On Friday afternoon, March 16, 2018, many people in the Netherlands found themselves watching a campaign commercial for the Party for Freedom (PVV). Red block letters flashed against the screen to the sound of a booming musical score. “Islam is discrimination,” the first sentence read. To the sound of ominous drumbeats, “discrimination” is then replaced with words like “violence,” “terror,” “Jewish hate,” and “Christian hate.”
The Netherlands hosts local elections on March 21. The video from the PVV was aired on public broadcaster NPO in a time slotted for political messages. Almost immediately, complaints to the public station began to pour in. Many were shocked that such a video could be aired at all. Others complained that it was aired in the afternoon.
On Facebook, Abdelkarim El-Fassi of Zouka Media wrote:
…Je bent als kijker boos, verbolgen, woedend en verbaasd over hoe zoveel rabiate haat primetime via de NPO binnen heeft kunnen komen. In de ruimte waar je je het meest veilig waant: je eigen huiskamer. Midden op de dag. En de kans is groot dat je kleine het heeft gezien. Of je neefjes en nichtjes die mijlenver van je vandaan wonen en niet hebt kunnen beschermen tegen zoveel woede. Dat was mijn reactie althans; wat als Hamza, Yassin, Romaissa en Imraan hiernaar gekeken hebben?
As a viewer, you are angry, bent out of shape, furious, and surprised about how so much rabid hatred can come through NPO. In the room where you feel safest: your own living room. In the middle of the day. And with the big chance that your little one has seen it. Or your nieces and nephews that live miles away that you were unable to protect from so much anger. That was my reaction at least; what if Hamza, Yassin, Romaissa, and Imraan saw this?
In response to complaints, the NPO ombudsman stated that public television has no influence on political messages:
Waar de grens ligt van wat toelaatbaar is, is in ons vrije land aan de rechter.
In our free country, the border of what is permissible is up to the judge.
For his part, Prime Minister Rutte stated:
Ik geloof dat ik hier het overgrote deel van Nederland representeer als ik zeg dat ik dit onsmakelijk vind.
I believe that I represent most of the Netherlands when I say that I find this is distasteful.
Ik ben nog onverminderd misselijk van de haatpropaganda die de NPO gisteravond uitzond namens de PVV op een tijdstip dat ook argeloze kinderen ermee geconfronteerd kunnen worden.
En wat schetst mijn verbazing?
Geen nationale verontwaardiging?
Geen “onze joods-christelijke waarden die onder druk staan?”
Geen woord in de late night talkshows?
Oh wacht. De afzender van het haatspotje mocht vanmorgen gezellig mee presenteren bij de ochtendshow van slapend Nederland.
Over poesjes en dierenliefde.
Meer dan ooit is mij duidelijk: in Nederland is de ene Nederlander de andere Nederlander niet.
I am still sickened by the hate propaganda broadcast on NPO last night on behalf of the PVV at a time when unsuspecting children could also see it.
And what does my surprise paint?
No national outrage?
No “our Judeo-Christian values are on the line?”
Not a word from the late night talk shows?
Nothing at all.
Oh wait. The presenter of the hate spot could be all cozy with the sleeping Netherlands as co-presenter of a morning talk show.
Talking about kittens and animal love.
More than ever, it is clear to me that in the Netherlands one Dutch person is not like the other Dutch person.
On Twitter, interfaith activist Chantal Suissa-Runna wrote:
Ik ben al ziek maar mijn koorts springt hier spontaan een graad van omhoog… de PVV spotjes. Islam is slavernij, dodelijk, dierenleed… wtf? Als Jodin tolereer ik dit niet. Veel Joden zijn het zat gebruikt te worden door populistische partijen als stok om moslims mee te slaan!
— Chantal Suissa-Runne (@CASuissa) March 16, 2018
I’ve been sick, but my fever has gone up another degree… the PVV ads. Islam is slavery, deadly, animal abuse…wtf? As a Jew, I do not tolerate this. Many Jews are being used by populist parties as a stick with which to beat Muslims.
A criminal complaint on the horizon?
Controversy is nothing new for Geert Wilders and the party he leads.
Wilders has been brought up on criminal charges of discriminatory speech twice already. The first time was for a series of incidents that included articles, videos, and public speaking and was alleged to spread hatred of Moroccans, Muslims, and other non-Western minorities. The second criminal charge was the result of public event where he led his campaign supporters in anti-Moroccan chants.
In the above video, Wilders tells his supporters that there are three questions that define the PVV. The first question he asks is, “Do you want more or less of the European Union?” His supporters chant, Minder, minder, minder (Less, less, less).
The next question is whether his supporters want more or less of the labor party. Prior to asking the third question, Wilders states that he knows that he will be criminally charged because of what he is about to say, but he values “freedom of expression” too much not to say it. He then goes on to ask, “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and this country?” In a 2016 trial, he was, indeed, found guilty of incitement and encouraging discrimination.
Will history repeat itself for Wilders this time round? The party Islam Democrats shared on Facebook their intention to file a complaint against him for the recent TV spot:
“Wij roepen een ieder in dit land, moslim en niet-moslim, op om stelling te nemen tegen moslimhaat, xenofobie en andere vormen van onverdraagzaamheid.”
