State-of-the-Art Populist

Lammert de Jong · Geert Wilders

In the election in the Netherlands in June, Geert Wilders’s far-right Freedom Party got 15.5 per cent of the total vote – a 10 per cent increase on its showing in 2006. It now has 24 seats out of 150 in the Dutch parliament, making Wilders an influential powerbroker. He is a state-of-the-art populist. He doesn’t need to rally a crowd: his incendiary one-liners are disseminated on the internet and recycled by the Dutch media, day after day. Everyone follows his antics, whether or not they agree with his politics. On 11 September he will be in New York protesting against the proposed construction of a mosque near Ground Zero.

The unsatisfactory election result means that a coalition of Liberals (31 seats) and Christian Democrats (21 seats) is in the making, but they’ll need Wilders’s party for an overall majority. Hence the ‘agreement of support’, a document now being drawn up by the two coalition parties and the Freedom Party. All three have committed themselves to accepting the others' opinions about Islam. Wilders, who cast himself as a potential prime minister during the election campaign, may become a pillar of government, while continuing to denounce Islam and Muslims as ‘violent, dangerous and backward’, ‘a fascist ideology’ and a ‘totalitarian’ religion; he has described Muhammad as ‘a barbarian, a mass murderer and paedophile’.

More than anything it was Wilders's call to send Muslims and other immigrants back ‘home’, irrespective of their Dutch citizenship, that won him such a large share of the vote in June. He’s announced that the presence of ‘non-western allochtons’ – including ‘ne’er-do-wells’ from the Dutch Antilles – should be audited: what is the bill, for ‘the Dutch taxpayer’, of keeping these disagreeable people below sea-level, in a climate that doesn’t suit them and a culture they cannot grasp? He’s proposed that Muslim women who wear a headscarf should pay an annual ‘head rag tax’ (kopvoddenbelasting) of 1000 euros. In a TV interview in Denmark he urged that ‘millions of Muslims be deported from Europe’.

He is also a dab hand with figures. In 2009 he claimed that Holland's ‘Islamisation' was continuing apace and, in the same breath, said that ‘only last year [2008] we had 140,000 immigrants’, inviting confusion between numbers of Muslim immigrants and the total number of immigrants to Holland. More reliable figures suggest that net inward migration was 26,640, or 0.16 per cent of the population. Wilders however believes that Muslims are scheming to become a majority, and that by the time they are it will be ‘too late to save our freedom’. By 2025, he suggests, one in three children born in Europe will have Muslim parents. ‘There is only one solution, only one language: send them away.’

The ‘agreement of support’ will bind his anti-Islamic position into the government of a prosperous EU member state. Our ministry of foreign affairs recently sent a memo to embassies abroad, priming them for the difficult questions that will be asked once the new government is formed. Will the building of mosques in the Netherlands be banned? Or the Quran? Or Islamic schools? The memo reminds civil servants overseas to insist that measures of this kind would be unconstitutional. ‘As far as we know,’ it adds without much conviction, ‘the next government does not intend to amend the constitution.’


  • 26 August 2010 at 12:29pm
    outofdate says:
    Am I alone in noticing, as Wallace Arnold used to say, that Geert Wilders looks utterly weird, like an alien space baby, or the leader of the Conservative Party in a parallel universe?

    • 27 August 2010 at 8:05am
      Geoff Roberts says: @ outofdate
      The visagists and the styling coordinators have done a good job - it's that neon-blond hair that does the trick. You can't ignore him can you?

    • 28 August 2010 at 4:16am
      outofdate says: @ Geoff Roberts
      There's a point. I'd have said you couldn't as it were make him up, but of course you can. The Lady Gaga of the European rightwing fringe, how's that?

      As an aside, it seems a lot of younger establishment hacks in the German papers now take it as a given -- I mean casually mention as though it was a shared assumption -- that radical Mooslims breed like rabbits and will outnumber us before long. They don't, you understand, want to sterilise them or anything, they're all solidly Social Democrat, it's just something they believe, the way the British press believe Bangladeshis (but not Belgians) to be a 'race.'

