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Geert Wilders ( or ; born 6 September 1963) is a Dutchmarker politician and leader of the Party for Freedom, a political party in The Netherlands. Born in the city of Venlomarker and raised as a Roman Catholic, Wilders attributes his politics to his support for what he calls 'Judeo-Christian values'. He formed many of his political views in his travels to Israelmarker, as well as the neighboring Arab countries, and his early job at the Dutch social insurance agency moved him to politics, where he worked as a speechwriter for the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. In 1996, he moved to the city of Utrechtmarker, and was elected in the city council, and later the House of Representatives of the Netherlandsmarker.

Citing irreconcilable differences on the party's position on Turkish accession to the European Union, Wilders left the People's Party in 2004 to form his own party, the Party for Freedom. Since then, he has been outspoken on a number of issues such as immigration, freedom of speech, the fundamental beliefs of Islam, and the behavior of Moroccan youth in the cities. His controversial 2008 film about Islam in the Netherlands, Fitna, has received international attention. On , the Amsterdammarker Court of Appeal ordered his prosecution for what it said was "the incitement to hatred and discrimination". Wilders was also controversially banned from entering the United Kingdom between and , with the Home Office viewing his presence as a "threat to one of the fundamental interests of society". The ban was overturned after Wilders appealed. He visited the UK on October 16, 2009.

Early life and career

Wilders was born in the city of Venlomarker, Netherlandsmarker, in the province of Limburgmarker on the southern Dutch border with Germanymarker. He is the youngest of four children. His father worked as a manager for the printing and copying manufacturing company Océ. His father fled the area to escape from the Nazis and became so traumatized from the experience that he refused to physically enter Germany even forty years later. Wilders speculates that his father may have had some Jewish ancestry.

Wilders' mother was born in Soekaboemimarker, Dutch East Indiesmarker. In a biography, Wilders himself seems to play down his Indo heritage. Anthropologist Lizzy van Leeuwen analyses Wilders' Eastern heritage with the concept of displacedness, and classifies his standpoints as "post-colonial revanchism". This analysis is met with agreement in Indo communities. However, in an interview, Wilders denied van Leeuwens' speculations.

Wilders received his secondary education at the Mavo and Havo middle school and high school in Venlo. Reflecting passions that came to the fore later in his career, Wilders took a course in health insurance at the Stichting Opleiding Sociale Verzekeringen in Amsterdammarker and earned several law certificates at the Dutch Open Universitymarker.

Wilders' goal after he graduated from secondary school was to see the world. Because he did not have enough money to travel to Australia, his preferred destination, he went to Israelmarker instead. For several years he volunteered in a moshav and worked for several firms, becoming in his own words "a true friend of Israel". With the money he saved, he traveled to the neighboring Arab countries, and was moved by the lack of democracy in the region. When he went back to the Netherlands, Israeli ideas about counterterrorism and a "special feeling of solidarity" for the country remained.

Living in Utrechtmarker, Wilders initially worked in the health insurance industry. His interest in the subject led him into politics as a speech-writer for the Netherlands' People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. He started his formal political career as a parliamentary assistant to Minister Frits Bolkestein, specializing in foreign policy. He held this job between 1990 to 1998. During this time Geert Wilders travelled extensively. He travelled all across the Middle East in the 1990s, including Iran, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. Minister Bolkestein was one of the first Dutch politicians to address mass immigration, and he set an example for Wilders not only in his ideas but also in his confrontational speaking style.

Political career

Wilders was elected for the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy to the municipal council of Utrechtmarker, the fourth largest city of the Netherlands, in 1997. He lived in Kanaleneilandmarker, a suburb with cheap social housing and high apartment blocks, thus full of immigrants. While a city councilor, Wilders was mugged in his own neighborhood; some have speculated that this may have catalysed his political transformation. He was not rewarded for his time on the municipal council of Utrecht, for in the following elections he would score well below national average in the University city.

A year later, he was elected to the Netherlands' national parliamentmarker, but his first four years in parliament drew little attention. But in 2002, his appointment as a public spokesman for the People's Party, led Wilders to become more well known for his outspoken criticism of Islamic extremism. Tensions immediately developed within the party, as Wilders found himself to be to the right of most members, and challenged the party line in his public statements. In September 2004, Wilders left the People's Party, having been a member since 1989, to form his own political party, Groep Wilders, later renamed the Party for Freedom. His final dispute with the party was about his refusal to endorse the party's position that European Union accession negotiations must be started with Turkey.

The Party for Freedom's political platform often overlap those of the assassinated Rotterdammarker politician Pim Fortuyn and his Pim Fortuyn List. It bases its ideas on a small government, law and order, and direct democracy ideological framework. It calls for a €16 billion tax reduction, a far stricter policy toward recreational drug use, investing more in roads and other infrastructure, building nuclear power plants, and including animal rights into the Dutch constitution. In the 2006 Dutch parliamentary election, the Party for Freedom won, in its first parliamentary election, 9 out of the 150 open seats.

