x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Marked for Death: an anti-Islam rally cry for politicians

In this extremely muddled diatribe aimed squarely at US voters, the rabidly right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders severely criticises "facilitators of Islam".

Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders. Joerg Carstensen / AFP
Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders. Joerg Carstensen / AFP

Do we live in the age of the civilisational warrior? And if so, what is that warrior's influence on the political events of our time?

If you were to conduct an online search of stories using the terms "Obama" and "Muslim", it will almost certainly turn up a plethora of screeds linking the incumbent US president to Islam, accusing him of appeasing Islam, regurgitating the misconception that he is a Muslim and even calling him a candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many of the Republican also-rans for the presidential nomination used that type of rhetoric and right-wing anti-Islam commentators, including Pamela Geller, continue to do so: "The debate over whether Obama is a Muslim or not is meaningless," she said recently, "Tell me what he'd be doing differently if he wasn't a Muslim."

Meanwhile, the rabidly anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders has launched his own book into this witches brew of religious incitement, his text squarely aimed at the American public and excoriating "facilitators" of Islam everywhere.

Wilders has linked up with Geller in the past, notably during the 2010 controversy over the "Ground Zero Mosque", and has received financial assistance from some of the same US ultraconservatives who are now funding the effort to block Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

Add to that the continued effort to portray the president as anti-Israel and Wilders' own unconditional pro-Israel stance (which affected the Dutch government's policy over the past 18 months while he was part of the ruling coalition) and preposterous though it may sound, the suspicion arises that Wilders' new book, Marked for Death, Islam's War Against the West and Me, is at least partially aimed at the US election campaign. At the very least it is Wilders paying his dues to his backers in the US.

The book talks about Obama's "undeniably deep personal links to Islam stemming from his upbringing in Indonesia and from his Islamic ancestry". And it accuses him of being a dhimmi, or one who can live in Islamic lands in what Wilders describes as "humiliating subservience".

Lest there be any misunderstanding as to what message the book intends to deliver, the first selling point on the inside of the dust jacket is that Wilders reveals "how and why liberal politicians, including Barack Obama, downplay the Islamic threat". Having brought down the Dutch coalition, Wilders has now clearly set his sights on bigger fish.

Delusions of grandeur are not alien to the self-appointed protector of western civilisation against Islam and other encroachments. Indeed, as the title of the book suggests, he regards himself targeted by a whole religion or ideology, as he prefers to call it. In this, he draws parallels with Salman Rushdie, the British author who was himself targeted by Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa.

It is but one of the famous names that Wilders throws into the mix. Indeed, the book is brimming with the great and the good of America's political pantheon, notably the founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln.

The inclusion of Rushdie, however, fits nicely with the main mechanism that Wilders employs throughout, which is a play for sympathy from the reader over the threats to his life that he is facing, and how this has affected him and his family. One of the most widely quoted passages in the Dutch press deals with the death of his father and how he could not contain his tears in front of the bodyguards who now accompany him everywhere he goes.

The book opens with a description of a terrifying axe attack on Kurt Westergaard, the Dane who drew the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that caused outrage in 2005. The larger point that Wilders makes is one that on first reading will appeal to many defenders of free speech in the US and in the West in general: mere words and drawings are being met with violence and brutality but fear not, the pen will be mightier than the axe.

One of Wilders' chief narratives, one that is also being promulgated by many others who plough the anti-Islam furrow in western politics, is that he is merely reacting to violent provocations by an immigrant minority that seeks to impose its customs on a superior host civilisation. One mark of the superiority of the western civilisation, the reasoning then goes, is the democratic and non-violent nature in which the West's defenders confront the Islamic threat.

This rings false even when one leaves aside the armed conflicts in the Islamic world that the West continues to be involved in. Right-wing acts of violence are on the rise in the EU, even though they are, according to the latest Europol report on the issue, still isolated and the work of individuals. Oddly, this report mystifyingly refuses to characterise the attack of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik in July last year as an act of right-wing terrorism.

In explaining his gruesome act, Breivik tapped into the widespread discourse among anti-Islam groups that labels westerners who disagree with their views as appeasers, facilitators, elitists or indeed traitors. While these groups often vigorously oppose the extreme right-wing label and actually brand Islam as fascist, they are rabidly anti-communist, anti-left wing and anti-liberal in the American sense.

Breivik has also previously expressed his admiration for Wilders and his ilk. Unsurprisingly, the Norwegian killer does not make an appearance in Marked for Death, but the author has furiously rejected any responsibility for his acts.

While there should not be any suggestion that he and most of the other anti-Islam leaders in Europe advocate or even encourage this kind of violence, he does let himself off the hook too easily when it comes to acknowledging the atmosphere he helps to perpetuate and in which such acts take place.

Over the years, Wilders and his colleagues have gone far beyond the remarks in this new book, or even in his controversial video called Fitna, in which they use juvenile insults and take political scaremongering to a new level. When Wilders declares that Europe is involved in an "existential" struggle with Islam, and is in danger of being overrun, it sounds very much like a call to arms.

The Dutch court, however, does not agree with this assertion and last year cleared Wilders of a raft of hate and discrimination charges. As a politician, the judges ruled, he has more leeway to express distasteful opinions. Plus, he aims his arrows at Islam not at individual Muslims, whom he encourages to leave their faith.

It was a curious ruling, but if he cannot be convicted of hate-speech in Europe, he certainly cannot either in the US, where the first amendment affords far greater room for freedom of expression. And in an atmosphere where many Americans call their president a traitor, Wilders' remarks may even seem quaintly moderate.

The anti-Islam right is still powerful in Europe, evidenced by Marine Le Pen and her National Front taking almost 20 per cent of the vote in the first round of the French presidential election. In the Netherlands, Wilders is no longer propping up the government, but he is still holding steady in the polls. Even in Denmark, where the right-wing People's Party has been pushed into opposition after a decade of indirect participation in government, the anti-Islam right is still electorally important.

Even so, Wilders experienced a dip in voter interest while he supported the Dutch government. He has sought to counter this by increasing his anti-EU rhetoric, an easy target during the current financial crisis: he has railed at the Greeks whom he branded as lazy aid junkies, and set up a hotline for people to complain about immigrants from Eastern EU countries, notably Poland.

Obviously none of this is mentioned in the book, as it would upset some powerful American constituencies. But it is a reminder that the civilisational warrior can turn against anybody, outside the very narrow confines of his own patch if it serves his purpose.

Ferry Biedermann is a freelance journalist based in The Netherlands.