Having met several Dutch friends over the last two days, there´s been one issue popping up in every chat: the success of anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders and his party PVV. The question is what explains his growing success and what is the needed response.
In the European Parliament elections Wilders´ PVV grew into the second biggest party winning certain key areas such as Rotterdam and The Hague. These are also the cities with some of the highest numbers of people of non-Western descent. His party has now 4 seats in the European Parliament, which is one more than the Greens, the Social Democrats or the two Liberal parties. He is serious business.
His biggest target are the Muslims in the Netherlands. He has has for instance suggested a 5-year ban on non-Western immigration. He has publicly confessed a hatred of Islam. Wilders´ agenda is largely similar to many other populist parties. His party is basically built around him as the undisputed leader, he makes a clear distinction between himself and "The Hague elite" and says the country has drifted into an "anything goes" sort of cultural relativism. He calls for tough measures and wants the country to declare openly an Judao-Christian value basis.
In the discussions I have had, I have heard different analysis of his support. I find all of them intriguing as they call for different solutions. As one knows from medicine, one needs to identify the illness correctly to ease the pain. There´s no need for surgery, if the problems are psychosomatic.
Analysis 1: The people voting for Wilders are ignorant and only if they would understand that immigration is beneficial for the Netherlands, we would all be better.
Solution: Isolating Wilders from the other political parties and increasing contact between groups.
Analysis 2: Wilders´ support builds on disappointment on one´s fellow citizens. The people voting for him feel like they have been left behind not only by the government but also the people who are doing better.
Solution: The elite needs to sharpen up and use emotional strategies to build a sense of belonging stressing to themselves and to the disappointed people that we are a whole and that we have responsibility for each other.
Analysis 3: We are in a culture war. Wilders represents a different society model, which gains support from a large part of the society. Similarities can be found from the US on issues such as euthanasia, abortion and race.
Solution: Both sides need to sharpen up their argumentation. Wilders´ great challenge is creating an intellectual basis for his policy as the party matures.
I don´t want to take a stand on the matter apart from ruling out number one. I sense an undemocratic flavour in it and find it disturbingly arrogant. I am all for increasing contact but it cannot start from the notion that the other side is seen as a victim of false consciousness.
In some ways I find the emotional aspect quite appealing. A lot of people are feeling scared even when they cannot actually give the fear a name. And for a person in panic, the newcomer is an easy scapegoat. Large parts of the population feel a risk of losing all their life is based on. We as a society need to take these fears seriously. Fear needs to be tackled not only with rationality but with emotion.
This situation should be seen by all parties as a possibility to be clearer on what kind of future you are fighting for. If we really are in a culture war, it is time for everyone to get more clever, sharper and more active. The good thing is that at least until now this dissent on the current rule is channelling largely through elections.
Despite which explanation one follows, one thing remains. It is all about bringing politics back to politics.
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