A bittersweet week for Muslims in the Netherlands
It has been a bittersweet week for Muslims in the Netherlands. The announcement of far-right Geert Wilders' conviction for inciting hate was welcomed, but this news was followed by yet another attack on a mosque in Amsterdam.
The two events are, after all, connected and speak volumes about the depressing state of racism towards Muslims in the Netherlands. However, Wilders' conviction does provide some hope for overcoming it.
The attack on Hagia Sophia Mosque in Amsterdam, that saw the windows smashed with a beer bottle, is the second time the building has been targeted this year. Given the political trajectory of the country, this seems perfectly in line with how the Muslim population is treated by the growing far-right, but also by the political "centre" and the media.
Muslim communities found themselves in the eye of the storm during the national elections which took place just a few months ago.
"Inciting the expulsion of Muslims is no longer an extreme view that can be dismissed merely as a demand by a minority of street thugs. Those thugs are running the opposition in the Dutch parliament"
Islamophobia, far-right views, and xenophobia have defined the entire period, and, sadly, the results of the elections. Geert Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) secured the third largest number of seats in the Dutch parliament which sent a clear message about how deeply entrenched racist and anti-migrant views are in the Netherlands.
Inciting the expulsion of Muslims - as Wilders did - is no longer held as an extreme view that can be dismissed merely as a demand by a minority of street thugs. Those thugs are running the opposition in the Dutch parliament, and their views are institutionalised through some laws and practices within the most powerful establishment in the country.
Perhaps even more shocking is the deafening silence of the rest of the political establishment in the face of Wilders' politics. His proposal to create a ministry for de-Islamification and deportation did not lead to general outrage. He continued to be invited on television and was debated as if he was a perfectly respectable politician.
In fact, when the education union refused to have a representative of his party at their election hustings, they cancelled the hustings altogether to avoid accusations of unfair treatment. Said accusations were still thrown at them in the national media. It is considered worse, it seems, to de-platform fascism than to encourage it.
Thankfully, there are still means of enforcing some accountability. Earlier this week, the Dutch Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdict against Wilders for inciting hatred and discrimination. In 2014, he asked a cafe full of people in The Hague whether they wanted "more or fewer Moroccans in this city and the Netherlands", to which the crowd replied "fewer! fewer! fewer!", he then added: "We're going to take care of that".
The court stated that his comments were "unnecessarily damaging", and that "even a politician must adhere to the basic principles of the rule of law and must not incite intolerance."
Wilders has painted the entire affair as an infringement on free speech, echoing the far-right line, used from the US to the UK, which claims that they are fighting to protect our civil rights rather than trying to tear them down.
"It is considered worse, it seems, to de-platform fascism than to encourage it"
And, of course, he throws in the anti-establishment sentiments that Trump also peddled so infamously, all while the two politicians held official representative positions within the establishment. Wilders is, in fact, the longest serving MP in the Netherlands - hardly a courageous outsider. For his part, Wilders claims he is being targeted politically by those at the head of the Ministry of Justice and Security.
This victory is important, especially for those who feel empathy for oppressed Muslims. However, there are limitations to the justice that can be obtained through the courts alone.
For example, Wilders has won acquittal in the past. In the same year as the incident in the cafe, during a campaign rally in The Hague, he stated that it should become a "city with fewer problems and, if possible, also fewer Moroccans." This, it seems, was considered acceptable political speech by the same judicial system that is now targeting Wilders.
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The question of time and political balance is also crucial. Not only has Wilders been allowed to continue making similar - if not worse - statements in the last seven years, he has also grown in popularity. The far-right of 2021 is larger, not smaller, than the far-right of 2013. The three largest far-right parties have more seats in parliament than the centre-left and left parties combined.
As we near the second anniversary of the burqa ban in the Netherlands, we are reminded that we cannot let our guard down when it comes to Islamophobia. The ban demonstrated very clearly how far the incitement of hatred can go - in this case it is literally enshrined in law.
During a recent event organised by Hamja Ahsan in the Maastricht Jan Van Eyck institute, activists and artists came together to discuss Islamophobia and the "War on Terror" in the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It felt like each country was reading from the same manual.
State-sponsored Islamophobia, the curtailment of civil liberties, and the repression of dissent are being normalised by each government, as are the same justifications: Muslims are a violent, irrational problem.
No wonder the far-right is growing across the board when states are amplifying and institutionalising their politics.
While there is much to cause for concern, and even fear, this situation has also provided directions for resistance. It highlighted how the state benefits from the continued anti-Muslim racism it has normalised, and how Islamophobia functions in every corner of our society.
Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia
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