September 11 changed the Netherlands, not Geert Wilders
Confusion was the order of the day on September 11, 2001, as Dutch radio and television commentators tried to come to terms with what was happening across the Atlantic. “There are four other planes in the sky.” In fact, no one knew for sure; people at work, in their cars or at home were trying to keep up with developments minute by minute, hour by hour.
A glance at Amsterdam’s bustling Leidsestraat would see people from all walks of life huddled together as shops and restaurants opened their windows and doors so that live broadcasts could be played. heard and shared by everyone.
Correct, this was already the age of 24/7 mobile phone use, but as a reminder, for our younger readers, most citizens’ devices were still without video streaming or permanent internet.
This cosmopolitan and multicultural metropolis came together to understand what was going on and once again details emerged and it became clear that this was a terrorist attack of unprecedented proportions – 9/11 was immediately declared an attack not only on America, but an attack. in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, everyone free too.
Yet grief and sadness – and perhaps too quickly – gave way to the crucial question: who did it? And exactly at this point between realizing the magnitude of the horrors, murders and brutality that had just occurred and analyzing the potential underlying reasons that people on the streets, as well as elected officials, made serious mistakes. Not just in the center of Amsterdam or The Hague, not just in Berlin or Barcelona – almost everywhere.
Public mood change
However, there and the day after September 12, the mood of the public began to change dramatically. As workplaces across the city are multi-ethnic by default, shops are usually packed with customers from all over the world, and English is basically the country’s second language, internationalism was not a cliché but a daily reality. very expensive. At least it seemed so.
Comments such as “the Arabs did it” were not spoken aloud but often whispered among colleagues and friends, and were often heard by onlookers.
One could almost sense the suspicion directed at fellow citizens or visitors who “seem foreign”. Speakers of non-European languages would remain isolated. These things were of course not mentioned in the mainstream media, they could only be experienced personally on the ground.
Things quickly got out of hand, as even landlords began to wonder over the phone whether a potential tenant was “of Dutch origin” and customers previously satisfied with “foreign cuisine” restaurants often changed their preferences. Some once-crowded restaurants would struggle to fill their tables, if at all.
There was no media witch hunt as such; what happened instead was growing uneasiness in being in the company of “foreign-looking” people.
Some went so far as to wonder if another attack could take place here too, if another group of terrorists were waiting in the suburbs to strike at any time.
Then others would openly ask citizens of Afghanistan or Pakistan: “Pakistan is behind 9/11, isn’t it?” indirectly label everyone in these circles as terrorists.
Between Geert Wilders
Geert Wilders did not enter politics following September 11. Ironically, he was rather silent at first, perhaps wondering what direction to take in politics to best meet his aspirations.
Although already protected by armed bodyguards since 2004, it was not until two years later, in 2006, that he formed his Freedom Party (PVV). At times in his career he has declared his intention to one day become Dutch Prime Minister and the PVV has performed remarkably well in a number of local and national elections.
It wasn’t until nine years after September 11 that Wilders opened up about the terrorist attack during a protest against a planned Islamic cultural center in New York.
Quoted in Middle East Online on September 12, 2010, Wilders said, “America, New York and Sharia are incompatible. New York is all about freedom,” as well as “we must never give a free hand to those who want to subjugate us … draw this line so that New York never becomes the new Mecca ”(“ Dutch anti-Islam deputy addresses New York mosque rally ”).
Here Wilders has shown his true face: instead of mourning the victims and healing society, he openly chooses a particular religious background as the mother of all evil and clearly incites hatred in society.
The problem with these conflicting comments made in New York was that Wilders had begun to abuse Islam as a tool to declare the entire Muslim world unwanted, dangerous, and unfit to coexist at home. His roadmap: making the Netherlands without Islam.
Multiculturalism or terrorism?
Looking back, this all seems easy of course. If we had done things differently, a politician like Wilders probably would never have become the household name he is today.
The September 11 attack was not only a turning point in the way the world views global terrorism, but should have become a turning point in the way the world comes together and embraces all religions as and among themselves.
Dutch society has not become anti-Islamist because it has always been the plan of action. Dutch society has become at least in part anti-multiculturalist, with its elected leaders forgetting to explain to them the immense benefits of living in a multi-faith society and accepting multiple origins.
By the time Wilders began to abuse Islam as a tool for his cheap political verbal warfare, all democratic forces should have spoken as loudly and as distinctive as Wilders himself still in the name of democracy, without further inciting to hate.
Dutch society panicked in the wake of 9/11, like everyone else, and that’s understandable. Yet the Netherlands was not a rudderless country without firmly in place democratic institutions.
The rise of populism may not have been automatically predictable but eventually became clearly visible.
No one should blame the fact that Wilders found a national political platform because that is what democracy is. Yet when this very democracy is attacked from within, it must react rather than remain inactive.
Wilders has not changed Dutch society as it is just one of its products, a sign of the times so to speak. The wrong approach of all political forces democratically inclined to constantly explain why multiculturalism is the answer and not the problem is the reason.
The Netherlands is a warm, wonderful, modern and diverse nation welcoming the whole world. Wilders who says “stop Islam, stop Ramadan” does not represent the Netherlands and is not in the Dutch way at all.
Unfortunately, Dutch democracy, if it is a person, must have another maturity before it is too late. Far-right movements across Europe are trying to take advantage of lukewarm reactions from the so-called establishment.
But be warned, allowing far-right and far-right leaders to position themselves as the democratic alternative could just as easily lead to its very demise.
* Political analyst, London-based journalist