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Dutch Muslims are relieved, but divisions highlighted by election remain

By: Matt Richards
March 16, 2017 Updated: March 16, 2017 at 4:54 pm
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photo - Ballots are counted after polling stations close in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 15, 2017.  Photo courtesy of Reuters/Dylan Martinez
Ballots are counted after polling stations close in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 15, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Dylan Martinez  
GRONINGEN, Netherlands (RNS) Dutch Muslims are breathing a sigh of relief after the worse-than-expected performance of anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders in this week’s election.


“We have trust in the future” of this traditionally welcoming country, said Rasit Bal of the Muslims-Government Contact Organization, an advocacy group, which feared a victory by Wilders’ PVV party would strengthen the anti-immigrant sentiment in the Netherlands.

Bishop Gerard de Korte of Den Bosch said the outcome shows that Dutch voters rejected Wilders’ extreme rhetoric, which included calls to close mosques and ban the Quran.

“From the view of Catholic teaching that is positive,” he told RNS.

Wilders, who has been called the “Dutch Trump,” had called for sealing off the border to Muslim immigrants and making “the Netherlands great again.”

“All the values Europe stands for — freedom, democracy, human rights — are incompatible with Islam,” Wilders said in a 2015 video addressed to Turkish immigrants.

Despite the result for his PVV party, it still increased its share of the vote to become the second-largest party in Parliament, leaving many worried about its influence. Since the mainstream parties have vowed to exclude Wilders from any ruling coalition, the PVV, which stands in Dutch for the Party for Freedom, could become the key opposition force.

“His position is dangerous,” said de Korte. “But I’ve always said that the questions of the people of Wilders are important. For the other parties it is very important to take the questions of the voters seriously but give better answers. More in line with Christian social teaching. It is important for polarization to stop now.”

Binyomin Jacobs, president of the Rabbinical Council for the Netherlands and a representative for the country’s small Jewish population, said parts of Wilders’ main message were echoed in more moderate terms by the main parties, who took a harder line than usual on integration and immigration. So he says he still wonders: “What direction will the large majority go?”

Muslims make up approximately 6 percent of the Dutch population of 17 million. Bal’s organization, which runs government-mandated Islamic education classes for Muslim children in public schools, encourages debate and discussion about cultural integration, especially among the offspring of immigrants.

“Their future is here,” he said. “The main challenge is how to connect this new generation to Dutch culture.”

But the challenge will also be to keep them tethered to their faith.

Berksun Cicek is of Turkish descent but no longer practices the Muslim faith. She is involved in an organization for LGBT Muslims and was surprised by the PVV’s strong showing in her hometown, Rotterdam, a working-class port city with many immigrants and a Muslim mayor.

“The patience is decreasing on both sides” of the political spectrum, she said. “I hope for the best.”

Klaas van der Kamp, secretary-general of the National Council of Churches, believes religion should be a unifying factor in the Netherlands, which has a long history of ecumenical cooperation among disparate confessions.

But he said a vacuum has been left by the decline in religious engagement. “The church is one of the few organizations in society that has members in all areas of society.”

De Korte, the bishop, feels the same way. And he said Wilders played into insecurities of a cross section of Dutch people.

“A lot of people are insecure — also a lot of Christians,” he said. “But I think there is a difference between people who are baptized and people who are going to church. A lot of Christians have also voted for the PVV, I think. But what I see is that people in the parishes and in the Protestant communities who are active in the church, there the PVV are only a small minority.”

(Matt Richards is a correspondent based in the Netherlands)

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