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Is Europe Awakening to Islamist Threat?

Europe may still lean significantly to the left, but a rightward shift fueled by Muslim immigration problems has begun. Just look at the Netherlands.

by
Barry Rubin

Bio

June 25, 2010 - 12:00 am
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One of the main arguments against mass immigration is that it is incredibly costly to Dutch taxpayers. It is possible to be suspicious of a report commissioned by Wilders showing that the cost is 7.2 billion euros a year to a country of about 16 million people. But in fact that report was written by the country’s most respected independent think tank, and the estimate is not that much higher than the government’s own estimate of 6 billion a year.

And here’s where it gets interesting. For while the focus was on Wilders’ PVV, the second biggest winner was the mainstream conservative (in European terminology, liberal) Dutch Liberal Party (VVD), which went from 22 to 31 seats. The VVD favors lower taxes, smaller government, and less government regulation. While Wilders often focuses his criticism on Islam itself, the VVD is quite critical of radical Islamism.

And though the VVD’s positions are less extreme than Wilders’, it also favors serious reductions in immigration, the closing of mosques where radical doctrines are preached, and the denial of social welfare payments for immigrants during their first decade in the country. These two parties received one-third of the vote, and three Christian parties, from whose voters Wilders and the VVD obtained their increased support, have somewhat similar stances.

For instance, here’s what the platform of the Christian Union, the most liberal — in the American sense of that word — of these parties, states:

Every Dutchman has the right to assembly, to religion and to express his opinion. But financial support of Dutch political, cultural, and religious institutes from demonstrably non-free countries (such as Saudi-Arabia and Iran) is not permitted. It’s allowed to protect a free society from the importation of bondage.

It also supports banning the burqa from public buildings, public transport, and schools.

A similar pattern emerges regarding stances toward Israel. Wilders is an outspoken supporter, but the other parties are also sympathetic — though there is an anti-Israel minority in the VVD. The foreign minister, for example, a Christian Democrat, said that Israel was entitled to stop Gaza flotilla ships in international waters, refused to condemn Israel’s actions, and supports tough sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. While the four non-Wilders center-right parties are more nuanced in their attitude than decades ago, they are certainly not knee-jerk anti-Israel in their positions.

Thus, about 55 percent of Dutch voters backed parties that want a real change in key policies.

Why is nothing dramatic likely to happen? Because 45 percent endorsed parties on the left, and given the Dutch passion for consensus, the existence of so many parties, and the reluctance of several other parties to bring Wilders’ party into government, some kind of broad coalition will likely emerge.

The largest party on the left, Labor — led by former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen — got less than half of the overall vote. It can be described now as the party of the Dutch status quo — that is, continuation of existing policies. Despite being led by a nominal Jew, it is very critical of Israel and totally uncritical of Hamas. The left favors increases in taxes and government power.

Outsiders would view this situation of deadlock between two sides with such different overall visions of Dutch politics and society as a big problem. In contrast, the Dutch believe they thrive on this kind of paradox, finding some compromise to ease them through. Yet can a major crisis be long avoided given the economic and social issues faced by the Netherlands and so many other European states today?

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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition, Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth about Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.
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