      Everything is weird.

    • 28 August 2010 at 9:02am
      Geoff Roberts says: @ outofdate
      Thilo Sarrazin (North African overtones to that name?) is publishing a book in Germany on Monday in which he claims that the German 'race' is doomed, because the Muslims breed faster than and are not as intelligent as the Germans. He is still a member of the Social Democratic Party. There are extracts in the famous Bild Zeitung if you can read German, which gives some of his arguments. Three hundred years ago it was the Turks at the gates of Vienna. I wonder if Sarrazin's ancestors were there at the time?

    • 28 August 2010 at 1:42pm
      outofdate says: @ Geoff Roberts
      French, it says here, first found in Brittany, where they held a family seat 'from ancient times,' so perhaps more a long history of slaughtering the Saracen and eating his, er, name.

  • 27 August 2010 at 8:28am
    Joe Morison says:
    I don't think we realize how lucky we've been with our hate merchants in this country (i'd hesitate before calling Wilders a fascist, but i'm not sure). Griffin and his whole hideous bunch are so obviously sub-evolved that they could never be a serious force. Let us fervently hope we never get anyone as slick as Wilders (for all his weird looks) here.

  • 27 August 2010 at 1:35pm
    Rohland says:
    Geert Wilders interview in Denmark where the writer aledges he states that he wants to deport millions of Muslims from Europe.
    As usual his actual positions are more nuanced then that.

  • 28 August 2010 at 10:40am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Come to think of it, Sarrazin has a strangely glazed look on his face when he talks about the 'Muslim danger'. It's time that the pseudo-issues raised by these Haider-Fortuyn-Wilders-Sarrazin characters were put firmly into a new perspective - that Austria (where the Wilders-type polemics are focussed on Croatians, Turks and Roma,) Germany and the Netherlands are all countries in which many ethnic groups live on a permanent basis and play important roles in the commerce and culture of these countries.

  • 28 August 2010 at 6:23pm
    cigar says:
    Most of Western Europe is facing serious demographic decline. I really wonder how Wilders and his cryptofans in Germany will find a way to keep the factories running, and maintain all the modern physical infrastructure that keeps them well fed, well informed and warm, after they deport all these people they barely stop at considering evil.

    I wonder if and when the word Untermenschen will appear once again in the oh so liberal papers of NL,DE and AT. Why doesn't Wilders and his ideological fellow travelers use it? Is he afraid to show himself and plenty of his countrymen for the Hitler lovers they always were?

    • 28 August 2010 at 6:31pm
      cigar says: @ cigar
      Coreection, first paragraph: not "well informed" - rather "very badly informed".

    • 29 August 2010 at 2:11am
      outofdate says: @ cigar
      Now, now. The point is that it's a silly panic, not that they want to reopen Belsen, which with respect is an even sillier panic.

    • 29 August 2010 at 9:10am
      Geoff Roberts says: @ outofdate
      Calling this "a silly panic" is hardly doing justice to the extent of the anger that Wilders and Sarrazin have engendered. Their argument - if that's the word to use here - is that the Muslims are inferior beings qua religion and that they are less intelligent and more fertile than Europeans which means that they are going to overrun 'us' before very long. Just take a look at the early chapters of 'Mein Kampf' and do a textual comparison and I don't think you'll say that it's a 'silly panic.'

    • 29 August 2010 at 12:11pm
      outofdate says: @ Geoff Roberts
      Yes it is. These are two publicity-hungry clowns, as you point out, and their stupid demographic fantasies seem to have struck a chord with some liberals who see their values under threat from the illiberal hordes, because all demographic arguments -- like the mid-20th-century panic about overpopulation and mass starvation -- always strike a chord with some liberals. The coming of the Fourth Reich it ain't.

    • 29 August 2010 at 12:14pm
      outofdate says: @ outofdate
      UND I would add that all who go down the well-McNamara'd road of seeing the world in terms of population numbers end up in the same circle of Hell.