Polling conducted throughout March 2009 by Maurice de Hond has indicated that the Party for Freedom is the most popular parliamentary party. The polls predicted that the party would take 21 per cent of the national vote, taking 32 out of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament. If the polling results were to be replicated at an official election, Wilders could be a major power broker and would become the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. This has been partially attributed to timely prosecution attempts against him for hate speech and the travel ban imposed on him from the United Kingdom, as well as dissatisfaction with government response to the global financial crisis of 2008–2009.

Political views

Political principles



Wilders generally considers himself to be a libertarian, with a specific mix of positions independent of the European political spectrum and particular of iconoclastic Dutch society. He has stated that "My allies are not Le Pen or Haider... We'll never join up with the fascists and Mussolinis of Italy. I'm very afraid of being linked with the wrong rightist fascist groups." Wilders views British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to be his greatest political role model. People's Party for Freedom and Democracy figure Frits Bolkestein also heavily influenced his beliefs.

Wilders strongly opposes the Dutch political system in general. He believes that there is a ruling elite of parliamentarians who only care about their own personal careers and disregard the will of the people. He also blames the Dutch system of multi-party coalition governments for a lack of clear and effective policies. In his view, Dutch society advocates rule by consensus and cultural relativism, while he believes that this should change so as to "not tolerate the intolerant".

On foreign relations, Wilders has largely supported Israel and has criticised countries he perceives as enemies of Israel. Furthermore, he has made some proposals in the Dutch Parliament inspired by Israeli policies. For example, he supports implementing Israel's administrative detention in the Netherlands, a practice heavily criticized by human rights groups, which he calls "common sense".

Furthermore, Wilders has revived the ancient idea of reuniting Flanders and the Netherlands.

Wilders published his political manifesto, called Klare Wijn ("Clear Wine"), in March 2005. It received a mixed reception in public polls, with 53% calling it "implausible" and 47% more supportive. The program proposed ten key points to be implemented:

Views on Islam

Wilders is best known for his criticism of Islam, summing up his views as being that "I don't hate Muslims, I hate Islam." Although identifying Islamic extremists as a small 5-15% minority of Muslims, he argues that "there is no such thing as 'moderate Islam'" and that the "Koran also states that Muslims who believe in only part of the Koran are in fact apostates". He suggests that Muslims should "tear out half of the Koran if they wished to stay in the Netherlands" because it contains 'terrible things' and that Muhammad would "... in these days be hunted down as a terrorist."

On August 8, 2007, Wilders opined in an open letter to the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant that the Koran, which he called a "fascist book", should be outlawed in the Netherlands, like Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. He has stated that "The book incites hatred and killing and therefore has no place in our legal order." He has also referred to Mohammed as "the devil". In September 2009, he made a public speech advocating a 1000 a year ($1500) excise tax on headscarf wearing.

He believes that all Muslim immigration to the Netherlands should be halted and all settled immigrants should be paid to leave. Referring to the increased population of Muslims in the Netherlands, he has said that:In a speech before the Dutch Parliament, he stated that:

Nonetheless, Wilders has traveled widely in the Arab world and Der Spiegel has stated that Wilders will "wax poetic" over those "magnificent countries". Wilders has also said that "It's a real shame that these places are so chaotic."

Wilders and Israel

Wilders lived in Israelmarker for two years during his youth and has visited the country 40 times the last 25 years.

Wilders stated about Israel: "I have visited many interesting countries in the Middle East (Tunisiamarker, Turkeymarker, Cyprusmarker, Iranmarker) but nowhere did I have the special feeling of brotherhood that I always get when I land on Ben Gurion International Airportmarker. Dutch public TV channel Nederland 2's daily news programme Netwerk reported, that numerous American supporters of Israel financially supported Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) and openly approved of his message towards Islam and Islamic terrorism. Wilders told an audience during the report, that "We [in the West] are all Israel". He has also said "Israel is the West's first line of defense" against what he perceives to be a threat posed by Islam.

Fitna



Fitna is a 2008 short film written and commissioned by Wilders that explores Koranic inspired motivations for terrorism, Islamic universalism, and Islam in the Netherlands. Its title comes from the Arabic word fitna, which describes "disagreement and division among people" or a "test of faith in times of trial".

It is the subject of an international controversy and debate on free speech. Despite the legal troubles surrounding the film, Wilders insists that he had consulted numerous lawyers in the field, who found nothing worth prosecution, before he ran it. Jordanmarker has summoned Wilders to court, with the film deemed to "incite hatred". Al-Qaeda issued a call to murder Wilders after its release.

