Hitting the polls with islam-hatred

Hitting the polls with islam-hatred

The Netherlands has an election this Wednesday: right-wing populist Geert Wilders' PVV could become the strongest force and leave its mark on the country. The election campaign revolves around Islam, integration and identity.

Christians and Muslims visited the El Kabir mosque in Amsterdam together. A rabbi also took part in the prayer. About 300 people in total wanted to set a sign of reconciliation in heated weeks with their meeting. A new parliament will be elected in the Netherlands this Wednesday. The election is seen as setting the course for the coming years: right-wing populist Geert Wilders could become the strongest force with his PVV and shape the country with his policies against Islam, immigration and Europe.

Integration and identity are the dominant themes in the election campaign. The election program of Wilders' "Party for Freedom" (PVV) covers one DIN A4 page. It lists eleven points, at the top of which is the "de-Islamization" of the Netherlands: all mosques and Islamic schools are to be closed, the Koran is to be banned, and no more immigrants from Islamic-influenced countries are to be admitted. How Wilders would implement this program, however, is unclear – he rarely gives interviews and rarely participates in debates among the top candidates.

Head-to-head race

For a long time, the PVV was ahead in the polls. But because no one wants to form a coalition with Wilders, it is unlikely that he will actually come to power. In recent days, his party has also lost support in the polls, and is now in a neck-and-neck race with Prime Minister Mark Rutte's liberal-conservative VVD party.

Wilders has already made his mark on the election campaign with his "de-Islamization" plans. Rutte, who has been in power since 2010, demanded in an open letter published in all daily newspapers at the end of January that all those who did not accept the country's fundamental values, for example equality for homosexuals or respect for women's rights, should leave. Even the social democrats from the PvdA argue for a stricter immigration policy and for limiting the admission of refugees.

Insecurity and fear

The leading candidate of the Left Party (SP), Emile Roemer, is trying to make his mark as Wilders' opponent. He said that the fear of Islam is talked into the people. Of course, action must be taken against believers who use religion to justify violence. "But people are not dangerous by definition and must not be lumped together." Wilders accused Roemer of naivety and a "dangerous policy of denial".

Muslims in the country are feeling the effects of the heated election campaign. "There has been a sense of insecurity and fear," says Abdou Menebhi, a Muslim activist who works for tolerance and organized the meeting at the mosque in Amsterdam. Menebhi has launched a website where incidents against Muslims can be reported. In recent months, windows of mosques have been repeatedly smashed, he reports. There had been attacks on women and girls wearing headscarves. This development has been observed for some time, but the election campaign has increased tensions even more.

Increase in assaults

University of Amsterdam researcher Inneke van der Valk has been monitoring violence against religious institutions and Islamophobia in the Netherlands since 2005. The number of attacks on Muslims and attacks on mosques has never been as high as it is at present, van der Valk told television station NOS.

Activist Menebhi insists that it is not "Islam" that is a danger, but extremists – on both sides: Islamic fundamentalists as well as nationalists. A week from Saturday, he plans to hold a large demonstration for tolerance in Amsterdam, as part of the International Weeks Against Racism. Just a few days after the election, when coalitions are probably already being negotiated, politics will also be on the agenda: There must be no government with Wilders, Menebhi demands. "We reject any government with racist policies."

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