    • 29 August 2010 at 5:47pm
      cigar says: @ outofdate
      You too hold your horses. The word had been in use by the late 19th century, and I wasn't talking about these unmedicated loonies bringing back Auschwitz - I only mentioned deportation, which is what they have been talking about, at least in public.

      Just in case, I am not one of those liberals who believe in exploding demographic doomsdays.

    • 29 August 2010 at 6:04pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ outofdate
      Just hear sarrazin say that 'Jews all have the same genes.' Need I say more?

    • 30 August 2010 at 12:32am
      outofdate says: @ outofdate
      Well, yes, such as: Sarrazin is being elected Fuehrer and Reichskanzler on a wave of popular support, instead of being asked to step down from his job at the Bundesbank and, when he refused, transferred to a more or less inactive post.

    • 30 August 2010 at 8:24am
      Geoff Roberts says: @ cigar
      Have just reread your post. I think that we are on the same wavelength in terms of the danger of Wilders and Sarrazin (Haider's followers are trying to come to terms with the fact that he was a mega-wheeler and dealer - took bribes from Ghadaffi AND Sadam Hussain, allegedly) the basic problem is that there is an undercurrent of chauvinism in many European countries that could lead to serious unrest.

    • 30 August 2010 at 6:07pm
      Locus says: @ outofdate
      Just goes to show: Sarrazin has been ranting on for a year and more now about Arabs and Turks - unproductive populations, endless hordes of lesser breeds endlessly breeding, nothing against immigrants per se just the Muslims its their culture you see, no I'm not a racist did I say the word R-A-C-E - etc. etc. And there's a collective head shaking and tut-tut-tutting, but not much more.

      Then he makes one fairly neutral comment in passing about Basque genetic make-up and suddenly all hell breaks loose. He'll be gone out of the Bundesbank in days.

      The Basque Country: the last taboo...

  • 29 August 2010 at 5:53am
    pinhut says:
    If he contributes to the volatility of Europe, so much better.

    We could do with some volatility in the UK, it is the only way unpopular government policies (or governments) get crushed.

    In Latin America, they rolled out neoliberalism and people went out into the streets and threw out the governments. Sure, the battle keeps being fought, but look at the UK right now, still sleepwalking. There is even a 'leadership' battle going on between men with exactly the same ideas to run the Labour Party, an electoral party that should have seen its chief protagonists swinging from lamposts, instead, there is David Miliband in the Independent, lamenting that the UK was a bit slow on torture.

    There are many shades of extremism. To my mind, we are living through one immense period of extremism in the UK, stretching back to the Thatcher government, with policies increasingly damaging to the broad mass of people, foreign policy that has no relation to the public's wishes, impunity for the police, massive surveillance and so on. Instead of anything happening with this, the 'mainstream' extremists point at the fringe extremists and threaten us with imminent extinction should power fall into the wrong hands. Enough. It's a game. I'd rather let a Wilders do his act unmolested than ever have to be subject to the decisions of men of the 'character' of Jack Straw again.

    • 29 August 2010 at 12:15pm
      outofdate says: @ pinhut

    • 29 August 2010 at 2:25pm
      Joe Morison says: @ pinhut
      I'm all for stirring things up but not with hatred and lies, i don't think that ever makes things better. Certainly, something horrible started with Thatcher; but something even more horrible won't make it better.

    • 29 August 2010 at 5:31pm
      pinhut says: @ Joe Morison
      The extremism of the mainstream needs to be laid bare.

      In a way it has, because, as was obscured by the mainstream parties, it is 1) their own failures, and 2) their own hateful posturing over issues like immigration, along with 3) their illegal pre-emptive wars and attendant jingoism that have contributed to 4) the rise of fringe parties to prominence.

      Why shouldn't the EDL join the dots and twist further the government rhetoric? If New Labour conduct a PR stunt of arresting 'terrorists' and then have no information with which to charge them, but still deport them, or let rendition flights use British airports, or have British intelligence officials present at torture, and continue to state that the war in Afghanistan is to 'keep the streets of Britain safe', then why shouldn't the EDL conclude that Muslims in Britain represent a fifth column and that they can support 'our boys' out there with some extra-judicial beatings of Muslims here?

