http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/297888

Op-Ed: Islam and You - The Politics of Geert Wilders

Posted Sep 21, 2010 by Sean O'Flynn-Magee
There is something about Geert Wilders. Wherever the provocative Dutchman goes, controversy tends to follow. He shuns political correctness and has become (in)famous for his comments about immigration and Islam, like comparing the Qu’ran to Mein Kampf.
Geert Wilders argues against allowing the  Islamisation of the Netherlands
Geert Wilders argues against allowing the "Islamisation of the Netherlands"
Anna Lyttinger
So Wilders’ appearance in the Ground Zero Mosque hullabaloo wasn’t all that surprising. Speaking before a large crowd commemorating 9/11, Wilders began with one of his trademark one-liners, boldly proclaiming, “No mosque here.” The crowd cheered enthusiastically and picked up the slogan, chanting in a spectacle eerily reminiscent of a football game.
Although he has been labeled an extremist, a hate-monger, and an Islamophobe, Wilders denies that he is prejudiced against anyone. "I don't hate Muslims,” he says, highlighting an important distinction, “I hate their book and their ideology." And while many people are uncomfortable with his views, Wilder’s recent success in Dutch politics (his Party for Freedom is now the third largest in the Netherlands) makes it clear that at least some people agree with him. And this greater political capital is gaining him access to larger platforms from which to express himself. The keynote speaker at the 9/11 ceremony, he drew a crowd of 30 000. The fact is, distasteful though some people find them, the politics of Geert Wilders are gaining traction in the Western world.
More important than what Geert Wilders says is why people are listening to him. It’s easy to dismiss critics of Islam as ignorant racists and bigots. But the issue is hardly as simple as that. Immigration has been the backbone of Europe ever since the Second World War and for much longer in North America. Immigration is a complicated topic itself, demanding concessions from both the immigrant and the society in order to be harmonious. Some conflict is inevitable as the newly arrived struggle to adapt while not losing their identities, and the already there are forced to accept new members. It’s harder when cultures are not easily reconciled.
On some level, this is the case between Islam and our Western, post-Christian culture. They do not easily co-exist. Not only is there a millennium-old history of conflict between the two worlds (which continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda) but there are innumerable points of contemporary conflict. Take, for instance, the recent French ban on the burqa veil. Clearly Muslim piety and Western security don’t mix. Ongoing debates rage over honor killings, forced marriages and clitoral circumcision. On a more ideological level is the notion of freedom. Post-Christian philosophy is based around concepts of equality, individuality and free expression. Islam, on the other hand, has inherent inequalities (such as one man’s testimony being worth that of two women’s), is significantly more community-oriented, and places serious restrictions on expression.
This then is the logic of Geert Wilders, which he summed up at Ground Zero by quoting Abraham Lincoln: “those who deny freedom to others do not deserve it for themselves.” While it is fine to profess cultural relativism—to accept that different cultures have their own, equally ‘right’ ways of doing things—a conundrum arises when a culture espousing freedom meets one that condemns it. An unequal playing field develops. So it is that European governments allow permanent immigration and subsidize the transformation of disused churches into mosques while the government of Saudi Arabia herds temporary foreign workers into living compounds (where single women are not allowed male visitors) and wouldn’t ever think of paying for a church (or a more appropriate temple, like a women’s center). Muslims are free to visit the Vatican but non-Muslims prohibited from seeing Mecca. Persian versions of the Last Supper are sold in Isfahan but the moment anyone in post-Christendom lifts a pen to sketch Mohammad, all hell breaks loose.
This last point, regarding freedom of expression, is most important. To have a discussion like this is increasingly difficult. Anti-immigration views are labeled racist. To even suggest that Islam may be incompatible with post-Christianity is to be branded Islamophobic. To openly criticize the faith is to risk much worse. Attempts have even been made at the UN to outlaw any criticism of Islam. There is, argues Christopher Caldwell in his book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe,” what amounts to a standing fatwa against critics of Islam. The result of this, says Caldwell, is that freedom of speech short circuits. It prevents those who would from speaking out against a religion take would away their right to speak.
Obviously, freedom of speech only goes so far. There are, as with all freedoms, limits. Take Holocaust denial, for instance, which is illegal in many countries. Or imagine people’s reaction at dinner if you tried to offer an intellectual justification of gang-rape. Some things just cannot be said. But that is not to say that one cannot critique an ideology. Surely Islam is as discussable as any other system of belief, from capitalism to Creationism. And surely whatever restrictions Islam might place on Muslims cannot be applied to non-Muslims. Freedom, any freedom, must protect the culture that nourishes it before reaching out to those opposed to it.
That’s what Geert Wilders is saying. And that is why people are listening. In his audacity, Wilders opens up valuable space for an important social discourse. There are questions that need to be asked. Such as, what, if anything, defines post-Christian culture? Is it tolerance? Do we want it to be? Can we be tolerant (we’re all just tribally-wired primates, after all)? Is all our liberal philosophy simply the result of centuries of economic privilege and, now, that privilege beginning to wane, are we throwing out the tinsel? And most importantly, if we are a tolerant society, how do we engage other cultures? Intentionally or not, Geert Wilders is asking these questions. It’s up to us, as individuals and as a society, to start looking for answers.