First of three parts
AMSTERDAM - Parliamentarian Geert Wilders sees himself as the legendary Dutch boy, finger in the dike, holding back a rising tide of immigrants that threatens to swamp the Netherlands and all of Europe.
“Immigration is the biggest problem that Dutch society is facing today,” said Mr. Wilders, in his office in The Hague.
“We have been so tolerant of others’ culture and religion, we are losing our own. … Europe is losing itself. … One day we will wake up, and it will be too late. [Immigration] will have killed our country and our democracy.”
The intense politician spoke under the watchful eye of bodyguards, as his picture has been posted on Muslim Web sites calling for his beheading.
Mr. Wilders’ passion reflects a problem confronting much of Europe.
Old, cold and settled in its ways, the Continent struggles to absorb waves of immigrants, to protect itself from the growing hatred of Muslim militants in their midst and to live with the dark fear of a world spinning out of control.
“If Europe does not take the full and effective integration of its immigrants to heart and change its message from ‘You are not welcome. You don’t belong,’ to ‘We are in this together,’ Europe is going to have a very hard time,” said Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.
Said Mr. Wilders: “In the last 30 years, the Netherlands population has grown from 13 million to 16 million, about 25 percent, but the immigrant population has grown from 160,000 to 1.6 million — 1,000 percent. Ninety percent of our prison population is immigrants.”
“[Immigrants] are the most dependent on our [welfare] schemes. They are non-Westerners and not speaking our language,” he said.
“In the next [few] years, 75 percent of our population growth will be non-Western immigrants; only 8 percent will be native Dutch. This is fact, not opinion,” he said, dismissing a somewhat different picture that emerges from official statistics posted on government Web sites.
For example, Netherlands’ Central Statistical Office shows that about 50 percent, not 90 percent, of the prison population is foreign.
And Mr. Wilders’ 1.6 million figure can only be reached by including second- and third-generation children of immigrants, who were born in Holland and are citizens — individuals who would never be considered foreign in the United States.
Nevertheless, the thrust of his argument is gospel for Dutch immigration reformers.
Mr. Wilders demands, and many support, a five-year moratorium on all non-Western immigration, even to unite a legally working husband with his family.
He wants illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers deported, and all immigrants to have a working knowledge of the Dutch language before they arrive.
To remain in the Netherlands, a newcomer should pass a basic civics exam, one that few Dutch could pass.
Mr. Wilders calls mosques “houses of terror and recruitment” for jihad. He describes Islam as “dangerous” and “fascist,” articulating the fears of many.
He says that Muslims beat their wives and children, and occasionally kill a daughter who wishes to marry outside the faith. He says that imams preach that homosexuals — even in a society where same-sex “marriage” is legal — should be executed.
“I am talking about non-Western immigration to the Netherlands,” Mr. Wilders said in a recent interview.
“The lessons of Pim Fortuyn have not been learned.”
Mr. Fortuyn, a charismatic homosexual anti-immigration activist, was gunned down while running for prime minister in 2002 on an anti-immigration platform.
After the assassination — by a deranged animal-rights activist — his party went on to capture 26 of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament.
Earlier this year, the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) expelled Mr. Wilders because of his extreme views on immigration and his opposition to Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union.
That made the bottle-blond politician leader of his own one-man party, a figure easily dismissed by mainstream pundits as a political sideshow, a racist and in some Dutch newspapers, a Nazi.
But that changed with the Nov. 2 slaying of Theo van Gogh, the anti-Islamist crusader and social provocateur, gunned down and then slashed with a knife by a Dutch citizen of Moroccan descent in broad daylight on an Amsterdam street.
Within days, at least 19 other members of the Netherlands parliament were supporting Mr. Wilders — at least on immigration issues.
The Netherlands has 16 million people, including 1 million Muslims.
Its Muslims include about 300,000 Moroccans and another 300,000 Turks, who came as “guest workers” during Holland’s economic boom years.
