Geert Wilders' Freedom Party is a fascist movement. That's according to Dutch philosopher Rob Riemen in an essay sent to all members of parliament. He says he cannot understand why people are afraid to call a spade a spade.
Up to the 1990s, the fascism and Nazism of WWII marked the moral limit in Dutch politics. However, since the debate about immigration and the rise of Geert Wilders, it has become taboo to mention this. Any comparison of Wilders' anti-Islamic party with fascism has been regarded as muddying the waters.
[media:factfile]Nonsense, says Rob Riemen, Wilders is simply a fascist.
"I don't mean that as a term of abuse, it's an objective historical judgment. There are numerous parallels between fascism then and now. History is there to learn from and, if we don't, we will make the same mistakes."
Rob Riemen is the founder of the prestigious Nexus Institute which organises symposia each year where leading thinkers like Jürgen Habermass and Francis Fukoyama examine the major issues of our time.
Riemen's essay to parliament is entitled The Eternal Recurrence of Fascism.
According to Riemen, fascism is not a genuine ideology with a vision of how society should be organised. It's a political technique, a way of dealing with certain symptoms of crisis in society. It is characterised by appeals to feelings of unease - fear, loathing and hatred. It always identifies a scapegoat - Jews, blacks, Muslims - who are then blamed for everything. In addition, there is always a charismatic leader and the movement is anti-democratic and anti-elitist.
Geert Wilders, he says, meets all these criteria.
"What you can clearly see with Wilders is the cultivation of feelings of unease and fear in society. Societal unease is blamed on a single scapegoat: Muslims. He is also an authoritarian, charismatic leader who has little time for democracy. As with the fascists in the 1930s, the Freedom Party is more a movement than a party and Wilders avoids all debate with his opponents outside of parliament."
Many people associate fascism with the racism, glorification of violence and political dictatorship of the Nazis. But, Riemen adds, you shouldn't compare Wilders with the final form taken by fascism. "Compare him with the way it began, in the 1920s and 1930s. Then you can see the one-on-one parallels."
Fascism is a kind of microbe which lurks beneath the surface of mass democracy and raises its head in times of crisis. The crisis we are now experiencing is an economic crisis, as in the 1930s, but also a crisis of civilisation. Rob Riemen believes modern man is only interested in material gain.
"We have lost touch with spiritual values and with a vision of where our society should be heading. The crisis of civilisation leads to fear and disquiet, feelings capitalised on by fascists who employ empty promises to convince people they can help them."
The philosopher dismisses accusations that he is not taking the million-and-a-half Freedom Party voters seriously. He does not blame the people who voted for Geert Wilders. The rise of Wilders, he says, is the fault of the European elites who have failed in their duty to elevate the people and offer them spiritual values. This created a spiritual vacuum in which fascism could once again flourish.
Rob Riemen say he has no idea what the outcome of fascism will be this time, but he is not optimistic.
"Hate is a poison, as we have seen in the Balkans. Here in the Netherlands, mosques have been defaced and last week swastikas were painted on the house of a Freedom Party MP. That's where we're going. The Freedom Party's insults provoke aggression and aggression leads to more aggression. And here we are afraid to use the word fascism."