We call on everyone in this country, Muslim and not-Muslim, to take a stand against Muslim hate, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance.
Not everyone agrees with filing a complaint. Abdelkarim El-Fassi of Zouka Media wrote on Facebook:
Er is in ieder geval één ding wat ik niet ga doen. En dat is aangifte. Been there, done that. Ik gun hem die rechtszaal niet meer. Ik gun hem geen podium waarmee hij uit de schaduw van (die andere engerd) Baudet kan stappen. Ik gun het bovenal logge instituties niet om over mijn lot te beschikken. We kunnen veel meer doen dan we denken. Door nieuwe verhalen te creëren, en met elkaar in gesprek te blijven. Gisteren was ik bij een debat. Vandaag gaf ik les aan scholieren. Ik zag in beide ruimtes hoe haat die ruimtes in kampen heeft verdeeld. Politici vlogen elkaar net niet in de haren. Scholieren voelen zich niet veilig om voor hun mening uit te komen.
Er is niets makkelijker dan een boodschap van haat via de treurbuis te projecteren op de samenleving. Maar het is toch echt aan ons om alle scheurtjes in de samenleving te stuken. Gewoon door dag in, dag uit, onze buren, wijk- en stadsgenoten tot nieuwe inzichten te brengen. Soms, door gewoon te zijn. En soms, door de spiegel voor te houden.
Dat is de grootste middelvinger die we hem kunnen geven. We doen het eigenlijk al. En moeten dat blijven doen. Elkaar elke dag weer vertellen dat zijn haat niet opgewassen is tegen de intrinsieke behoefte naar vrede; om samen te leven; om elkaar niet te haten; maar lief te hebben.
Er is geen andere weg.
There is at least one thing I will not do. And that is file a complaint. Been there, done that. I will not give him [Geert Wilders] that courtroom anymore. I am not going to to give him a platform to help him step out of the shadow of Baudet (that other creep) [Thierry Baudet is the founder of a competing anti-Islam and racist populist party]. Above all, I do not want to turn my fate over to institutions. We can do much more than we think. By creating new stories and continuing dialogue. Yesterday I was at a debate. Today I was teaching students. I saw in both rooms how hatred had polarized those spaces. Politicians seemed about to tear each other's hair out. Students did not feel safe to state an opinion.
There is nothing easier than using the boob tube [television] to broadcast a message of hatred. But it is really up to us to all to fill the cracks in society. Day in, day out, we must bring new insights to our neighbors, neighborhoods, and fellow citizens. Sometimes, just by being normal. And sometimes, by holding up a mirror.
That is the biggest middle finger that we can give him. We are already doing that. We have to continue to do so. Everyday we need to tell each other that their hatred will be defeated by the intrinsic need for peace; to live together; not to hate each other; but to love.
There is no other way.
‘A clear double standard’ on identity
While the extreme message of the PVV video is easy to condemn, everyday racism is no novelty in the Netherlands. In 2011, Prime Minister Rutte said:
We gaan er gewoon voor zorgen, dames en heren, dat we dat prachtige land weer teruggeven aan de Nederlanders, want dat is ons project!
Ladies and gentleman, we are going to ensure that we return this beautiful land to the Dutch, because that is our project!
What many understood from his words was that being “Dutch” excludes immigrants or even second, third, or fourth-generation descendants of non-white immigrants.
Dr. Halleh Ghorashi has written about the resistance to talk about racism by Dutch society in “Racism and ‘the Ungrateful Other’ in the Netherlands”:
Every reaction that acknowledges the insecure feelings of the “native Dutch” justifies the critique of migrant culture as well. Here we can observe a clear double standard: It is OK for the “native Dutch” to feel defensive and to protect their culture, but migrants are criticized for defending theirs. Migrants are seen as the ones who need to adopt or even assimilate into the new culture. Not many people would consider this asymmetric approach racist, since it is believed that the discussion is about culture and not about race (see also Schinkel on this). This begs the question of why the discussion of the culture of migrants focuses on how it needs to change, yet discussion of the culture of the “native Dutch” recognizes the reasons for a defensive attitude.
In her book “White Innocence,” Dr. Gloria Wekker talks about the way racism permeates Dutch society, yet remains unspoken and unacknowledged. She states that Dutch society sees itself as progressive and tolerant, and this blinds many to the racism inherent in the system:
In that story we are a very progressive country. We are the champions of women’s liberation, liberation of gays and lesbians. We also like to tell ourselves that we are color blind and anti-racist. The thing is, if you ask people from the colonies or from Morroco or Turkey, this does not conform to their experiences.
In this short talk, she discusses the ways in which racism manifests itself the Netherlands.
Where is the discussion about racism in the Netherlands heading?
On Sunday, March 18, an estimated 13,000 people in Amsterdam braved the cold to demonstrate against racism. What is clear is that more and more people affected by racist policies are creating platforms for discussion and debate, as well as engaging with the political process.