A national poll in the Netherlands has named Geert Wilders as the country’s most popular politician for a third year running, on this occasion winning by a comfortable margin. The controversial anti-Islamisation leader of the Party for Freedom has experienced a growth in support since the rise of ISIS, the mass migration of Middle Eastern refugees into the EU, and the Paris terror attacks have shaken the foundations of European security.
His uncompromising and often vitriolic attacks on Muslims have led him to be detested in some quarters, whilst provoking admiration in other citizens feeling increasingly uneasy in the modern world. Wilders recently went so far as to claim that a national study had shown that 11% of Dutch Muslims supported violence, a startling figure given that most European governments attribute domestic jihadist activity to a tiny minority of Islamic followers.
An admirer of Donald Trump’s proposal to temporarily halt all Muslim immigration, Wilders is taking advantage of the legitimate concerns of much of the European population. Whilst he and other right-wing proponents may have overblown the ‘Muslim threat’ for political purposes, there is no doubt that the migration crisis and the increasing prevalence and potential of domestic Islamic terrorism need to be addressed.
Whilst there are undoubtedly logistical difficulties of responding to mass illegal immigration from the Middle East and Africa – difficulties that cannot be solved by simply building defensive walls along national borders – the potential for terrorists to masquerade as refugees and seek asylum in Europe must not be overlooked. The recent EU deal with Turkey to help tackle the migration crisis closer to the warzones of the Middle East is unlikely to have an immediate impact and the sincerity of the Turks’ promise to enforce stricter controls on migrant flows is hard to confirm.
Support for the far right might be increasing in the Netherlands – just as it is across Europe – but for Wilders to succeed, the Dutch will have to overlook their troubled relationship with nationalistic politics. In particular, memories of collaboration with the occupying Nazi regime during World War Two and the rise of Dutch fascism will be too much to ignore for some tempted by Wilders’ rhetoric.
The Dutch National Socialist Movement (NSB) emerged in the 1930s as a parallel organisation to the Nazis in Germany. Whilst never achieving anywhere near the electoral support of the Nazis, the NSB was crucial in fostering an atmosphere of resignation and acceptance of an eventual German invasion. When the Nazis did assume control of the Netherlands, many citizens were content to accept life under the new flag.
Having hailed the Nazis as the saviours of Europe, NSB leader Anton Mussert was ultimately rewarded by Adolf Hitler by being made Leader of the Dutch People in December 1942. Mussert helped mastermind the incarceration and deportation of Dutch Jews, supported a Dutch SS and generally subscribed to the fascist tenets of his overlords in Berlin.
As with the French – and especially their collaborationist Vichy Regime – accusations flew wildly after the war concluded about who had actively resisted the Nazis in the Netherlands, who had kept quiet, and who had willingly supported the fascist regime. The inconclusive evidence about the level of collaboration in both the Netherlands and France has cast an awkward shadow over their recent histories and helped prevent a resurrection of mass public support for right-wing politics.
Are times about to change though? The National Front of France, under Marine le Pen, has become a genuine contender for leadership of the country after the 2017 presidential elections. Recent regional elections even saw the National Front’s rivals siding with one another in an attempt to dissuade voters from deserting the centre.
The Dutch, unlike the French, have so far been spared an act of mass terrorism on their doorsteps. What would a similar event – awful though it is to imagine – provoke in the minds of the population? Would it give Wilders the platform he needs to cast off the shackles of history and evolve from political also-ran to the arbiter of government?
For some this might be a frightening prospect; for others, a potential safeguard for the life to which they have become accustomed. Either way, the times are changing and the Islamic threat is growing. Somewhere, at sometime, something will have to give.