Dutch Muslim community leaders voiced anger, fear, and defiance after the election victory of anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders, but on the ground the picture seemed more nuanced, with many even expressing support because of his economic policies.
No mosques, headscarves or Korans: the manifesto of Wilders’s PVV party is unashamedly anti-Islam. “We want less Islam in the Netherlands,” says the PVV platform.
Wilders has called Moroccans “scum”, compared the Koran to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, and received death threats after threatening to organise a competition to draw cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
He toned down his anti-Islam rhetoric during the campaign, focusing more on issues such as the rising cost of living. But community leader Muhsin Koktas of the CMO muslim association said: “I don’t know if Muslims are still safe in the Netherlands. I am worried about this country.”
Habib el Kaddouri from the SMN association of Moroccan Dutch told AFP that “some people are scared, others uncertain about their future, about what the result means for their citizenship or place in Dutch society.”
“At the same time, I have noticed that people are also combative. ‘We won’t be driven away by Mr Wilders’ or a right-wing cabinet,” he said.
But Muslims AFP spoke to in Amsterdam and the eastern city of Venlo painted a more nuanced picture, with some attaching more importance to economic issues than to his past comments about Islam.
“I’m from Turkish descent and a Muslim. Yet, I voted for Geert Wilders,” said one Venlo-born man on condition of anonymity.
“Why? Because we are all poor and we think he can make a change. All this talk about closing mosques is just politics,” said the 41-year-old unemployed man munching a toasted cheese sandwich.
In an Amsterdam cafe, Burak Cen, a 40-year-old taxi driver said he didn’t vote, but he would have voted for Wilders.
“I think he deserves a chance,” he told AFP.
“I honestly think he’s just trying to drum up votes with his propaganda about mosques and Muslims. But otherwise what he says about the Dutch and poverty is right,” added Cen.
“Refugees are given priority for housing while we have to wait 20 years for a home,” he said, voicing a key campaign topic around a crippling shortage of affordable housing.
Many people however declined to comment to camera.
Seeking to assuage fears of minorities after the vote, Wilders stressed he wanted to be “prime minister for all Dutch regardless of their religion, sexuality, colour, gender or whatever.”
“When you are prime minister, you have a different role than when you are leader of the opposition,” said Wilders.
Hasan Bensaid, a 49-year-old construction worker from Amsterdam, said he thought Wilders’ bluster about the country’s nearly million-strong Muslim community was for show.
“He has been shouting for 20 years in the parliament, I’m not impressed by it. ‘We are extremists, we are thieves, we are everything’.”
Reflecting another key issue from the campaign trial, Bensaid complained that “everything is expensive, and I think the ministers made a mess of things.”
“I will give him a chance. He can be prime minister,” Bensaid told AFP.
Mustafa Ayranci from the Turkish workers association HTIB said his community must respect the decision of the voters, even if disappointing.
He said he wants to take Wilders at his word — to be the prime minister of everyone in the Netherlands.
“That he won’t just be prime minister for Jan and Piet, but also for Mustafa and Ahmed.”