November 9, 2010 www.Spiegel.de
In a SPIEGEL interview, Dutch Islam-opponent Geert Wilders discusses his fight for a Koran ban, why German Chancellor Angela Merkel is running scared on the immigration issue, and his belief that the Netherlands’ debate over Muslims has now crossed the border into Germany.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Wilders, you are said to be the strong man behind the new Dutch government because the minority cabinet depends on your support in parliament. Why is your party, 65 years after the Holocaust, relying on outdated approaches — on religious and racial exclusion?
Wilders: We do not support religious exclusion — and certainly not racial exclusion. We have no problems with other skin colors, nor with Muslims — our problem is with Islam. Indeed, we are expressing exactly what many of our compatriots feel. We became the third strongest party during the elections in June and are now, according to the most recent opinion polls, already the second strongest party in Holland.
SPIEGEL: What do you have against Islam?
Wilders: Europe’s greatest problem — not just today, but already for decades now — is cultural relativism. This has led to a situation today where Europeans no longer know what they should be proud of and who they really are — because a so-called liberal and leftist-imposed concept says that all cultures are the same.
SPIEGEL: The same or equal?
Wilders: It has to do with what is described by the wonderful German word Leitkultur, which means “dominant” or “guiding” culture. I think that we should be proud that our culture is better than Islamic culture, for instance. Anyone who says this is not a racist, Nazi or xenophobe. Those are labels that have been put on many people in the Netherlands, Germany and England — just because we believe that Islam is a totalitarian and violent ideology. More of an ideology than a religion, comparable to communism and fascism. Islam threatens our freedom.
SPIEGEL: You maintain that Dutch culture is better than the culture of Islamic countries. Why do you consciously seize upon comparisons that degrade other religions?
Wilders: Anyone who compares the traditions of Judaism, Christianity and humanism with those of Islam doesn’t have to be an Einstein to see the difference. Do you know of a country in the Middle East where Islamic culture prevails and where there is a genuine constitutional state and independent journalism? Where non-believers, women and gays can do what they want? In the West people have given their lives for the freedoms that we enjoy today.
SPIEGEL: You do not acknowledge that cultures and religions can be changed by people. Isn’t that exactly how it was with the Catholic Church?
Wilders: Yes, but how long did it take? I am not saying that I want to ban Islam. I want less Islam in Europe — because it doesn’t allow any room for debate. By contrast, take Judaism and the life in the yeshivas: That is where they debate how the Talmud should be interpreted. With the Koran, however, anyone who does not believe every word is an infidel. And the punishment for that is well known: death.
SPIEGEL: You live around-the-clock with bodyguards and sleep in a heavily guarded residential complex owned by the government. When do you actually meet the people whose interests you claim to advocate?
Wilders: I take part in election campaigns. I show myself on the streets. That is nevertheless, admittedly, a strange sight: There are more police officers around me than you can count.
SPIEGEL: A costly burden for Dutch taxpayers.
Wilders: True. But the alternative would be that a democratically elected politician like myself, who has never threatened anyone with death, can no longer appear in public. In the struggle for the freedom of the Dutch people, I have lost my own freedom. I know that there can be no normal life for me, neither today nor tomorrow. But that is the price that has to be paid.
SPIEGEL: You are one of the most despised politicians in Europe. But in reality you love it when your arguments create a stir.
Wilders: People love or hate me; there is no gray area. My party and I are a threat to the political elite in many countries. But they will not stop us. Take a look at German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is now trying to create a copy.
SPIEGEL: A copy of your policies as you have just maintained, in all seriousness?
Wilders: Merkel is afraid — because there are opinion polls which show that a charismatic figure, if one were to emerge in Germany as I have done in the Netherlands, could count on 20 percent of the vote. I mean a figure without a far right-wing background — in other words, not from the Republikaner (REP) or the National Democratic Party (NPD). This represents a threat to the mainstream political parties, which is why they are now trying to copy us: Merkel has declared that the multicultural society has failed.
SPIEGEL: She also said that Islam belongs to Germany — and that we need additional immigration.
Wilders: Yes, but I have never heard her say before that the multicultural society has failed. And the majority of Germans reject the statement by German President Christian Wulff that Islam is part of Germany. This means that what we have already witnessed here in Holland is now occurring in your country as well — the political elite is in turmoil.
SPIEGEL: Who are you thinking of in particular?
Wilders: The head of Germany’s conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), Horst Seehofer, not only says that the multicultural society is dead, but also that he wants no more Turkish and Arab immigrants. If I said the same thing in Holland, I would be taken to court. When I appeared in Berlin in October, nearly half of the German cabinet voiced their objections — isn’t that a sign that the elite there are rattled?
SPIEGEL: You compare the Koran with Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” Have you read “Mein Kampf”?
Wilders: Yes, but not in its entirety. The Koran has, in any case, more anti-Jewish passages. In principle, these are concoctions with a totalitarian approach, which allows no room for other opinions. Fascism, communism, and Islam adhere to the same principle.
SPIEGEL: Your own principle is apparently this: The more drastic the comparison, the more headlines it generates.
Wilders: I don’t need headlines. For me, it’s the truth that matters.
SPIEGEL: The truth is that you are dividing Dutch society: Here in The Hague, nearly half of the residents come from immigrant families, and many of them are Muslims. And you are calling for the Koran to be banned?
