When you ask the Average Joe what they know about Holland, the answer you get is almost always the same; a country that is one of the most liberal in the world whose capital Amsterdam is famous for its Red Light District and its relaxed laws on drugs. The Dutch people are often thought of as carefree men and women who don’t like to mix work with pleasure. With this mental image it is hard to picture the Dutch as a nation getting upset or angry over a single issue and blowing it totally out of proportion. However this is exactly what they are doing regarding the issue of immigration and more specifically immigrants who practice the Islamic faith.
One event in 2004 brought the issue of immigration to the forefront of every Dutch citizen’s mind. Theo Van Gogh, a controversial Dutch filmmaker, was murdered by a Dutch citizen of Moroccan dissent on his way home from work. Van Gogh had recently brought out a movie called Submission which caused an outrage in the Muslim community in Holland because of its depiction of beaten and raped women with Quaranic verses written on her body. Van Gogh’s murder was the catalyst for a wave of anti-immigrant actions in Holland that had been bubbling under the surface for some time. Attacks on Muslims in Holland mimicked the attacks that were seen in America after 9/11. The murder set the stage for the anti-immigrant Dutch politician Geert Wilders to take the anti-immigrant reins from the late Pim Fortuyn and create the conservative Party of Freedom in early 2006. Before Wilders the most prominent anti-immigrant Dutch politician was Pim Fortuyn. He founded his own party on an anti-immigrant platform and won a big number of seats in the 2002 elections but he was murdered later that year and by time of the Party of Freedom, Fortuyn’s party had lost its popularity.
Wilders party was met with a wave of optimism and approval from a section the Dutch people who suddenly had a microphone in which they could make their anti-immigrant voice ring loud and clear. Wilders Party of Freedom won an amazing 9 votes in parliamentary elections in 2006 making it the 5th largest political party in Holland. Wilders used his new-found power to promote his own anti-immigrant views which are directed at Holland’s Muslim population. He has called the Qur’an a “fascist book” but was still name Dutch politician of the year by the Dutch broadcasting foundation. Wilders has many body guards and lives in a safe house because of threats on his life but that has not stopped his anti-immigrant/ anti-Muslim campaign. Earlier this year brought out his own movie named Fitna whose main message is that the Qur’an promotes terrorist attacks and that Holland is under the spell of Islam.
Just as the American government did after 9/11, the Party of Freedom in Holland has promoted the notion of “us and them.” After 9/11 hundreds of US citizens were interrogated in the name of national security simply because of the color of their skin or the religion that they practiced. In Holland, attacks on Muslims are frequent and attacking Islam is promoted by Wilders and the Party of Freedom. In both countries the issue of citizen’s rights has been thrown out the window. Instead the way a person looks and/or their religion comes before. We must all remind ourselves that it is not illegal to practice a certain religion and that no religion promotes violence against others. There is no room for xenophobia in the world in the 21st century. Encounters with people who are different from us are inevitable and we must all face these with an open mind instead of a wave of prejudice.