Anti-Islamist Dutch Politician, Facing Trial for ‘Inciting Hatred,’ Secures His Party’s Role in New Government

September 29, 2010 - 5:01 AM
“Who would have thought, a couple of years ago, that the Freedom Party would have a huge amount of influence in government?” anti-Islamist Dutch politician Geert Wilders said on Tuesday evening.

Geert Wilders

Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, center, is cheered by supporters on election night in The Hague on Wednesday June 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Cynthia Boll)

(CNSNews.com) – Days before anti-Islamist Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ trial for “inciting hatred and discrimination” begins, his political party has reached an agreement with two others on forming the country’s next government.

Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) reportedly will not hold any cabinet posts, but it will lend support in parliament to a minority coalition government headed by the center-right Liberal Party (VVD), whose leader Mark Rutte is set to become prime minister.

“Who would have thought, a couple of years ago, that the Freedom Party would have a huge amount of influence in government?” Wilders said on Tuesday evening.

The relatively rapid rise of the PVV is seen as a reflection of hardening sentiment in the Netherlands against radical Islam, triggered in part by the 2004 murder by a Muslim extremist of controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had focused his criticism on Islam.

About six percent of the Netherlands’ population – one million out of a total of 16 million – is Muslim, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan origin.

Six years ago Wilders, then a VVD lawmaker, split from the party because he opposed its support for Turkey joining the European Union. A one-man campaign grew into the new Freedom Party which in 2006 elections stunned political observers by winning nine seats in the 150-seat Tweede Kamer legislature.

That achievement was replicated in June, when Wilders’ party jumped to 24 seats, making it the third-largest in the Tweede Kamer.

As the election left neither the front-runner VVD nor the second-placed center-left Labor Party with enough support to govern alone, lengthy coalition negotiations followed.

Some 110 days later they delivered an agreement late Tuesday involving VVD, PVV and the Christian Democrats (CDA), the center-right party which led the outgoing governing coalition but saw its parliamentary representation halved in June, dropping from first to fourth place.

The details of the deal will be announced publicly on Thursday. CDA leaders will convene a special conference at the weekend to seek the party’s endorsement, some prominent CDA lawmakers having voiced objections to an association with the PVV.

Labor and left-wing parties have also been critical of the prospect of a conservative government dependent on Wilders, who is vilified by many on the left.

‘Hate speech’

On Monday, Wilders goes on trial in the Amsterdam District Court for allegedly “inciting hatred and discrimination,” charges arising his from statements and activism against radical Islam.

In 2008 he drew protests from Muslims around the world after producing a short documentary film that interspersed passages from the Quran with footage of terror attacks and clips of Muslim clerics endorsing violence.

He had already provoked controversy a year earlier by calling for the Quran to be outlawed in the Netherlands, on the grounds that verses instruct Muslims “to oppress, persecute or kill Christians, Jews, dissidents and non-believers, to beat and rape women and to establish an Islamic state by force.”

An appeal court ruled last year that Wilders’ statements constituted “hate speech” and instructed prosecutors to indict him.

The prospect of a trial has evidently not dampened his fervor. Wilders delivered a rousing speech at a Sept. 11 rally in New York opposing the “Ground Zero mosque,” and told the Associated Press over the summer he has plans to launch an international “freedom alliance,” beginning in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany and France.

Early this year Wilders submitted to the Amsterdam court a list of 18 witnesses he wanted to call when his trial begins, but the court turned down all but three of them.

Among those rejected was the murderer of van Gogh who during his 2005 trial carried a copy of the Quran, told the court he had acted purely in the name of Islam and voiced no remorse.

Others Wilders wanted to call included two hard line Iranian ayatollahs, and experts in Islam, human rights and law.

The judges permitted only three witnesses – two Dutch experts on Islamic fundamentalism and radicalization and a Syrian-born critic of Islam – and said their testimony must be held behind closed doors.

The trial has been set down for October 4, 6 and 8, with further dates later in the month. The verdict is expected on November 2.

If convicted, Wilders faces up to16 months in prison or a fine of about $14,000.