In the spring of 2009, Wilders launched the "Facing Jihad world tour", a series of screenings of Fitna to public officials and influential organizations around the globe, starting in Rome. In the United States, Wilders performed a showing to the United States Congress on February 26, having been invited by Arizonamarker Republican Senator Jon Kyl. Around 40 people attended it. Muslims in the United States protested the showing, but the groups said that they supported his right of free speech while still condemning his opinions. Wilders spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 28. He appeared before the National Press Club and the Republican Jewish Coalition that week as well. Similar attempts in Britain led to a travel ban, and legislative blocks have prevented an appearance in Denmarkmarker.

Personal life

On , two suspected terrorists were captured after an hour-long siege of a building in The Haguemarker. They were in possession of three grenades and were accused of planning to murder Geert Wilders as well as then fellow MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The suspects were presumed to be members of what the Dutch intelligence agency, the General Intelligence and Security Service, has termed the Hofstadgroep. Since this incident Wilders has been under constant security protection because of frequent threats to his life. In September 2007, a Dutch woman was sentenced to a one-year prison term for sending more than 100 threatening emails to Wilders. Geert Wilders remains the most threatened politician in the Netherlands in 2008.

Geert Wilders is said to have been "deprived... of a personal life for his... hatred of Islam." He is moved by his state-provided bodyguards to a different location every night, and cannot receive visitors unless they are carefully screened and escorted at all times. He is married to a DutchHungarian former diplomat, with whom he can only meet about once every week due to security concerns. The restrictions on his life because of this, he said, is "a situation that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy".

Wilders has acquired nicknames such as "Mozart" and "Captain Peroxide" due to his flamboyant platinum blond hairstyle. Radio Netherlands calls him "the most famous bleach-blond since Marilyn Monroe". Wilders is an atheist, but he has stated that he thinks Dutch Christians "are my allies" and that they fundamentally should want the same thing.

Public reception

Wilders is a very controversial figure in the Netherlands, and around the world. He has been labeled in the world news media as "extreme right" and far right, and is accused of building his popularity on the fear and resentment among Dutch voters toward immigrants. Der Spiegel has called his statements "disrespectful", "hate-filled tirades" and has stated that "the elite in the Netherlands despise him for his demagogic manner". According to NRC Handelsblad, "his critics say he has become obsessed with Islam and impervious to reason and alternative points of view."

Muslim critics of Wilders accuse him of using Koranic verses out of context. Due to Wilders' perceived positions on Islam, the Dutch–Moroccanmarker rapper Appa, when interviewed about Wilders for a newspaper, said "if someone were to put a bullet in his head, I wouldn't mind".Wilders' views on Islam prompted the Muslim Mayor of Rotterdammarker, Ahmed Aboutaleb, to severely reprimand him.

On 15 December 2007, Wilders was declared "politician of the year" by NOS-radio, a mainstream Dutch radio station. The parliamentary press praised his ability to dominate political discussion and to attract the debate and to get into publicity with his well-timed one-liners. The editors eventually gave the title to Wilders because he was the only one who scored high both among the press as well as the general public.

Editorials by Alternet, The Montreal Gazette, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The New York Times have accused Wilders of hypocrisy given that, in their view, Wilders has called for the ban of the sale of the Koran while simultaneously arguing for his own personal freedom of speech. In a speech during a Dutch parliamentary debate, Wilders elaborated that he calls for the consistent application of Dutch laws restricting any act of expression that incites violence. Ideally, he would prefer to see nearly all such laws abolished. As such, he supports a European-wide constitutional protection of freedom of speech like that which exists in the United States.

Wilders has also been compared to the assassinated fellow critic of Islam and filmmaker Theo van Gogh, but he does not see himself as taking on van Gogh's mantle. Wilders has stated that he supports the free speech rights of his critics, saying that "An Imam who wants a politician dead is - however reprehensible - allowed to say so". He has responded to charges of racism and Islamophobia by stating "I don't hate Muslims. I hate their book and their ideology". In a 2009 interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Wilders said that the four members of his party in the European Parliament would not ally with the British National Party representatives, and called their talk of whites and blacks "disgusting".

Ban on entering the United Kingdom



Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Baroness Cox of Queensbury, members of the House of Lordsmarker (the upper chamber of the British Parliament), invited Wilders to a showing of Fitna in the Palace of Westminstermarker. Two days before the showing, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith banned Wilders from entering the territory of the United Kingdommarker, labelling him an "undesirable person". Entry was denied under EU law, and reportedly supported under regulation 19 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006, an EU law which allows a member state to refuse entry to individuals if they are regarded as constituting a threat to public policy, security or health. A Home Office spokesperson elaborated that "The Government opposes extremism in all its forms ... and that was the driving force behind tighter rules on exclusions for unacceptable behaviour that the Home Secretary announced in October last year."

