American supporters of Dutch politician Geert Wilders find themselves circling the wagons as Charles Krauthammer and Glenn Beck add their names to the growing number of right-wing voices condemning Wilders’s rhetoric as “extremist” and “fascist”.
Daniel Luban has pointed me towards an interesting split between Charles Krauthammer and Mark Steyn over the anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and anti-EU politician.
Wilders and his political party—the Party for Freedom (PVV)—have been in the headlines for their strong performance in the latest Dutch parliamentary elections.
We have written about Wilders in the past (here, here and here), but his growing power in the Netherlands and potential influence in EU politics has moved him into the spotlight as political pundits assess whether Wilders’s Islamophobic rhetoric is too hot to touch.
Krauthammer defends Wilders’s right to free speech but questions the “substance and veracity” of Wilders’s arguments.
What he says is extreme, radical, and wrong. He basically is arguing that Islam is the same as Islamism. Islamism is an ideology of a small minority which holds that the essence of Islam is jihad, conquest, forcing people into accepting a certain very narrow interpretation [of Islam].
The untruth of that is obvious. If you look at the United States, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the U.S. are not Islamists. So, it’s simply incorrect. Now, in Europe, there is probably a slightly larger minority but, nonetheless, the overwhelming majority are not.
Wilders does not need to be lectured condescendingly about distinctions within Islam, because he lives with them every day. And he has concluded, notwithstanding Dr. Krauthammer’s views on the precise “minority” that identifies as “Islamist,” that Islam itself is the issue — and that, therefore, regardless of the “moderation” of the “overwhelming majority” of Muslims, the more Islam the less Netherlands in any recognizable sense. Are the gangs of gay bashers on the streets of Amsterdam “Islamist” by Krauthammer’s definition? Maybe, maybe not. But, either way, they make the running, and the rest of the community is either indifferent or quiescent.
As for whether Wilders is “extremist,” his views on the cultural compatibility of immigrants were routine and unexceptional until the 1960s, not only in Europe, but also in the U.S. And, even in North America today, they are the stated policy of the Government of Quebec. One can certainly disagree with that, but does that make Quebec also “fascist” (Beck) or even “extreme” (Krauthammer)?
Steyn may have good reasons to be particularly concerned about attacks on Wilders from right-wing supporters of Israel. As Daniel Luban wrote in January, Steyn has been one of the leading voices in the burgeoning alliance between right-wing supporters of Israel—such as Daniel Pipes and Frank Gaffney—and the European far-right.
(Noticeably failing to rush to Wilders’s defense was Steyn’s former National Review Online colleague and Wilders booster, David Frum. Ali Gharib wrote about Frum’s institutional links to Wilders last year.)
This movement has created some unlikely bedfellows as right-wing supporters of Israel find themselves drawn toward alliances with European far-right political parties—such as the Flemish separatist Vlaams Belang (VB) party—which have only recently dropped explicitly anti-Semitic planks from their party platforms and shifted their focus to the promotion of Islamophobia.
The Weekly Standard’s Adam Brickley attempted to frame Wilders as a pro-Israel “far-right” leader and emphasized Wilders’s trips to Israel as evidence that the Dutch politician is a far-cry from the anti-Semitic right-wing leaders of Europe’s days gone by.
But Wilders is totally unlike “far-right” leaders in the rest of Europe. He is a harsh critic of racism and anti-Semitism, and he is no friend of “far-right neo-fascist” leaders such as the French National Front‘s Jean-Marie Le Pen or the British National Party‘s Nick Griffin. In fact, while those leaders are broadly anti-Semitic and isolationist, Wilders was actually shaped by years spent in Israel as a young man. Hence, he is one of the Jewish state’s strongest European defenders, an advocate of the war on terror, and a firm critic of Jihad–stances which have won him fans among national security hawks in the U.S. Furthermore, his economic agenda is radically libertarian compared to most Europeans and could be a vanguard for European reform.
Earlier this week, Glenn Beck added momentum to the anti-Wilders backlash by using the PVV’s success in the polls as a case study in how political fascism can gain popularity during times of crisis.
Frum, who served as a speechwriter for George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002, took issue with Beck’s diatribe but chose to focus on Beck’s conflation of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Dominique de Villepin instead of the implication that Wilders’s success in the polls was part of a shift toward fascism.
While Wilders’s political career appears to be gaining momentum in the Netherlands, his list of critics in the U.S. has now grown to include Charles Krauthammer, Glenn Beck and The Anti-Defamation League. The scope of Wilders’s alliances on this side of the Atlantic seem to be narrowing to the pundits whose primary mission is to propagate Islamophobia.
Some friends, such as Mark Steyn and “anti-Jihad” bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer may continue to defend Wilders’s anti-Muslim statements and policy proposals, but the more-mainstream right-wingers here are rushing toward the exits.