Geert Wilders may be Donald Trump's doppelgänger – but his anti-Muslim rhetoric came first

Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders take a selfie during a European far-right leaders meeting in Koblenz, Germany.Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Geert Wilders the blond haired orange-faced Trump of the Netherlands has led polls in the country for months and his party, the far right anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV), is set to win the most seats in the Dutch elections in March.

Wilders' anti-immigrant rhetoric has stirred up Dutch politics in recent years and like Trump he has focused his venom on Muslims. Wilders has in recent days made a number of incendiary statements. He has promised to "de-Islamise" the Netherlands and he said he would ban the Quran, which he compares to Mein Kampf.

He has said after Trump's victory Europe should welcome a "patriotic spring". He has also said that Islamist ideology is possibly even more dangerous than Nazism and Wilders' party has taken Trump's most well known slogan and made it their own: "Make the Netherlands great again".

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Like Trump Wilders thrives on making controversial statements that excites his base and frustrates the liberal mainstream. He recently returned to one of his favourite subjects, which is stoking fears about young Dutch Moroccans. He said, "once again not all are scum but there is a lot of Moroccan scum in Holland who makes the streets unsafe, mostly young people", the Independent reported. These comments come after Wilders was last year found guilty of inciting discrimination after leading an anti-Moroccan chant in 2014.

Though he has been described as a Dutch version of Trump, its more apt to describe Trump as a version of Wilders. They do share much though, such as the hair, hatred of the mainstream media and obsession with Twitter. But Wilders was there before Trump became popular, and he is one of the most significant new right politicians in Europe. Wilders is in many ways the precursor of Trump and of the populist wave, which swept Trump to power.

But having said that Wilders spent years trying to go mainstream in the Netherlands, but only found limited electorally success. What has changed is that Trump's victory in the US has given impetus to Wilders' message. He is taking the Trump playbook and applying it to the Netherlands. Wilders has found an electorate willing to listen and he can see victory.

Even before Trump, the Netherlands was the crucible of the kind of politics that delivered him his victory and which may now take Wilders across the finishing line.

The late 1990s saw the Dutch political system come undone as the social democrats began to falter on their support for immigration. The issues of integrating second generation Moroccans and Turks, whose parents had come mostly as guest workers in the 1960s and 70s, was starting to play out in Dutch politics. Indeed, the Dutch experienced this turn against immigration much earlier than most Europeans, before the Swedes, Danes or Brits.

And even left wing Dutch intellectual opinion began to shift against support for immigration and took on an anti-multiculturalism bend, with writers such as Paul Scheffer, who's essay The Multicultural Disaster, published in 2000 was a watershed moment in Dutch politics. Scheffer's essay became influential in the discussions about migration and multiculturalism in the Netherlands. The Dutch had always seen themselves as a tolerant, internationalist and open people. But the Netherlands turned against immigration, and went from being one of the most cohesive, socially democratic high-welfare societies in Europe, to one where the far right rose extremely quickly.

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Before Wilders there was Pim Fortuyn, a populist outsider in Dutch politics who led an anti-immigration party to national prominence in the early 2000s. This former academic and columnist became popular for his extreme anti-Islam rhetoric. Fortuyn was assassinated in May 2002 in Hilversum, a town near Amsterdam.

The shocking murder of Fortuyn was followed by the murder of film director Theo Van Gogh in 2004 by a young Dutch-Moroccan who shot him eight times while he cycled to work. Van Gogh had made a film with the Somali-Dutch former politician and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The short film they made Submission was critical of the treatment of women in Islam, but it shocked people and led to Dutch Muslims protesting.

Wilders current success has been fuelled by Trumpism, but his rise still owes much to the right-wing populist pioneers the Netherlands saw in the early 2000s. Nonetheless the populist surge Trump has unleashed will be tested outside the US for the first time in the Dutch elections. If as the polls indicate Wilders continues to play by the Trump playbook, then he may well realise his decade-long ambition of upturning the Dutch political landscape.

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But, though Wilders' party may be on course to become the biggest in the Dutch parliament, it may not be able to govern because of the Dutch system of proportional representation. And mainstream political parties have said they would shun him if he wins anyway. Nonetheless, a win for Wilders will be a huge blow to centrist everywhere, and will embolden the populist right in Europe as we approach the French presidential elections in April.


Ismail Einashe is a freelance journalist, researcher and a contributing editor at Warscapes, a foreign affairs magazine. He tweets @IsmailEinashe


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