As the Netherlands prepares for elections in March, immigration is emerging as one of the defining issues of a campaign pitting Rutte against the super-hero Geert Wilders. A country whose most outspoken filmmaker was slaughtered by an Islamist; whose bravest refugee, hunted by a fatwa, fled to the U.S.; whose cartoonists must live under protection, had better think twice before condemning a Member of Parliament, whose comments about Islam have forced him to live under 24-hour protection for more than a decade, for pseudo-hate speech. Poor Erasmus! The Netherlands is no longer a safe haven for free thinkers. It is the Nightmare for Free Speech.
The most prominent politician in the Netherlands, MP Geert Wilders, convicted of inciting discrimination and insulting a minority group, for asking at a really if there should be fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. Many newly-arrived Moroccans in the Netherlands seem to have been responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime there. It would have been better if the Dutch state had sent a clear signal to terrorists via a Dutch court that it fosters a broad notion of the freedom of expression in the Netherlands.
The number of people who claimed asylum in the Netherlands doubled in 2015 as thousands of Syrians made their way to the country, often through difficult journeys across Europe.
The result was that asylum seeker centers, many in provincial surroundings far from the Netherlands’ cosmopolitan cities, rapidly increased the numbers of people they hosted, bringing in bunk beds and temporary shelters to make space.
In Oude Pekela, locals said, it suddenly seemed like the newcomers were everywhere — walking on the roadside, filling the supermarket to buy groceries, taking up seats on the bus to the nearby town of Winschoten.
“Our community is too small for this number of people,” said Heye Meyer, a 60-year-old former construction worker, sitting on his mobility scooter outside the supermarket. “We are afraid.”
Like elsewhere in the country, discomfort grew into protests, citizen street patrols and a building momentum among small-scale political groups opposed to immigration that could prove decisive when Dutch voters head to the polls in March.
Here are just a few details to help understand what Wilders experiences every day because of his ideas: No visitors are allowed into his office except after a long wait to be checked. The Dutch airline KLM refused to board him on a flight to Moscow for reasons of security. His entourage is largely anonymous. When a warning level rises, he does not know where he will spend the night. For months, he was able to see his wife only twice a week, in a secure apartment, and then only when the police allowed it. The Parliament had to place him in the less visible part of the building, in order better to protect him. He often wears a bulletproof vest to speak in public. When he goes to a restaurant, his security detail must first check the place out.
Wilders’s life is a nightmare. “I am in jail,” he told us; “they are walking around free.”
The historic dimension of Wilders’s conviction is related not only to the terrible injustice done to this MP, but that it was the Netherlands that, for the first time in Europe, criminalized dissenting opinions about Islam.
The Netherlands is a very small country; whatever happens to this enclave is seen in the rest of Europe. The Netherlands refused to surrender to the Spanish invasion. It was from Rotterdam, the second-largest Dutch city, that the Founding Fathers left to create the United States of America. It was to the Netherlands that some of the most brave, original European philosophers and writers — Descartes, Rousseau, Locke, Sade, Molière, Hugo, Swift and Spinoza — had to flee to publish their books. It is also the only corner of Europe where there were no pogroms against Jews, and where Rembrandt painted Jesus with the physical traits of Jews.
Take Leiden: Praesidium Libertatis, Bastion of Freedom, is the motto of the Netherlands’ most ancient university. Leiden was the university of Johan Huizinga, the great historian who opposed the Nazis and died in a concentration camp. Leiden was also the university of Anton Pannekoek, the mentor of Martinus Van der Lubbe, the Dutch hero who torched the Nazi Parliament in 1933.
In Leiden today, you meet brave intellectuals such as Afshin Ellian, an Iranian jurist who fled Khomeini’s Revolution in Iran and who also now lives under police protection for his observations on Islam. Ellian’s office is close to the former office of Rudolph Cleveringa. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and called on Dutch public officials to fill out a form in which they had to declare whether they were Aryans or Jews, everyone but Cleveringa capitulated. He understood the consequences of such commands.
