ISLAM’S TROUBLED HISTORY with Europe has reached a critical point. Geert Wilders’ electoral victory last month in the Netherlands could make him Europe’s most Islamophobic prime minister ever.
Many weeks, perhaps months, of negotiations with other political parties lie ahead before Wilders is appointed prime minister. His PVV party won 35 seats out of the Netherlands’ 150-seat House of Representatives. Securing support from other parties will not be easy.
Working in Wilders’ favour is the fact that other political combinations face an even steeper task to patch together a workable government.
Wilders’ success is not an isolated phenomenon in an increasingly polarised Europe. Countries as diverse as Hungary, Italy, Poland, Sweden and Spain have voted into power governments on an anti-immigration platform.
Most of the sentiment across Europe against migrants is directed at Muslims. Politicians like Wilders, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and others have capitalised on ordinary people’s anger with the violence radicalised Muslim migrants have unleashed on local communities.
When Syrian and Kurdish refugees fled relentless bombing by the US and its allies during Syria’s civil war in 2015, they were welcomed as asylum seekers in Germany, a notoriously insular country. Over the next few years, waves of Muslim refugees fleeing wars in Libya, Syria and Iraq arrived in Italy, Germany and farther north in Sweden.
Wilders’ anti-Muslim speeches have made him a target for assassination ever since he entered politics. Several attempts have been made on his life. He travels with round-the-clock armed security in bulletproof vehicles. Wilders has operated from a windowless office for nearly 20 years.
This is what Wilders reportedly said soon after his electoral victory: “I have a message for all Muslims in the Netherlands who do not respect our freedom, our democracy and our core values, who find the rules of the Quran more important than our secular laws: get out!”
Last year, Wilders backed BJP leader Nupur Sharma over her remarks on Prophet Muhammad during a television debate: “Never give in to Islamic terrorists like Al-Qaeda, they represent barbarism. The whole Indian nation should rally around #nupursharma now and support her. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban put me on their hitlist years ago. One lesson: never bow to terrorists. Never!”
European countries like Britain with a sizeable Muslim population have been wary of Wilders’ Islamophobic speeches. It banned him from entering Britain in 2019. Several dozen British constituencies have a large number of Muslim voters from Pakistan. They can sway close elections.
Countries as diverse as Hungary, Italy, Poland, Sweden and Spain have voted into power governments on an anti-immigration platform
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Britain has long been soft on Pakistani grooming gangs that sexually abuse young British girls. Anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain, however, is covert. Like racism, Islamophobia is unacceptable in polite British society. Tainted by their historical record of colonialism and slavery, the British are sensitive to charges of discrimination in any form.
France has an older Muslim problem than other European countries. Its colonies in Muslim North Africa— Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco—have drawn a stream of postcolonial migrants.
Successive French governments have imposed strict rules on women wearing a burqa covering the face in public. The murderous attack by Islamist terrorists on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 journalists and illustrators in January 2015 has not been forgotten.
As in Britain, Muslims in France have reacted to growing Islamophobia by taking over entire streets to read namaz at the appointed hour. It is this brazen defiance of civic norms in their adopted country that has turned the average Europeans against Muslims, especially migrants.
Poland’s Member of European Parliament (MEP) Dominik Tarczyński reflected the sentiment in a speech in Strasbourg on September 14, 2023: “There are zero terrorist attacks in Poland. Why? Because there is no illegal migration in Poland.”
Europeans are often astonished that India’s estimated 220 million Muslims—a larger number than the combined population of France, Germany and Britain—live alongside 1,100 million Hindus in relative harmony. For such a large and poor country, incidents of violence against Muslims are low.
Islamic dictatorships like Qatar, which were quick to harangue India for Nupur Sharma’s remark on television, have been notably silent on Wilders’ anti-Muslim tirade.
Other Arab sheikhdoms have said very little too. They depend on military hardware from Europe and the US. The spread of Islamophobia from Poland and Hungary to Italy and Sweden is a problem for the future. For the present, Qatar and others in the Middle East are busy running with the Hamas hares and hunting with the Israeli hounds.