      And the hate and lies, so? Look at Bradford yesterday. Nobody is fooled. We need more of these types of extremists to generate modern day Brick Lanes and show that these sorts of policies won't sway the broad mass of the electorate.

      But whether that will sway the state itself, probably not. As we read on here, Thomas Jones, I think, the state is preening itself over its inhuman migrant holding centre, which is something actual, in the here and now, and, to my mind, nothing any less extreme than what the BNP would be doing.

      This form of concealed extremism that has emerged inside the main parties needs to be tackled. We've all sat through expeditions that sought 'the truth' - three or four Iraq enquiries and Blair collecting on a 20 million pound pile of blood-stained banknotes, again, you are positing the hatred and lies as if they don't emerge precisely from the conditions, as if somehow they are optional. That is your error, though it appears well-meaning.

    • 29 August 2010 at 6:14pm
      James Alexander says: @ pinhut
      Oft thought, seldom so well expressed

    • 29 August 2010 at 8:00pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ pinhut
      Pinhut, I know you're currently occupied elsewhere, but have you ever thought of running for parliament? Your country needs you.

    • 29 August 2010 at 10:17pm
      pinhut says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      That is funny, A J P. You have a good character, seeing as I have been justifiably and unjustifiably unfair to you over the months, you certainly can't be accused of bearing grudges.

      I am coming back to the UK on Wednesday, as it happens.

      I doubt I will be able to stay, as there is apparently no work for a bilingual graduate with a history of writing dramatic monologues and short stories. When I left in 2004, I was sorting parcels on the nightshift in a Torquay warehouse for the minimum wage. (However, if any LRB commenters can find me a job, salary unimportant, but preferably not involving a broom or a bucket, fine, please email Instead, I will be departing for Asia, where I can still make a living passing on my English skills to the UK's global competitors.

      An anecdote - When I came back to the UK from Ireland in 2006, I was picked out of a crowd, by name, at Bristol Airport, by unidentified plain-clothes officials and quizzed for 30 minutes on the itinerary of my visit. This, despite being a UK citizen. Presumably, due to the analyses I had provided on my blog. I had made a number of educated guesses that were later proved to be correct regarding the death of Carlos De Menezes, that seemed the most likely trigger. If people had a greater idea of the power of the state, it would refocus debates away from parties, personalities, and show people a way forward.

      As for public office, my brushes with the law would soon be reprinted, no doubt, along with my profound dislike of the lawless actions of the state of Israel, so please don't hold your breath waiting for my mugshot on a leaflet to drop through your door. I'm more likely to be found dead in my bath in a holdall.


      Anyway, they're at it again.

      Front page of The Guardian website - UK Security put at heart of aid policy:

      "The coalition came under fire after a leaked DfID document showed that the new national security council, which oversees all aspects of foreign policy, is requiring that national security considerations are placed at the heart of aid projects."

      Front page of The Independent website - David Miliband: Britain was slow to act on US torture:

      "The United States did "bad things" to terror suspects in the wake of 9/11 which Britain was too slow to realise, David Miliband acknowledges today as he brandishes his record as Foreign Secretary to bolster his Labour leadership ambitions."

      Note it becomes "Britain" rather than David Miliband that was responsible, even though he is talking about his own record. Marvellous. The next interviewer should ask:

      "Now, Mr Miliband, or should I call you Britain?"

