Saturday, January 3, 2009

Man of the Year: Geert Wilders

By FrontPage Magazine

Friday, January 02, 2009

For the original article, see this link.

It's a safe bet that Geert Wilders won't be Time magazine's Man of the Year any time soon. If anything, the unusually coiffed Dutch MP is a favorite hate figure of the Western media, which has spent years vilifying him as a "reactionary," a "particularly dangerous type of demagogue," a "racist" and an "Islamophobe." Wilders would almost certainly plead guilty to the last charge, and with ample reason. His tireless campaign to sound the alarm about the growing threat of Islamic radicalism in the West has turned him into a target of Islamic jihadists and the object of untold assassination plots. A 2006 death threat, one of hundreds he's received, declared that his "infidel blood will flow freely on cursed Dutch streets." Al-Qaeda has specifically singled him out for slaughter.

Against this menacing background, it would have been no failing in his character if Wilders had decided that the price of speaking out about Islamic fundamentalism was too high; others in his prominent position would have reached just that conclusion. Instead, Wilders has persevered. Braving daily death threats and sacrificing the security that his critics take for granted, he has opted for the often-thankless task of saving Western civilization from its Islamist discontents – beginning with the valuable reminder that the demands of Islamic zealots are not only not congruent with Western values but are, in fact, in direct conflict with them. For his impressive personal courage, his steadfast political commitment, and his refreshing disdain for the suffocating pieties of political correctness, Geert Wilders is Front Page Magazine's Man of the Year in 2008.

The steep risks involved in Wilders's anti-Islamist campaign are tragically illustrated by the fates of two of his countrymen. Pim Fortuyn, the popular Dutch politician who warned against the Islamisation of Dutch society and railed against the "backwardness" of certain Islamic traditions, was gunned down by a crazed animal-rights activist in 2002. His killer later claimed that he had shot Fortuyn in order to defend Dutch Muslims from persecution.

Next on the hit list was Dutch provocateur and documentarian Theo Van Gogh. In 2004, Van Gogh was gruesomely murdered in Amsterdam by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-born Islamist who judged Van Gogh's film on the mistreatment of women in Islam, Submission, to be a crime deserving of death. To Van Gogh's butchered body, Bouyeri pinned a list of "infidels" who "deserved to be slaughtered." Among the names singled out for execution was Geert Wilders.

The threats were all too real. Shortly after Van Gogh's murder, Dutch authorities discovered an Islamist network with advanced plans to kill Wilders, and an internet video surfaced promising 72 virgins to anyone who carried out the deed. As police investigated, Wilders was forced into 24-hour protection, traveling from safe house to safe house to avoid his pursuers. Even today he is never without dark-suited bodyguards by his side. "There's no freedom, no privacy," Wilders says. "If I said I was not afraid, I would be lying."

Yet, Wilders remains undaunted. This March, he again incensed Islamists when he released a short but explosive film called Fitna, which seeks to show that Islamic terrorism is directly inspired by the Koran. Artistically rough, the film is nevertheless effective, juxtaposing graphic footage of Islamic terrorism – including the 9/11 attacks, the Madrid train bombings, and the beheading of American contractor Nicholas Berg – with Koranic verses and clips of Islamic clerics preaching the murder of non-Muslims. If nothing else, the film makes it impossible to argue that Islamic texts have nothing at all to with the terrorist violence committed in their name.

Fitna is often translated from the Arabic as "persecution." That's grimly appropriate, because the film's release unleashed a veritable war on Wilders, as jihadists and their unwitting allies in the West sought in different ways to silence the Dutch politician. Anticipating Fitna's release, muftis across the Middle East promised violence if the film were released. The Taliban pledged to step-up attacks against Dutch troops in Afghanistan. In Indonesia, a group calling itself the Islamic Defenders Front surrounded the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta with signs urging "Kill Geert Wilders." An al-Qaeda linked website duly ordered his death.

Less bloodthirsty – but more spineless – was the response in the West. Dutch television stations flinched from airing the film, forcing Wilders to release it on the video hosting site, which soon pulled it due to "threats to our staff of a very serious nature." (LiveLeak later restored the film.) Political leaders meanwhile went out of their way to denounce Wilders. Thus Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende insisted that Fitna "serves no other purpose than to cause offense," while U.N .Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it "offensively anti-Islamic." A white flag was also unfurled by Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, who urged Wilders to give in to Islamist demands not to show the film, warning that it could "endanger the lives of Dutch nationals" abroad if he did. Dutch Muslims – inadvertently proving Wilders's point about the incompatibility of Islamic beliefs and Western freedoms – demanded that the film be banned.