Holland is now their home and their children are full Dutch citizens who have never felt welcome in Europe’s most permissive society, where marijuana consumption, prostitution and same-sex “marriage” are either tolerated or legal.
Dutch intelligence says that an estimated 50,000 Muslims are devout and may be sympathetic to extremist goals and perhaps 150 might actually engage in criminal or terrorist acts.
Fear of terrorism
The September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and March 11, 2004, terrorist bombings in Madrid amplified the fear and estrangement between the native Dutch and the Muslim communities.
Polls consistently show that about 50 percent of voters support tighter restrictions on immigration and asylum, even though the largest immigrant populations in the Netherlands today are Germans and Indonesians from the former Dutch colony.
Exacerbating the gnawing unease over swarthy men and women in head scarves on the streets of The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Amsterdam, there is the fear of foreigners taking jobs away from native Dutch.
The Netherlands, like all of Western Europe, is facing what demographers call a “birth dearth.”
The native Dutch are having fewer children — about 1.7 per woman — which is lower than replacement rate. People are living longer, retiring and drawing government pensions longer.
Economists predict the Netherlands’ extensive social-welfare network will go broke if there are not enough younger workers to pay taxes.
“If Europe doesn’t employ immigrants, who will empty the bedpans … who will pay the taxes needed to fund the retirement programs,” said Ben Wattenberg of the American Enterprise Institute and the author of “Fewer,” which details the demographic crisis in Europe.
Meanwhile, the population of immigrants, their children and grandchildren is becoming politically active.
“I am not a guest in the Netherlands, and I will not act like a guest, asking permission in someone else’s home to sit here or move the furniture there. I was born here. I am a citizen,” said Nabil Marmouch, the Dutch-Moroccan head of the Netherlands’ Arab-European League, a political action group that plans to field candidates in upcoming elections.
“[Muslims] have nothing to be ashamed of. We can be proud of our religion, our culture, our traditions. We do not have to assimilate or integrate. … We do have to act like responsible citizens, obey the laws and get involved in the political process,” Mr. Marmouch said.
Like other Muslim organizations, he condemned the killing of Mr. van Gogh, but dismissed Mr. Wilders’ bodyguards as a “fashion statement” designed to create fear of Muslims and draw attention to his anti-immigration politics.
Some say that the real lesson of Mr. Fortuyn was “kill the heretic, adopt the heresy” as the mainstream parties, including the VVD, scrambled to adopt the Fortuyn prescriptions.
In the days after the van Gogh killing, Mr. Fortuyn was named one of the most important persons in Dutch history, outpolling Vincent van Gogh (of whose brother the slain filmmaker was the great-grandson) and Rembrandt, philosopher Desiderius Erasmus and Anne Frank, who was not Dutch, but a German asylum seeker.
“The VVD understood that you can win an enormous amount of votes playing the migration and integration card,” said Rinus Penninx of the University of Amsterdam’s Institute of Migration and Ethnic Studies.
But in a typical Dutch paradox, the local politicians are refusing to cooperate with national law enforcement charged with rounding up illegals.
“People are saying, ‘Illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers should leave, but not ours. Ours are fine.’ They are protesting the closing of local asylum centers. The mayor of Amsterdam told the government he won’t help unless the individuals are causing a nuisance,” Mr. Penninx said.
Eduard Nazarski, head of the Dutch Refugee Council, said that the myth of Dutch tolerance is overstated.
“Anne Frank is a symbol, an example of Dutch intolerance,” said Mr. Nazarski, who says anti-immigrant hysteria has made the Netherlands the most restrictive nation in Europe for immigrants and asylum seekers.
“Asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, the politicians don’t make a distinction. They are all foreigners. …
“About 50 percent of the Dutch people are fed up with too many foreigners being here. Thirty [percent] to 40 percent think that we have 100,000 asylum seekers a year, when it is really 20,000 to 30,000 a year.
“It is all emotion. The government is not interested in the facts,” Mr. Nazarski said.
