The following is an interview with Geert Wilders which was published last weekend by the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, and translated by our Flemish correspondent VH. Explanatory notes from the translator are in square brackets:
“The prophet Mohammed is a creepy devil”
Exclusive interview / Dutchman Geert Wilders Dutchman outbids Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh with his anti-Koran film
That he finds the Koran an ‘intolerant, fascist book’, Geert Wilders (44) has already often explained in words. Now the controversial Dutch politician is going to illustrate it with pictures in a short film, and the Netherlands is waiting in fright. “Balkenende has not seen anything and already he speaks of a serious crisis. A frightened, cowardly man,” says Wilders in an exclusive interview with our editorial staff.
by Peter De Backer
“I do not want to sound emotional,” says Wilders during our candid conversation, which takes place in a small hall of the parliament in The Hague. “But I love Belgium. I think it is a beautiful country.” The Dutch politician is under 24/7 guard and is not generous in giving interviews. For our newspaper he makes an exception. “Once a month I go shopping in Antwerp with my wife. With a lot of police around me I still succeed doing this. I am increasingly more recognized. Sometimes we drive further to Brugge or Ghent, beautiful cities. Of course, also there are quite a few people who dislike me, but I love going to Belgium. I also have had some nasty experiences, though. Two years ago I spent New Year’s in Brussels and we encountered a group of Moroccans on the Grande Place. When they recognized me, we very urgently had to get out there and were rescued by the police. Very annoying.”
The anecdote is hardly surprising. Geert Wilders is without question since Pim Fortuyn the most controversial politician in the Netherlands. With his rock-hard attacks against Islam — “The Koran is the Mein Kampf of the Muslims” — he made himself hated by immigrants far beyond the Netherlands. Even before the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, Wilders had to go into hiding because of persistent death threats. Today he has lived for three and a half years with permanent security at his side: our northern neighbors don’t want to witness a third political assassination after those on Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh.
Wilders, who has been MP since 1998 for the Liberal [European Liberal] VVD [Peoples party for Freedom and Democracy], got into a dispute with his party [he thought is was becoming too leftist] and therefore founded his own Party for Freedom. With this party he obtained six percent of the votes in 2006, giving it nine seats in the parliament. Now the Netherlands is under the spell of the short film that Wilders announced last November. The film will be ten to fifteen minutes long and was expected to be released by the end of January, but is now postponed until early in March. “The film will not be completed until mid-February and then I still have to negotiate with the television broadcast organizations about broadcasting it. That will also take several weeks.”
Why do you need to proclaim your ideas in a film?
Geert Wilders: “Last year in a article I explained that the Koran according to my opinion should be banned because it is an intolerant, fascist book. Following that, in a debate in the parliament, I explained why I wanted this ban. The logical third step is now not to demonstrate it by words only, but with pictures to show that the Koran is the source of inspiration for a growing number of people who are doing the most horrible things with it. Unlike other holy books such as the Bible or the Torah, the Koran is not in a cabinet becoming dusty, but it in many countries it is even used as law. “
But Theo Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali already brought a similar message with their film “Submission”?
“That film — which I found splendid — was about the oppressed role of women in Islam. I try to treat multiple themes. The film of Ayaan (like Wilders a former VVD MP) was a film with actors. I also use existing images.”
The Netherlands is waiting in fear. Prime Minister Balkenende already talks of “a significant crisis.” According to him the film has already led to “fierce reactions that can be perceived as threatening”. You keep Netherlands in a grip of fear?
“Not me, but Prime Minister Balkenende does that. A very frightened, cowardly man. He has not yet seen one shot of my film and already talks of a serious crisis. Would he also have reacted like that if I’d argued that the Bible must be prohibited? This scrupulously cowardly and panic-spreading response from the government proves that Islam apparently deserves a special treatment and can not handle criticism. Balkenende behaves like a dhimmi, like a non-Muslim in a Muslim country. He does not nothing else but bow and nod.”
