The Dutch politician Geert Wilders and his Freedom political party (PVV) stir up strong sentiments.
He is renowned for his stance that Islam in his country is responsible for major social divisions and has lead to the radicalisation of young Muslims to the extent that they are joining terrorist organisations.
Mr Wilders is also strongly against the EU and openly advocates departure.
He has a strong following and PVV is the third largest party in the Dutch Parliament with 24 seats, having won over 15% of the vote. PVV , like UKIP, is also expected to win significant numbers of seats in the May 22 European elections, perhaps becoming the biggest single party from the Netherlands.
Because of his stance against Islam and the EU, many in the left in Britain view Mr Wilders as ‘far right-wing and ‘extremist’ and seek to bracket him with intolerance, racism and potential civil unrest. This article in the Independent is typical .
And how does the BBC treat Mr Wilders? Well, they don’t openly vilify him. But…
In this item, filed this weekend, BBC online correspondent Anna Holligan is keen to say he has a good chance of improving his standing in the European elections and can ‘claim that he is the only politician unafraid to discuss the real concerns of Dutch voters. .
But the rest drips innuendo , and is clearly designed to establish that a primary goal is to ‘stir race hatred’ and that he is a ‘maverick’ who has fomented a ‘race row’. None of Mr Holligan’s construction – apart from the ‘maverick’ label – accuses Mr Wilders directly; it is done entirely by association.
Ms Holligan deployed a less subtle approach when she wrote about Mr Wilders’ alleged attack on the Moroccan community back in March.
She pitched her story as a classical race row – and gave most prominence to claims from the Dutch Moroccan Alliance (SMN) that his remarks were similar to those by Hitler about Jews; that he had crossed a line in targeting a specific group of people.
BBC online boxed a quote that typified her approach, a quote from an SMN spokesman: “Now he has gone a step too far it’s very scary and potentially dangerous”.
Ms Holligan also noted:
“Mr Wilders’ comments came as exit polls from local elections in The Hague revealed that the anti-Islam, anti-immigration PVV was running neck-and-neck with the liberal-leaning D66 party. In the end, the PVV was narrowly nudged into second place in The Hague, winning 14.1% compared to 15.4% secured by D66. But the result, and the enthusiastic response to his anti-Moroccan rhetoric, will galvanise Mr Wilders ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.
“He has consistently campaigned on an anti-EU ticket, blaming “the monster in Brussels” for stealing Dutch politicians’ ability to make decisions about how the country should be run. The PVV is the fourth largest party in the Dutch parliament but leads most national opinion polls.
“Mr Wilders’ popularity has rocketed over the last 10 years, after the murder of anti-Islam politician Pim Fortuyn spurred a surge of anti-immigrant sentiment in a country once famous for its liberal and tolerant attitudes. In 2011, Mr Wilders was acquitted of incitement after being accused of encouraging hatred towards Muslims”.
None of this says directly that Mr Wilders is a racist, but that is clearly what is inferred – he is popular because of his attitudes to Islam and Moroccans and for his illiberal and intolerant attitudes, which are carefully bracketed by Ms Holligan with leaving the EU.
Buried carefully in Ms Holligan’s account is that Mr Wilders had actually called for the deportation only of Moroccan criminals, amid increasing concerns that they were responsible for a growing crime wave.
News-watch records show that Mr Wilders is routinely treated in this way, and that there is a consistent attempt to link his anti-EU stance with racism. In a feature in broadcast by Today last December, for example, Mishal Husain noted that Mr Wilders was trying to start a new anti-EU political party in the Netherlands. But In the report which followed, Gavin Hewitt focused almost entirely on his anti-Muslim stance and asked primarily if he was aiming to stoke up tensions ‘that might be difficult to control’. Mr Wilders denied that he was, but Mr Hewitt said that there were ‘plenty of people’ who said he did stoke up tensions ’between communities’.
The full transcript is below.
Transcript of BBC Radio 4, Today, 13th December 2013, Geert Wilders, 8.51am
MISHAL HUSAIN: The controversial Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, is attempting to start a new political party, bringing far right groups together on an anti-EU platform. UKIP’s Nigel Farage was one of those invited to join, but he’s so far shied away from the project, due to the inclusion of the French National Front. Our Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, has been speaking to Geert Wilders.
GEERT WILDERS: I believe that we have very few things to benefit from the European Union. I believe that a growing amount of voters feel that we pay a lot of money to Europe, but that at the end of the day we are not in charge of our own laws, of our own borders, of our own money, of our own money, of our own budget, and people want to change that.
GAVIN HEWITT: You say you want to fight the monster in Brussels. Do you want to bring down the European Union?
GW: Yes, as a matter of fact, I do, in a way that I would like the Netherlands to leave the European Union.
GH: You’re Eurosceptic, but the leading Eurosceptic in the UK, Nigel Farage from UKIP, he’s shunning your new alliance, isn’t he?
GW: Well, I have a lot of respect for Nigel Farage. I think if you hear and speak what he says he is a politician that I admire a lot. Of course, I know, you are correct that he is very hesitant in joining the party and working together. I hope, however, that after the European elections things might change.
GH: You have said that Islam is not compatible with the Western way of life. But haven’t Muslim communities become part of the European way of life?
GW: Well, indeed, I believe that Islam is an inferior culture. I’m talking about the ideology here, not about the people. I know that a lot of Muslims are law-abiding people whose concern is to have a good life, a good education for their children and a good job and I have nothing against them.
GH: Do you feel a personal responsibility not to stoke up tensions that could, or might lead to an atmosphere that you might find it difficult to control?
GW: But I don’t believe I’ve ever done anything coming close to that. A responsible politician I believe never stirs up any problems in any society.
GH: But there are plenty of people who will say in some of your comments you do stoke up tensions between communities.
GW: Well, you asked what my intention is, I can only give you an honest answer, from Geert Wilders, I’m not speaking on behalf of anyone else. My answer, my honest answer to you is, no, I’m not, I’m staying far away from anything that has to do from stirring up anything.