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Wilder's Ascendancy in the Netherlands Echoes in India: The Growing Debate over Multiculturalism

Examining Wilders' Impact from the Netherlands to India and the Shifting Sands of Multiculturalism"

By Sanjay Kapoor
New Update

Multiculturalism | Representative image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

From the quaint streets of Central Europe, a seismic political shift is emerging, one that may redefine the continent's identity. Amidst this backdrop, Geert Wilder, known for his vehement anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant rhetoric, is poised to possibly lead an unlikely coalition in the Netherlands, a development that is stirring both concern and support across Europe. 

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I was in Central Europe when the first indications emerged from The Hague, Netherlands, that suggested that Geert Wilder could head this unlikely coalition in the next few months. His emergence caused much excitement in a continent that may have cherished liberalism, but was seen dumping it in favour of hate-spewing leaders.

Even my host in this European city, known as a leftist and an advocate for multiculturalism amongst his circle of friends, also sounded more circumspect and displayed an understanding of Wilder’s phenomenon, which was built on the belief that the migrants were taking over Europe. He acknowledged the complex factors driving Wilder's popularity, particularly the widespread perception among some Europeans that migrants are overwhelmingly influencing their societies.

To be fair to those who have given up their long-held beliefs on multiculturalism and the value that immigrants and minorities bring to a society, their hate is not restricted to the Netherlands alone. The echo of ideas that fuel hatred towards a fellow human being for his religion can be heard all over the democratic world. Bizarrely, the Dutch politician also has many admirers in India after Wilders came to the defence of Bharatiya Janata Party’s spokesperson, Nupur Sharma, for her views on Islam and The Prophet.

This widespread disillusionment with multiculturalism isn't confined to the Netherlands; it's a sentiment echoed globally, with Wilders' defence of Nupur Sharma resonating particularly in India, reflecting a complex, interconnected web of nationalist sentiments. Wilders, known for his toxic utterances against Islam, needs police protection from Muslim zealots who are desperate to teach him a lesson. This is one of the reasons he finds it difficult to find an alliance partner to form a coalition government any time soon. 

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Dutch observers claim that a few months down the line, there may be a party that may consider aligning with Wilders’ Freedom Party to form the government. However, this is not the issue - but why did Wilders’ party get thundering support from the Dutch and even those who were not averse to multiculturalism. And why do Europeans hate Muslim immigrants so much to elect a party that goes contrary to the liberal values of Europe? The answers are not too hard to seek.

Since the war on terror was launched in 2008, many settled Muslim societies like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were ravaged by the unceasing attacks from the United States of America. It also led European powers, from behind, to bomb out Libya under the guise of the UN mandate of Right to Protect (R2P) the citizens of a country that were threatened by their own rulers. With their economies in shambles and no hope of normalcy returning, where do people from these broken countries really go?

There was a contradiction in the obvious answer, as no one goes to the countries that support their cause like Saudi Arabia or even the UAE. Invariably, the refugees from these devastated countries could only go to democracies like the US or countries of Europe, etc., that may have destroyed their homes and dreams in the name of ousting an autocrat, but also promised these refugees social stability and financial rejuvenation. Understandably, Syrians, Iraqis, and Libyans began their long trek to look for a safe haven in Europe. Some of them were accepted in Germany, but many of these relentless refugees were spurned by countries like Hungary and Poland. Their growing presence in largely Caucasian, Christian societies was resented by the local people, whose anger began to spill over as their economies began to flounder.

The war between Russia and Ukraine aggravated the economic crisis. There were also reports of street violence in countries like Belgium, France, and Sweden. All this contributed to building a stereotype about immigrants as unreasonable and cantankerous, who were undermining the core values of a largely Christian society. This confluence of war, economic instability, and refugee influx has fueled a narrative of fear and resentment towards immigrants, further polarising societies. The perception of immigrants as threats to cultural and economic stability has gained traction, leading to a rise in nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments. This phenomenon, transcending borders, reflects a global struggle with diversity, identity, and the challenges of integrating different cultures in a rapidly changing world.

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Wilders benefited from this hatred for immigrants as about 220,000 immigrants came to the Netherlands in a year alone. They not only came from the old Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia but also from areas that have never done business with The Hague like Tunisia, Algeria, Afghanistan, and more. Wilders, during his party’s election campaign, also pivoted his party closer to the cause of Israel, promising deportation of anyone seen to be antisemitic. This was a fantastic U-turn as it attempts to change the faultlines of history where the Jews were the hated enemies for a majority of Europeans. 

Attempts by the Arabs to remind the Europeans and the US that they had no problem with the Jews, but it was the Christians who hated them, seemed to fall on deaf ears. The historical guilt plagued the world after German dictator Adolf Hitler unleashed a genocide of Jews during the Second World War. This made the world overlook the historical claims of Palestinians who were overthrown from their native land on the day of Nakba, May 15, 1948. 

The same narrative fueled by Islamophobia is impacting politics and conversations in different parts of the world. Many, including in India, have followed the politics of Wilders, though the government here is ambivalent about the issue due to our traditional support for the Palestinian cause. It has made it amply clear where its heart lies. Friendly media, cajoled by the ruling dispensation, has been writing on the Israel-Gaza showdown from the Israeli perspective.

The problem in India, though, is far more complex and has to do with the support that anti-minoritarianism gets from the majority community. In a democracy, the issues that coalesce the majority community really matter. This wave of hate has not left untouched even those who were identified with the left movement. The big question is how will multiculturalism survive not just in Europe, but also in different countries of the world.

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