He still has a point: Your film is certainly provocative for Muslims. Do you want to have it on your conscience if it causes violence, perhaps against Dutch in Muslim countries?
“I don’t have that on my conscience! I am a democratically elected politician: almost 600,000 people voted for me or my party. I work within the framework of the law and would never wish it otherwise. If I show the truth as I see it — and thus make use of my freedom of expression — I never carry responsibility when if people who do not agree with me use violence.”
The grand mufti — the Islamic spiritual leader — from Syria warned in his speech to the European Parliament: if you really provoke, “it means simply that Wilders impetus to war and bloodshed. Then he is responsible. It is the responsibility of the Dutch people to prevent him doing so.”
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“If Mr. Balkenende had been a guy with balls — but he is unfortunately only a wimp — then our Minister of Foreign Affairs would have gone to Syria to appeal against this. He should have said: you are all completely nuts. Call that grand mufti to order, because this is a democratically elected member of Parliament, something that doesn’t even exist in your country. He makes a critical film, which also is not allowed by you.”
“But instead, our Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen goes to Syria, bowing four times for Syrian President Assad and says him that my film certainly is not representing the position of the Dutch government. They already offer their apologies before anything has happened! This is just panic! This fear is based on nothing.”
Even the statesman Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang, not a quite a softy when in concerns Islam, thinks you are going too far. You are unnecessarily provocative, he says.
“Then Mr. Dewinter has not understood it well. I am not going too far. I would find it wrong to only say we have enough immigration and Islam, without telling why. What is written in the Koran, what is being told in mosques: that I want to tell. Then you do not go too far; then you clarify why we want nothing of that miserable Islam.”
Filip Dewinter is the chairman of a party which has been condemned for racism. If he finds you being extreme, the conclusion should be that you really must be a racist?
‘As far as I can remember — or I must have been hibernating __ I have never been convicted of anything whatsoever. I also would never, like the party of Mr. Dewinter, form a group in the European parliament with semi-fascist parties*. I do not dislike people. I think that there should be fewer Muslims in the Netherlands. I think the ideology of Islam is abject, fascist and wrong. The prophet Mohammed is a creepy devil whom we in the Netherlands should not worship. Not from hatred, but out of pride and preservation of our Dutch identity and our Western values, I stand for a halt to immigration from Islamic countries. I also want us to try to stimulate people to remigrate to their own countries, albeit voluntarily.”
You want immigrants to voluntarily return by air to Morocco?
“Airplanes, hot air balloons, missiles, you name it. All possible. There are no legal obstacles, and if any, they can we cleared out of the way. Closing the borders to immigration from Muslim countries can be done anyway. The involuntary removal of criminals should be doable as well, by de-naturalizing them. That is a matter of political will. Furthermore you can encourage people to leave on a voluntary basis.”
With a piss-off bonus?
“A beautiful word. I do not want something like that out of hatred or from the idea that these people are no good. My motivation is that already in the two largest cities in the Netherlands the population under 21 years old is more than 50% non-Dutch. That has nothing to do with racism or fascism.”
Jean-Marie Dedecker called you a “screaming conservative with sometimes fascist features.”
“My reputation is apparently not that good in Flanders. (glum smile) I am not racist or fascist. Even more than by Muslims I am denounced by extreme right-wing circles in the Netherlands, if only for my pro-Israeli stand. In the polls we already have fifteen seats. I think that is more important than what a few stray Belgian politicians think of me.”
In Belgium you actually are especially famous for your Mozart-hairdo. It has had much success these days as a carnival-wig. Can you are laugh about that?
“I do find that a funny, playful joke. Some toning down of one self is good. I am from the Limburg [a province in the South-East of the Netherlands, bordering on Belgium and Germany], born and raised in Venlo. From when I was very young every year I celebrated carnival three days and nights. I even have been sent a wig like that. But I would never buy it. It looks lousy. I do not have to wear them, I prefer the original.”
