Geert Wilders and Islamophobia in the US—on their way out?

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Geert Wilders' autobiographical book Marked for Death: Islam’s War against the West and Me will be presented in New York on Tuesday. Will his message against Islam and the West’s alleged “Islamification” still resonate in the United States? Here in the Netherlands, this week’s political upheaval has seriously dented his influence.

Now that Wilders has disqualified himself from governing, relegating his party to opposition status, his political future here is limited. Even if his Freedom Party emerged as the largest in September’s elections, he would find it difficult, if not impossible, to find any coalition partners. No other party will be eager to work with a politician who has proved so unreliable.

So where does a savvy Islam-basher turn when he is down on his luck? To the United States, of course. Following her stint in Dutch politics, Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali embarked on a successful career as an Islam critic in the US. There is speculation that Wilders may follow her example.

Frequent flyer

Wilders is no stranger to American shores. He has travelled there frequently, raising money and giving lectures. He most famously gave a speech in New York in the autumn of 2010 opposing the building of a Muslim Centre a few blocks from Ground Zero. The protest against the centre gave Wilders a platform for his message against Islam. He said New York “must defend itself against the powers of darkness, the force of hatred and the blight of ignorance. …This means we must not give a free hand to those who want to subjugate us.” His speech received broad coverage in the American press.

Changed attitudes
Two years later, however, Wilders will find that attitudes in the US have changed. Anti-Muslim sentiment has been fading. A Gallup poll released in the summer of 2011 showed that Muslims, while still facing discrimination, are more confident about their future than any other group in the US. The standard of living among Muslims is improving faster than among other groups.

Gallup researcher Mohamed Younis: “The debate about Islam flares up when something happens, but the last couple of years have been pretty quiet and the public’s interest has waned. Wilders will have a hard time selling his book right now.”

There is more evidence that the attitude toward Muslims in the US is softening. The most outspoken anti-Islam candidates in the Republican presidential primaries did not do well. Mitt Romney, who is all but certain to win the Republican nomination, is known for his moderate views on US Muslims.

As for entertainment, a reality programme called “All-American Muslim” was cancelled, not because it generated a small controversy, but because it failed to attract viewers. People were bored by the premise that Muslims were everyday, normal Americans and the show got poor ratings. The New York Muslim Centre Wilders tried to block is going ahead, albeit in a more modest form. The protests have petered out.

Fringe element
Attitudes toward Islam may be evolving, but there's still an energetic minority of writers and bloggers who continue to warn of the imminent danger that Islam allegedly poses to the US. The small publishing house which is bringing out Wilders’ book is a driving force in such circles.

Regnery Publishing specialises in far-right conspiracy theories and scare-mongering. Books currently featured on the website include: Fast and Furious: Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and Its Shameless Cover-Up, Secret Weapon: How Economic Terrorism Brought Down the US Stock Market and Why It Can Happen Again and After America: Get Ready for Armageddon.

The author of the last work, Mark Steyn, a fervently anti-Islam journalist from Canada, has written the introduction of Wilders’ new book. Regnery’s head, Marji Ross, says she knows Wilders’ views are seen as extreme, but “that’s what makes the book exciting and bold and newsworthy.”

Judging from the response to review copies of Marked for Death, it fails to fulfil Ms Ross’ expectations. It is reported to be a relatively dry description of how Wilders got to where he is, with hardly anything polemical about it. It also appears to lack the verve of Fitna, his short anti-Islam film of 2008.

Curiously, there is no mention of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who helped elevate Wilders to the powerful position he held for the past 18 months. On the other hand, he refers a few times to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, claiming they think along the same lines.

One reviewer said the book could be considered Wilders’ calling card to America. But in contrast to Hirsi Ali’s books Infidel and Nomad, published by mainstream houses and selling well, Marked for Death is not likely to attract a wide readership outside the fanatical anti-Islam movement.

Deafening silence
When Wilders spoke in parliament earlier this week after bringing down the government, MPs largely ignored him. With one exception, no one bothered to confront him. Apart from a few trusted Islam bashers, the broader public in the US may greet Wilders with the same deafening silence.

(cl/imm)

© Radio Netherlands Worldwide