    • 30 August 2010 at 9:06am
      Joe Morison says: @ pinhut
      (I think we're all well-meaning here, one of the pleasures of this forum.) I agree with your analysis of the problem but very very much disagree with your solution (to the extent that i understand it). You say 'we need more of these types of extremists' to generate a backlash. So, please correct me if i'm wrong, those people beaten up and raped and traumatized and, perhaps killed, by these fascists you want more of will be, what, collateral damage or the necessary price of change (you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs &c.)? The means justify the ends? Many an initially well-meaning tyrant started out like that (it's what Blair told himself about Iraq).
      I don't understand what you propose doing, how you think the EDL should be encouraged. It reminds of Alan Bleasdale's brilliant 'G.B.H.' where the well-meaning left-wing theorist is manipulated by MI5 into just such a course of action. The only winners from your policy would be the fascists who would suddenly become relevant, perhaps enough to attract a media savvy Wilders type to turn them into a credible electoral force, and those elements in government and the security forces looking for an excuse to give themselves even more draconian powers.
      Yes, there is something rotten in the state of Britain; but it's not the sort of rotten that can be cured with violence. It's journalists and whistle blowers and the anger and shame at it all from the general public that will, all too slowly, bring about the change we all want. It's very easy to fuck things up but very difficult to make them better.

      Anyway, i'm off to the Notting Hill Carnival. Good luck with the job hunting and i hope you find something here: for all its faults this is a wonderful country full of tolerant and kind people, and London is a great city - a model of how so many diverse people can live together. I'm going to email you to offer to buy you a pint if you're going to be in the metropolis with some time to spare.

    • 30 August 2010 at 11:23am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Your comments are always thoughtful and usually funny even when I don't agree with them, so no grudges there. The LRB ought to hire you -- but don't give up on the politics, they've all got police records in parliament.

    • 30 August 2010 at 4:08pm
      pinhut says: @ Joe Morison

      The EDL just united Bradford in opposition. If UAF added another few hundred members to their ranks, made a bunch of buddies and raised a few quid, then that makes it worth it.

      Something has to bring people out on to the streets and away from their TV sets.

      We do hold different views on violence, though. The UK state is in a process of deligitimising its use of violence. That is the impetus for becoming more repressive of dissent. What exactly are the newspapers going to say in 2040, when UK troops remain in Afghanistan? This is long-picture stuff, but an entire generation will have to be indoctrinated into 1) accepting this as 'the way things have to be' and 2) during the transition, 'terror swoops' and police impunity are to be thrown into the mix, to crack the heads of the unconvinced and create radical disincentives to resistance, along with 3) more surveillance of civilians, more 'pre-cog' style arrests of people *before* they act - remember the protestors arrested while *planning* rather than executing their attempt to occupy an installation? And the Copenhagen protestors detained at UK airports, prevented from leaving the country.

      All manner of violent groups and forms of criminality are used as props by the state. Football hooligans to ramp up surveillance and border control, child sex offenders to roll out computer snooping and tagging, drug trafficking / money laundering to pry into financial affairs, rapists and murderers to oblige every arrested person to part with their entire DNA sequence. The G20 is used to tour security arrangements throughout 'Western democracies' such as Denmark (and then people still continue to say things like, "Wow! Who knew the Danish forces were so repressive?") That's the point, folks, each country rolls out its tactics against the most sophisticated international protestors. The Olympics coming to London, a coincidence? Of course not, it will be a chance to lock down the whole capital (don't be surprised if there is a security scare just to give it a try).

      I think you are losing sight of the true extremism once again, in launching into a long explication of the possible dangers of what I was describing. Particularly to use the phrase 'collateral damage' without pointing out the state's hundreds of thousands of dead bodies in Afghanistan, the impunity with which British forces have murdered innocent civilians such as Baha Mousa, and equally the millions displaced. We have also seen the 'collateral damage' of workers now being told to retire later, of an enormous bail-out of the private sector, and of an election where the state's grip is so absolute that the three main parties offered no difference (aside from the level of their jingoism) on the continued presence of UK forces in Afghanistan (see the manifestos).

      The public do need to be mobilised. Fact. The state will lay on Armed Forces Day and let the newspapers supply Union Jacks, give the kids the day off school, etc, but no script is going to be provided for a popular mobilisation against the state, the events of the weekend at least provided a focus for a few hours. It's still probably going to be too little, though, only some spontaneous and prolonged action like the fuel protests of 2000 (2001?) will cut it, that or a Wikileaks dump of the tax affairs of our masters, showing that the guy packing groceries in Morrison's is paying more tax than Lord Patten.

