- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

For a brief moment, Pim Fortuyn flickered on the stage of European politics, forcing the Dutch to face their fear and fascination with the "problem" of Muslim immigration. At his funeral, an attendee hailed him as a prime minister, though he had only registered on the Netherlands' political scene six months before. Tens of thousands of Dutch showed up for his funeral last week. Fortuyn, leader of a party bearing his name, the List Pim Fortuyn, was close to the top of the polls before he was shot dead. For all his honesty, however, Fortuyn's attacks on Islam and his call for a stop to immigration were not the way to deal with the queasiness some Dutch felt over the Muslim population in their midst.

The worst outcome of today's elections in the Netherlands would be for the other parties the Social Democrats of outgoing Prime Minister Wim Kok, the Christian Democrats and the free market VVD to once again ignore the concerns that are on the minds of enough people in the Netherlands. They had discounted Fortuyn as an extremist, while not offering a better immigration policy in return. It would be similarly unfortunate if Fortuyn's own following were not to step back and see where his policies went wrong. While Fortuyn boasted that he was not like other European nationalists because he did not call for the deportation of Muslims already residing in the country, but for their integration, his platform was built on one of victimhood. He said that his identity as a gay man was under attack by gay-bashing Muslims. He was openly uncomfortable with Muslim attitudes that would fly in the face of the Netherlands' acceptance of women's rights, prostitution and legalized drugs. To call for an end to immigration to the Netherlands altogether because of the challenge posed by the 4 percent of the Netherlands population that is Muslim takes fear too far.

Polls have been mixed in the wake of the shooting. But Fortuyn's party is now leaderless, and the fascination with the enigmatic man of contradictions may now find no expression, even if a sympathy vote gives his party a good showing in the parliament. While the rest of the world tried to put a label on him, he would not be labeled, the populist who taught sociology from a Marxist perspective. Fortuyn would stop immigration but pulled a third of his supporters from immigrants. He was gay and he was Catholic. He was loved by the alternative community, but made public plans to lift restrictions on fur farming.

The Netherlands has lost a charismatic personality. More tragic yet would be if in concentrating on that loss, it ignores the opportunity to address the fears Fortuyn brought to the fore.


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