Wilders defied the ban and entered via London Heathrow Airportmarker on 12 February, trailed by television crews. He was quickly detained by Border Patrol officials and sent back on one of the next flights to the Netherlands. He called Prime Minister Gordon Brown "the biggest coward in Europe" and remarked that "Of course I will come back." Wilders had visited the United Kingdom in December 2008, without any issues. Lord Pearson did not support Wilders' decision to defy the government. In response to the ban, both Pearson and Cox accused the government of "appeasing" militant Islam.

The International Herald Tribune stated that the ban was broadly condemned in the British news media. The Dutch Foreign Secretary, Maxime Verhagen, called the decision "highly regrettable" and complained to his British counterpart. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende complained to Gordon Brown about the "disappointing" decision. The Quilliam Foundation, a British think tank, criticized the ban, as did National Secular Society president Terry Sanderson. The Muslim Labour peer Lord Ahmed expressed support; the Ramadhan Foundation and the Muslim Council of Britain also did so, the council labeling Wilders "an open and relentless preacher of hate".

Ban overturned

After being declared persona non grata by Jacqui Smith, then the Home Secretary, in February 2009, Wilders appealed the decision to Britain's Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. In October 2009, the tribunal overturned the ban. Wilders subsequently praised the ruling as "a triumph for freedom of speech" and stated that he plans to visit the United Kingdom in the near future.

The ruling was criticized by the British Home Office, which stated that an appeal of the tribunal's ruling is being considered. A spokesman stated that "The Government opposes extremism in all its forms. The decision to refuse Wilders admission was taken on the basis that his presence could have inflamed tensions between our communities and have led to inter-faith violence. We still maintain this view.”

On 16 October, Wilders arrived in the United Kingdom and was later forced to relocate his press conference due to protests by about forty members of the organization Islam for UK. Though the Home Office had asserted that his entry into the country would not be blocked, a spokesman said his "statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him."

Attempts at prosecution

Cases

Fitna and anti-Islamic comments made by Wilders both prompted agencies such as the Dutch anti-discrimination group The Netherlands Shows Its Colors to take legal action. On 15 August 2007, a representative of the Prosecutors' Office in Amsterdam declared that dozens of reports against Wilders had been filed, and that they were all being considered. Attempts to prosecute Wilders under Dutch anti-hate speech laws in June 2008 failed, with the public prosecutor's office stating that Wilders' comments contributed to the debate on Islam in Dutch society and also had been made outside parliament. The office released a statement reading: "That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable. Freedom of expression fulfils an essential role in public debate in a democratic society. That means that offensive comments can be made in a political debate."

On , a three-judge court ordered prosecutors to try him. Their statement argued that "In a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to... draw a clear line" and that "The court also considers appropriate criminal prosecution for insulting Muslim worshippers because of comparisons between Islam and Nazism made by Wilders". If convicted, he may be liable for up to 16 months of jail time or a fine of €9866.67. His lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, plans to take the case to the Supreme Court of the Netherlands.

Responses

The prosecution created, in the words of Haaretz, "a high-profile affair". Wilders labeled the judgement an "attack on the freedom of expression". The prosecution was condemned by editorials in the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, The Washington Times, The American Spectator, Forbes, Dallas Morning News City Journal, Montreal Gazette, The Jerusalem Post, Canada.com, and The Australian. New York Citymarker Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized it in front of the Mayor of Amsterdam and the Dutch Ambassador to the United States. Wilders' right-wing rival People's Party for Freedom and Democracy called the case "alarming".

The Dutch center-left Labour party welcomed the court's ruling. The Socialist Party did as well. The Muslims and Government Consultative Body, said that "We are positive that this will contribute to a more respectful tone to the public debate." Abdelmajid Khairoun, Dutch Muslim Council chairperson, expressed support, stating that "Muslim youngsters who make anti-semitic remarks are prosecuted but Wilders' anti-Islamic remarks go unpunished".

The Americanmarker 'Middle East Forum' has established a Legal Defence Fund for Wilders's defence. The New York Times ran a supportive op-ed arguing that "for a man who calls for a ban on the Koran to act as the champion of free speech is a bit rich".

A survey by Angus Reid Global Monitor has found that public opinion is deeply split on the prosecution, with 50% supporting Wilders and 43% opposed. However, public support for the Party for Freedom vastly increased since Wilders' legal troubles began, with the Party for Freedom virtually tied with the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy to be the third most popular party. According to Radio Netherlands, "Dutch politicians themselves seem to be keeping quiet on the issue; they are probably worried that media attention will only serve to make the controversial politician more popular."

Notes

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