      However, these things are fluid, and before anything emerges, it is likely that the EDL will be broken up. This is why, strangely, the BNP do have my sympathies when they speak of being sabotaged by the media and the state. They probably are the continued target of harrassment, for precisely the facts you mention, the forces of popular discontent that they might harness to their advantage necessitate them being subject to disruption.

      On that note, let me point out this sequence that emerged to calm people in recent weeks.

      We went from Raoul Moat's supporters being denounced for celebrating a killer to the officer who killed Ian Tomlinson being allowed to walk away free. Public anger was mounting rapidly, and so who suddenly adorned that weekend's tabloid front pages? Peter Sutcliffe. This is how it works, anger is deflected on to targets that won't change anything.

      I've got time to spare, so sure, email.

    • 31 August 2010 at 10:27am
      So, what did Craig Venter discover? That he and Glenn Close are closer to one another in their genome sequencing than they are to Desmond Tutu? Or is race a social and cultural construct?

    • 3 September 2010 at 12:04pm
      That's correct, Thomas. My words were clouded by the lingering sense of outrage that, while not charged with a crime, while under arrest I have twice had my DNA taken by the state.

  • 30 August 2010 at 5:07pm
    cigar says:
    Check this out: Sarrazin accused of making anti-semitic comments.

    According to the article, it was this sentence that caused the uproar:
    "All Jews share a particular gene, Basques share a certain gene that sets them apart". But the study of Jewish "genetic genealogy", like that of other races, has been around for quite a while, and is an established scientific field of study:
    Sarrazin is wrong in talking about a "particular gene" when it is a particular *set* of genes or pattern in a person's genetic makeup that identifies race. Is *this* uproar then really justified?

    • 30 August 2010 at 10:28pm
      pinhut says: @ cigar
      ""There are limits to every provocation and Bundesbank board member Sarrazin has clearly gone out of bounds with this mistaken and inappropriate comment," Guttenberg added."

      These limits and how they are produced, maintained and often transgressed by the self-same interests is what I find stimulating. If you look at US / Israeli policy, for example, it shares an extremely basic strategic element - "Never permit your opponents to employ the same methods and/or claim the same justifications as yourself."

      Not sure what you are referencing regarding race, isn't it basically agreed by biologists and anthropologists that there are no races, that race is 'a cultural construction'? The differing racial component of census forms from Brazil, US, etc, points to it being so.

      After a century or so of trying to produce systems of classification, the field gave up and moved on, so that the popular coinage 'race' that circulates in public discourse is not shared by the profession, while the old texts are discounted (other than for historical purposes). This is my understanding from my introductory courses in Anthropology.

    • 31 August 2010 at 3:08pm
      cigar says: @ pinhut
      You are right. Here's what the 2009 ed. of the Britannica has to say about the subject:

      "Genetic studies in the late 20th century denied the existence of biogenetically distinct races, and scholars now argue that “races” are cultural interventions reflecting specific attitudes and beliefs that were imposed on different populations in the wake of western European (Europe) conquests beginning in the 15th century."

    • 31 August 2010 at 4:44pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ cigar
      It's not only that single sentence that's causing the ruckus. Sarrazin is working hard to sell his book, in which the central thesis, according to the critiques that I've seen so far, is that the Germans have a higher 'intelligence quotient' (don't ask him what that is) than those in the Muslim communities, and that the females in these communities 'breed more prolifically' than the German females. This means to Sarrazin that Germany is in danger of being overrun by the Muslims, who will change the culture of the country and turn the Germans (sic) into a minority. Sic because about one-third of the people living in Germany have one or more ancestor from another part of the world. In other words, being 'German' for Sarrazin is something special, as a result of breeding. I agree with Pithut and Cigar below - 'race' is as outmoded as bell-bottom jeans. There are many arguments that I could make to counter this dangerous nonsense, but what bothers me is that a groundswell of agreement and approval is emerging to support him. The book has already sold 40,000 copies, reprint on the way. But then did anybody actually READ Mein Kampf?

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