With permission, opinions are divided about that.
‘You are still very kind to me. Most people will find a very strange hairdo. I became a member of Parliament when I was 34, and then I had already had this haircut for about fifteen years. I don’t do this to stand out or something, I just like it this way. I should go and change my hair now because people nag about it? The VVD chairman in Parliament told me once that I was able to become a minister if I did two things: listen to him better and go to the hairdresser. I replied to him that I would do neither.” (laughs)
You have now lived for three and a half years with continuous protection by security people. What does that do to a human being?
“That’s a little bit like my Achilles heel. I don’t wish this to happen to your greatest enemy. I don’t like to talk about it too much, but it is hell. Since October 2004, I lost my freedom. I have no more privacy; today I have to report what I am going to do tomorrow and the day after.”
We have experienced it ourselves: certainly here in the parliament one can not easily get close to you.
“Yet this week at the entrance someone was arrested who wanted to do something to me. People do try, but fortunately they don’t succeed. For private life it is much worse. Not being able to get into your own car, no more shopping in a normal way, no walking spontaneously into a pub during carnival, no longer able to go on holidays without bodyguards next to the pool. All spontaneity is gone from my private life. Always step into this nasty, big, black car; that is something that annoys you the most. Only you must prevent it from dominating you, otherwise it can make you become an unhappy, sour human being.”
Are you really afraid of an assault?
“I am a man of flesh and blood and therefore sometimes scared. But luckily I have a positive character, therefore I am not led by fear.”
Can you see your family?
“That I can. But not always in the way I prefer.”
Maybe you are lucky not to have children?
“Yes, that is certainly a blessing.”
Does your wife also suffer form the situation?
“I’m not going to say anything about that.”
Your sisters and brother always vote left, I read. Is that true?
‘That is absolutely true.”
But they haven’t ostracized you because of your political action?
“Not at all. I suspect that they think: what a funny ideas this man has, but he is my brother. But with the fuss about my film I do not want to say too much about them.”
Where did your pick up your distaste for Islam? Does it stem from your years in Israel, where you worked for a while when you where a young man?
“No, then I was mostly traveling and going after Israeli girls. I was seventeen and had nothing with politics.”
Where does your conviction come from?
“Over the last ten, twenty years, I have visited almost all Islamic countries several times. I have been in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, you name it. I found out rather quickly what’s going wrong there.”
Many people after such travels keep a love for the Islamic culture. Why not you?
Because I have seen the true face of many of these countries. I have indeed encountered hospitable people. In Syria, Iran and Egypt I have eaten in people’s homes bread and had tea. I do not hate those people. But those countries do have a few things in common: they are not democracies, they have no civil society, and there is a very bad religious influence, of Islam. Moderate dictators do not exist, whether it’s the King of Jordan or Saudi Arabia; these are all corrupt crooks. I started traveling and talking with people in all those countries, I started to study, I did an internship with the Saudi Arabian department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris. Time and time again I collided with the negative aspects of Islam, which testify of a backwardness no words can describe.”
Pim Fortuyn also called Islam backward. Do you consider yourself as the political heir to Fortuyn?
“No, I am myself. I had great respect for Fortuyn; that I did.”
If Fortuyn were still alive, would you be a member of his party?
“Maybe he’d be a member of my party.”
Finally, if you where living in Flanders, for whom would you vote?
“That I do not know. (hesitates). Maybe I am not helping him by saying this, but I used to have a lot of contact with the man who is now your Secretary of Defense, Pieter De Crem. He was then, like me, a member of the NATO assembly, when I was already with the VVD. In distant places when we talked often. He has taught me a lot about Belgian politics. But I would not vote for him. In the Netherlands I would never vote for the CDA [Christian Democrats] (the counterpart of CD & V, nvdr).”
* I think Wilders is wrong here; VB is not joining a group in the EU Parliament as far as I know. — VH