Twelve years ago, the Netherlands was again plunged into fear for the first time since World War II. In Linnaeusstraat, a district of Amsterdam, Mohammed Bouyeri, a Muslim extremist, ambushed the filmmaker Theo van Gogh and slaughtered him, then pinned on his chest a letter threatening the lives of Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Before that murder, Pim Fortuyn, a professor who had formed his own party to save the country from Islamization, was shot to death. Fortuyn had said: We have a lot of guests who are trying to take over the house.
Since then, many Dutch artists have capitulated to fear. Sooreh Hera, from Iran, submitted her photos to the Gemeentemuseum Museum in The Hague. One of these works depicted Mohammed and Ali. After many threats, the museum proposed that it would acquire the photos without publishing them and that one day, perhaps, when the situation was calmer, they might show them then. Hera refused: it would have been self-censorship, a sad day for the West. Rants Tjan, director of Museum Gouda, bravely offered to exhibit her censored images, but that event was later cancelled, too. Hera was forced to go into hiding.
Paul Cliteur, a critic of multiculturalism, announced that he would no longer write for Dutch newspapers about Islam, for fear of reprisals: With the murder of van Gogh, everyone who writes takes a certain risk. That is a scary development. What I am doing do is self-censorship, absolutely….
Then a columnist, Hasna el Maroudi, from the newspaper NRC Handelsblad, stopped writing, after receiving threats. The Dutch artist Rachid Ben Ali, irreverent about Islam, no longer satirizes Muslims.
Amsterdam, a city famous for its exuberant cultural life, had already lived through threats to artists: the occupation by the Nazis during World War II.
Several artists still refuse to mention Theo Van Gogh, so as not to “contribute to… divisions”, according to the New York Times. Translation: They are afraid. Who would not be?
In the Oosterpark, a steel sculpture by the artist Jeroen Henneman, dedicated to Van Gogh, is entitled De Schreeuw, The Scream. But it is a scream you hardly hear in the Dutch society.
What you do hear is the defiant protest after the conviction of a brave MP, Geert Wilders: I will never be silent. You will not be able to stop me… And that is what we stand for. For freedom and for our beautiful Netherlands.
Before being slaughtered, clinging to a basket, Theo van Gogh begged his assassin: Can we talk about this?
But can we talk? Ask Geert Wilders, just the latest brave victim of Europe’s Bolshevik thought police.
The numbers of asylum applications to the Netherlands was a fraction of those next door in Germany. In 2015, there were some 56,900 applicants; from January to November 2016, another 26,600. But the sharp increase meant that normal procedures to acclimatize local communities were rushed. Everything had to be done quick. You have to take time for these changes, and last year there was no time. But then again, nobody had to sleep outside or under a bridge.
Ahmad, 20, a refugee from Aleppo, said it might have been better for new arrivals like himself to have been placed in a city. “It is maybe strange for them that we are here. It is a small town, with many old people,” he said. “It could be better in Amsterdam.”
Tensions came to a head in September when a wildcat protest, fueled by rumors of harassment by asylum seekers shared over social media, formed outside the asylum center gates. Police kept the crowd back, but the mayor was forced to issue an emergency order to disperse the protest. Shortly afterward, he promised to cut the number of people housed in the center.
That was the month the neighborhood watch began patrolling the village with the aim of stamping out anti-social behavior and harassment, reporting any wrongdoers to the police.
Such self-appointed anti-crime groups have ballooned in the Netherlands from 124 groups in 2012 to 661 in 2016, according to a study by sociologist Vasco Lub, raising fears of vigilantism.
United We Stand Holland: Protecting Our Citizens, was formed after an incident in which locals accosted an Oude Pekela asylum seeker and handed him over to police, accusing him of harassment. A statement released afterward by authorities said that the man had behaved inappropriately toward a 12-year-old girl in a supermarket.
In the run up to Christmas, United We Stand has switched its focus to gifting hampers to households. And as the election approaches, it and other groups like it have turned their attention making sure their voices are heard.
United We Stand features streams of posts about misdeeds by asylum seekers, attacks on Dutch culture, and updates about Geert Wilders.
“People are tired of it! And rightly so!” the group told us as it shared a poll that showed Wilders’ Freedom Party had increased its lead against Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. “Wilders is the only hope for a better governance of this country.”