The Dutch right wing’s use of social media to spread anti-Islam rhetoric

Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom in the Netherlands (Partij voor de Vrijheid in Dutch, or PVV), shared a video clip on Twitter earlier this month attacking Islam and its traditions. In the video, released on 12 April – coinciding with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – the far-right Dutch politician and lawmaker stated: “Ramadan. Not our culture. Not our history. Not our future. Stop Islamization. Islam does not belong in the Netherlands”. The tweet, published simultaneously in Dutch and in English, included the capture “Stop Islam. Stop #Ramadan. Freedom. No Islam”. Its English version has had so far more than 1,3 million views, around 4,800 likes and has been retweeted by 15,200 users. It has also received more than 11,200 comments – many of which opposing Wilders’ views. Dutch and international media have echoed Wilders’ tweet as well as some political reactions.

Muslim citizens make up around 7% of the Netherlands’ total population. In terms of migration, Turkey is the main country of origin of migrants in the Netherlands (2.4% of the total population), followed by Morocco (2.3%), according to the Migration Policy Institute. Hence, several Turkish officials reacted on Twitter condemning the Dutch lawmaker’s anti-Islam tweet. The spokesman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Omer Celik, accused him of having “a racist and fascist mind” and that “enemies of Islam also hate migrants, poor people, needy people and foreigners”. The Director of Communications for the Turkish presidency, Fahrettin Altun, called Wilders “heartless […], racist, fascist and extremist”, adding that “Islam condemns all. Stop racism”. The head of the Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Ali Erbas, also condemned Wilders’ remarks as “unacceptable” and invited “the international community to a conscious struggle against the racist mentality that incites Islamophobia and targets social peace”.

Wilders has often relied on the “freedom of speech” to make “racist, xenophobic and bigoted statements”, according to the Dutch paper The Post Online. Reacting to Wilders’ tweet, the Federal Minister for Human Rights in Pakistan, Shireen Mazari, used the same social media platform to suggest him to educate himself on freedom of speech. She highlighted that the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights “does not give absolute freedom of speech” and hoped that he finds “courage to apologise” for his “Islamophobic hate and abuse causing hurt to Muslims across the world”.

It is important to bear in mind that Turkey and Pakistan were already heated up by Wilders’ previous political remarks. Last February, prosecutors in Ankara had launched an investigation into Wilders over some Twitter posts – one calling the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a “terrorist” while showing a picture depicting him as a member of Daesh, and another calling for Turkey to be expelled from NATO. In October last year, Erdogan filed a separate criminal complaint against Wilders over another tweet that called him a “terrorist” and that showed a cartoon image of him with a hat that resembled a bomb and that read “AKP party”. In addition, in 2018 Wilders held a controversial cartoon contest to draw the Prophet Mohammad – whose images are traditionally forbidden in Islam. The contest prompted demonstrations in some Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, where Muslims protested in several cities – including Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi – demanding the Pakistani government to sever diplomatic ties with the Netherlands. Pakistan’s Senate passed a resolution condemning the competition.

Far from an isolated event: More than a decade of political hatred

In less than two decades, the Netherlands has gone from being widely seen as a multicultural and tolerant country to experimenting a rise in far-right populism. The discourse around immigration, particularly in relation to Islam, has been at the heart of this change. The PVV was created by Geert Wilders in 2006, and it has grown stronger in recent years, although it has never been in government. The right-wing party uses populist rhetoric and its members often target immigration and Islam, often evoking cases of domestic terrorism in order to mobilize support for their anti-Muslim immigration positioning.

Wilders has been the source of great controversy in the Netherlands and abroad given his outspoken criticism of Islam. In 2008 he received international attention with the provocative short film “Fitna”, which juxtaposes verses from the Quran and media excerpts describing terrorist attacks. In 2015, during a debate in the Dutch Parliament, he called the wave of refugees into Europe an “Islamic invasion”, and during the last years he has continued to make controversial remarks in media and his social networks – labelling the “Islamic immigration” an “existential problem that will replace our people, erase our culture, end our freedom”. Wilders has received death threats due to his anti-Islam rhetoric and has lived under protection for years.

The Dutch lawmaker has been prosecuted on several occasions for his anti-Islam comments. In 2011, he was prosecuted over some remarks likening Islam to Nazism and calling for a ban on the Quran. However, he was acquitted some months later. In March 2014, Wilders incited supporters into a chant calling for fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. He was later charged for inciting discrimination and insulting Moroccan people in this event, but there was no jail sentence nor fine.

During the 2017 general election campaign, Wilders made headlines again by calling Moroccans “scum” and stating that they make the streets of Holland “unsafe”. He said that he wanted to make the Netherlands “ours again” and vowed to ban Muslim immigration and shut mosques if he won. After obtaining 13% of the votes in the elections, the PVV went from holding 12 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives to holding 20 seats, therefore becoming the second largest party in the lower house of the Dutch Parliament. However, leaders of most center-right and liberal parties said that they would not enter a coalition government if the PVV was in it.

In the March 2021 elections, the PVV did not match the success of the 2017 elections, but it retained 17 seats (representing 10.8% of the votes). The emergence of politicians such as Wilders is not an isolated event; it reflects the reemergence of right-wing movements in the Netherlands and across Europe, which have an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric as a common denominator.

By Ada Mullol

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