AMSTERDAM — Muslim-baiting Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders is bringing Muhammad cartoons from Garland, Texas, to Dutch television, clearly hoping to hype the terror threat, especially to himself, and play on that for public support. The Dutch government, meanwhile, is sending out word to its embassies and consulates around the world, telling them they should hope for the best but expect the worst.
Wilders, who likes to call Muhammad “the biggest terrorist that ever lived” and claims the Prophet “decapitated entire Jewish tribes and raped children,” will use the free national airtime all Dutch political parties get in order to show the contest cartoons that brought on a failed terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, near Dallas, early last month.
It’s possible this move will be met with a yawn and a shrug by Muslims in Europe and much of the rest of the world. That’s happened with some of Wilders’ earlier stunts. But he’s going to be milking this one for all its worth, rebroadcasting the cartoons on June 20, June 24 and July 3.
The Dutch government sent cables to 140 diplomatic posts worldwide preparing them for the potential ramifications. In the brief, the ambassadors are asked to emphasize the fact that broadcasting the cartoons was not a governmental initiative, but that of a Dutch parliamentarian who is using his right of free speech. But that is unlikely to mollify the kinds of fanatics who, just this year, slaughtered the staff at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in France, tried to murder a cartoonist in Copenhagen, and hoped to burst into the contest venue in Texas with guns blazing before they were killed by law enforcement officers.
“Things can happen. It can get very heated, foreign governments can get annoyed,” said a Dutch diplomat with a security background and a penchant for understatement. “We also have to take the response of the people in the street into consideration. You have to be prepared for that.”
What the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry hopes to prevent is a replay of the commotion surrounding Wilders’ announcement of his film “Fitna” in 2008. In that case the hype that preceded it was more incendiary than the reaction once the compilation of anti-Islam propaganda clips had been broadcast.
“At the time I was based in Amman, Jordan, and nothing much was happening there,” says Dutch national news correspondent Mustapha Oukbih. “There was a small-scale organized demo in Beirut, Lebanon, but the rest of the Muslim world hardly responded. So I don’t expect much this time around, maybe some small organized demonstration in Pakistan or so, but no massive global action.”
The dyed-blonde anti-immigrant Wilders, who is also a passionate supporter of Israel, says he is traveling the world to “warn people of the dangers of Islam.” Last weekend he spoke at a conference in Denmark, but his rhetoric sounded as if were intended for a wider, and indeed largely American, audience. “Islam wants to enslave us all to Sharia law and kill everyone who resists or dares to reject it,” said Wilders. “Abraham Lincoln, the American president who liberated his country from slavery, said (I quote): ‘Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.’ I agree. It is not wrong to discriminate between good and evil, between democracy and tyranny, between freedom and slavery.”
The Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas, organized by Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, featured Wilders as its keynote speaker. Just after the Dutch politician left the venue it was attacked by two Islamist extremists who were shot dead.
Wilders, who has been trying for years to build his following in the United States is not the kind of man who misses political opportunities. So the supposed lessons of the Garland attack quickly became a refrain in his speeches. Referring to it reinforces Wilders’ rhetoric about his mission to “warn the world.”
“Wilders has a one-issue program politically: Islam,” says Oukbih. “It just goes to show how ideologically bankrupt he really is. On a national level [in the Netherlands] he is played out, isolated. No party wants to work with his PVV party so now he is seeking an international stage for himself. I predict he won’t get very far because he can only get the sympathy of fringe movements.”
But the Dutch populist sees a war that can be won, he tells the Danes: “We must realize that every halal shop, every mosque, every Islamic school, and every burka is regarded by Islam as a step toward the ultimate goal of our submission. We are at a crossroads. And we must choose. Freedom of speech is under attack. If we do nothing, we are going to lose it. The choice is not between freedom of speech or censorship, but between appeasement and resistance. You cannot have it both ways. There is no middle way. Fortunately, more and more people are becoming aware of what is at stake.”
Wilders’ fear mongering strikes a chord with many people, as often happens with populist rhetoric that simplifies the world into black and white, them and us. “We love our children, we love our countries, and we want them to remain free,” says Wilders. “But we have to do our duty and be brave. If that means that we have to become politically incorrect, then we have to be politically incorrect. We are at war and we should win it.”
In Denmark Wilders reiterated his intention to use Dutch television as the platform for his “cartoon action,” regardless of the consequences for the Dutch audience, diplomatic service, or the reputation of The Netherlands abroad.
“What the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to make clear with its brief is that the government is in no way responsible for Wilders’ doing,” says Oukbih, but as he points out, “That is something some countries are unwilling to understand.”
So far the world has remained sensibly calm and seemingly unimpressed. If reason prevails, foreign audiences and governments should see Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders with a wary eye and give their cartoons no more than a grunt and snigger.
If not, the spiral of confrontation and hatred will just continue to get worse.