Wilders: “Mein Kampf” is banned in our country. But the Koran is worse in terms of inciting hatred and violence. If my left-wing friends were consistent, the Koran would have to be banned.
SPIEGEL: Are you familiar with this quote from the Prophet? “But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to be their king, bring them here and slay them before me”?
Wilders: I have read many such passages.
SPIEGEL: The Prophet cited in this case was Jesus, from Luke, Chapter 19, Verse 27. Do you admit that there are also calls for violence in the Bible?
Wilders: There are brutal passages in the Old Testament; the New Testament takes a more moderate approach. But a key difference between Christianity and Islam is that Muslims believe that the Koran contains verbatim the word of God; it is written in the imperative. This precludes a comparison with Christianity.
SPIEGEL: You are familiar with Thilo Sarrazin’s book. Do you share his opinion that there are genetic reasons for the “inferiority” of certain ethnic groups?
Wilders: I do not believe in genetic causes; I am miles away from there. I believe rather that all people who embrace our values, our laws and our constitution are full members of our society. I would even go so far as to say that the majority of the Muslims in Europe are people like you and I; they lead a normal life, have a normal occupation and want the best for their children. My problem is with the growing influence of an ideology that will cost us our freedom.
SPIEGEL: Do you see a German Geert Wilders on the horizon?
Wilders: I was recently in Berlin on an invitation from René Stadtkewitz …
SPIEGEL: … a former member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who is also calling for another integration policy and recently founded a party called Die Freiheit (The Freedom Party), which virtually nobody in Germany has ever heard of.
Wilders: That may be true, but the main thing for me is that I want to have absolutely nothing to do with far right-wing parties like the German Republikaner, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National in France and the British National Party.
SPIEGEL: You disassociate yourself from their die-hard slogans, but agree with them when it comes to aggressively wooing the votes of the hard-working middle class?
Wilders: We want to have nothing to do with these far right-wing parties. Indeed, following our success in the European Union elections, we have joined no faction in the European Parliament. Ask our political opponents in the Netherlands: They may not share our opinions, but they do not all maintain that Wilders and his people are extremists. Anyone who labels 2 million Dutch as extremists does not insult me, but rather the voters.
SPIEGEL: You say that you are not an extremist. And yet, at the same time, you have called for an annual €1,000 “head rag tax” for women who wear headscarves?
Wilders: I was not able to win over a majority in parliament for this. I am interested in the big picture, but again and again it is this proposal that is picked out in public.
SPIEGEL: Was the whole “head rag tax” business a bad joke?
Wilders: No, not a joke, just one proposal among others. Don’t forget, we support a minority government which would not be in power without us. And this means that there will soon be a ban in Holland on wearing the burqa and an enormous reduction in immigration. We are very successful.
SPIEGEL: What will happen to the Dutch Muslims? Those who refuse to adapt will be sent back in the future?
Wilders: No, not sent back — unless they are criminals.
SPIEGEL: The new Dutch minister for immigration, Christian Democrat Gerd Leers, fairly recently referred to you as the “embodiment of common Internet muckrakers.” Have you confronted him about this?
Wilders: If I did not speak with people who call me names, I could not engage in politics. I had a good conversation with him. I am interested in the results that this coalition government can achieve with our support — I see this from a purely business perspective. If the government keeps its promises, that’s good. If not, the government will have a problem.
SPIEGEL: Aren’t you sometimes ashamed of the hatred that you sow?
Wilders: I don’t sow hatred. I only use the democratic options in parliament.
SPIEGEL: That’s what the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) claimed when they joined a coalition government in Vienna 10 years ago. EU sanctions were the result. Nothing comparable has happened in Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands. It seems as if right-wing populism has become socially acceptable in Europe.
Wilders: The EU would do well to get used to the idea. My party will not be the last to emerge here. The Danish People’s Party has supported a minority government for the past nine years, and no one in Europe is complaining about it.
SPIEGEL: You have vehemently spoken out against Turkey joining the EU. How does the Dutch government view the pre-accession process leading to EU membership for the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, which both have large Muslim populations?
Wilders: This is dealt with in the coalition agreement. But my party rejects any form of EU expansion. We will vote against all additional candidates, including Croatia. In this case, the government will have to seek its majority elsewhere. Above all, we will vote against accepting Turkey — a neighbor, yes; a member of the family, no. If it were not for the army, the Islamists would rule with no counterbalance thanks to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party. And some day we would have a Trojan Islamic horse in the EU — and an external border with criminal states like Syria and Iran.
SPIEGEL: That is something that never existed before Geert Wilders arrived: a one-man party that has a say in the fortunes of an EU member state. You are the only member, the party chairman, parliamentary floor leader, chief ideologist and treasurer of the Freedom Party (PVV), which you founded. Will things stay that way?
Wilders: We will soon discuss within the parliamentary faction whether we should accept additional party members. The idea is to keep the wrong people from holding our party hostage.
SPIEGEL: Isn’t it really the case that your party is fighting the wrong battle — in the name of a Western civilization that is noticeably suffering from an aging population, demographic decline and disaffection with political parties?
Wilders: The demographic development is in fact negative. I read the other day that in England last year the most commonly chosen first name for a boy was Mohammed. I have nothing against Muslim babies. But if Mohammed is now the new favorite name of the English, we have a problem. Europe has to rise up and, with united forces, tell the Islamic world: Enough is enough, we will defend ourselves with democratic means.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Wilders, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Walter Mayr and René Pfister. Translated from the German by Paul Cohen.