The Atlantic: How the Netherlands Made Geert Wilders Possible
Note: This is an excerpt of my text published in The Atlantic on March 13, 2017. You can read the full version here.
In the 17th century, Dutch settlers flocked to the southern half of what is now Manhattan to establish New Amsterdam, a fur-trading post that would welcome Lutherans and Catholics from Europe; Anglicans, Puritans, and Quakers from New England; and Sephardic Jews who were, at the time, discouraged from settling in America’s other nascent regions. Though its English conquerors would rename the city New York, the values of diversity and tolerance that the Dutch introduced would remain the region’s hallmarks for centuries to come.
In the modern-day Netherlands, however, the Dutch Republic’s founding pledge that “everyone shall remain free in religion” will soon collide with the ambitions of one of the country’s most popular politicians.
“Islam and freedom are not compatible,” claims Geert Wilders, the Party for Freedom (PVV) leader who campaigns on banning the Quran, closing Dutch mosques, and ending immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. “Stop Islam,” the phrase that sits atop Wilders’s Twitter page, aptly summarizes his party’s platform. In December, Dutch courts found Wilders guilty of carrying his rhetoric too far, convicting him of discriminatory speech for rallying supporters in an anti-Moroccan call-and-response. Nonetheless, Wilders is a leading contender to receive the plurality of votes in the country’s parliamentary elections on March 15.
The nation’s peculiar path from “live and let live” to “Make the Netherlands Ours Again” (as Wilders recently said) has as its guideposts a changing definition of tolerance, some instances of political opportunism—and a pair of grisly assassinations.