But just as the tide of elite Western opinion was turning against him, Wilders was vindicated by an unlikely observer: Libyan-based jihadist cleric Omar Bakri. Not only were Fitna's attempts to link terrorist violence with Islamic teachings not offensive, Bakri explained, but they were entirely accurate. Indeed, Bakri said, Fitna "could be a film made by the mujahedeen." In other words, Wilders was exactly right.

He's been right about a lot of things. To take one example of many, Wilders has been resoundingly right about the dangers of surging Islamic radicalism in Europe. While he has been condemned for calling for the closure of radical mosques and the deportation of militant clerics, back in 2004 Wilders accurately pointed out that 25 Dutch mosques had terrorist connections, while their resident imams preached against the evils of democracy and Dutch values. One such preacher, Tilburg-based Syrian imam Ahmad Salam, first came to Dutch public attention with sermons urging Muslim men to beat their wives, then refused to shake hands with Dutch Integration Minister Rita Verdonk in 2004, and again courted notoriety when he urged his followers to avoid paying taxes in order to "damage the state." Despite his undisguised contempt for Dutch laws and culture, Salam continues to call Holland home. It would be hard to find more telling confirmation of Wilders's warnings.

Wilders has also been correct that Western ideals of tolerance and equality are under assault by Islamic radicals. European police report that Islamic honor killings are on the rise. In 2005, for instance, a review by British police of 22 domestic homicides led to 18 of the cases being reclassified as "murder in the name of so-called 'honor.'" Polls routinely find that a disturbingly large percentage of Muslims – one in 10 according to a 2006 BBC poll – would condone the murder of someone seen to have disrespected their families honor. The situation is equally dire in Wilders's native Netherlands. In Amsterdam, once the "gay capital of Europe," gays are frequently attacked and beaten up by roving gangs of Muslim thugs. An August 2007 survey by current affairs program EenVandaag found that nearly half of Dutch gays feel less safe in the country's streets.

No wonder that many Dutch citizens are coming around to Wilders's view of the Islamist threat. According to a May 2005 poll, 43 percent of the Dutch now believe that Islam is incompatible with Western society. Similarly, a 2006 poll found that the majority of native Dutch regard Islam as intolerant, violent, and hostile to women. Not that Wilders has gotten credit for bringing these matters to national attention. For his troubles, he has been tarred as a "far-right" bigot and xenophobe.

The truth is that Wilders is a liberal in a uniquely European sense. What he champions are quintessentially Western values: separation of church and state; equality of the sexes; free expression; the right to provoke and even, yes, to offend. His proposal to ban the all-covering burqa owes more to the ideals of gender equality than to religious discrimination. Even his more controversial measure to stop the Islamisation of Europe – an end to all Muslim immigration – is more about safeguarding Western traditions than locking out foreigners. That is why he has always stressed that Europe should remain a place of refuge, including, for instance, for gay Muslims fleeing persecution. True, Wilders is an unabashed believer in the superiority of Western culture. But the fact that this is now considered a thought crime is more of an indictment of the contemporary Western world than it is of Wilders.

Given the great personal costs he has suffered, it must be asked: Has it all been worth it? It is a measure of Wilders the man that he never struggles with the question. "Speaking out boldly cost me my personal liberty, with 24-hour security and police protection for more than four years now," Wilders told Front Page Magazine last week. "But if I and others don't at least try, and if I would not do my modest bit, millions of westerners will lose their liberty. You see, there is so much at stake. Our liberty and freedom are being bargained away and only so few speak out against it. I am no hero but I would rather be killed for what I say and believe than submit in silence to Islamic totalitarianism. If I regret anything at all, it's is not being too bold but not being bold enough."

Geert Wilders has made all the right enemies. At a time when many counsel accommodation of Islamist demands, Wilders remains defiant. In an era of civilizational self-loathing, he defends the West without apology. Despite the threats to his life, he refuses to be silenced. For all this, Wilders deserves the praise of many – including the many in the West who scorn his name.