immigrants and the practice of Islam in the Netherlands.
Deeming violence in the Netherlands “a Moroccan problem” and claiming to “take care” of immigration through a “de-Islamification” of the country, Wilders’ scapegoating and simplistic, racist remarks inherently presuppose destructive and inhumane policies that would be far from conducive to peace. His proposal to shut the Dutch borders to Muslim-majority countries indicates disconcerting parallels with Trump’s highly contentious “Muslim ban,” and his pledge to close refugee asylum centres would predictably increase poverty, illness, and death. This divisive approach to politics serves only to instigate uncertainty and conflict in an already turbulent political environment.
Wilders seeks to leave the EU (‘Nexit’) and cut all foreign spending, two promises with significantly detrimental consequences. Indeed, insularity lessens the capacity for cross-cultural understanding, foments a violent style of politics, and creates barriers which threaten peace and stability. In the contemporary world of violence, conflict, and suffering, intolerance of others is not a viable solution. Rather, Europe must strive to work together, seeking to provide for, and protect, the global community of which it is a part.