Jan Rath, who also teaches ethnic and immigration studies at the University of Amsterdam, said that Holland’s historic acceptance of religious minorities such as the Mayflower Pilgrims masks a different reality.
When Reform Protestants took power in Holland in the 16th century, Catholics were allowed to stay and worship, but only if they did so in “hidden” churches. He said the Muslims would be facing less resistance today if they were not so obvious.
“I understand the emotional difficulty of seeing your society change before your eyes. My mother is an older Catholic, and the people in her neighborhood and church are very upset that they are building a mosque in her neighborhood.
“The priest had to remind them that not so long ago there were restrictions on Catholics, like her, from building churches” in Protestant Holland, Mr. Rath said.
While Dutch churches are all but empty today, the minarets of the largest mosque in Europe tower over Rotterdam.
At a flower market along the Singel Canal, Donald van Achthoven, a tulip seller, says aloud what was once whispered:
“My opinion is they have to be like the Dutch, if they come here. Leave their religion in their own country.
“Live here with the rules of the Dutch. We are a tiny country, with too many people, too many for such a small place. … I won’t hire them. If they come here, they should speak our language and follow our rules.”
Mr. Papademetriou of the Migration Policy Institute said it is natural for immigrants who feel unwelcome in Europe to turn inward.
“Naturally, they close in and look to themselves for comfort. … It is like the immigrants to New York City in the early 1900s. Someone can be here 50 years and still only speak Greek or Italian,” he said.
Historically, the second generation generally learns the language, moves out of the ethnic neighborhood and assimilates. “This will happen in the Netherlands, too,” Mr. Papademetriou said.
Ask anyone in Amsterdam to identify a “bad” neighborhood, or a Muslim “ghetto,” and a visitor is pointed, with a shudder and a warning, to Mercator Plein.
It is a working-class district in Amsterdam West that is about 50 percent “foreign,” mostly Turks and Moroccans, and 50 percent native Dutch.
Far less “ethnic” than Maryland’s University Park or the District’s Adams Morgan, the streets are clean and feel safe.
Women in head scarves shop at the outdoor market alongside Dutch mothers pushing strollers. People of various races eat Turkish pita and meat sandwiches, while others duck in and out of cell-phone, appliance and grocery stores.
Rachid ben Larbi, a Moroccan from Tangiers, in Holland only 18 months, already speaks Dutch, to go along with his Arabic, Spanish, French and English.
“The problem is not with the new generation, but with the old generation,” he said while helping customers with new cell phones, easily switching among English, Dutch and Arabic.
“How can you ask a 45-year-old woman, from the Moroccan countryside with three or four children, to integrate? The government should give her time,” he said.
Elske Wouters, a white Dutch secretary who has lived in Mercator Plein for 10 years, calls it a perfect neighborhood.
“The idea that it is a bad area is nonsense. There is very little crime, especially compared to the United States. … Everyone gets along. I go to that Turkish coffee shop often and sit for hours. … Everyone speaks Dutch.”
In de Pijp, another working-class foreign enclave near the Albert-Cyup Market, Tom Vossenberg has been principal of Dalton public elementary school for 30 years. He has 400 students, about 40 percent foreign, representing some 20 nationalities.
“We’ve never had any trouble at the school. Sometimes [in the neighborhood] there are people who cause trouble, but on the whole, people are living together in a harmonious way,” Mr. Vossenberg said.
“I understand the emotional problem people have with immigration, but, with Pim Fortuyn and Geert Wilders, I think we are taking steps backward,” he said.
Sylvia Blom, a history teacher from Hoofddorp, had her middle-school students line up along the canal in front of the Anne Frank House to see an exhibit on Pim Fortuyn’s right to speak against Muslims compared with an imam’s religious right to condemn homosexual relations.
The day before, Mrs. Blom had taken her students to Leiden, where the Mayflower Pilgrims lived for 11 years, to a museum dedicated to the 16th-century Dutch overthrow of Spanish rule.
“I want these children to know that most of the industry developed in Holland in the 16th and 17th centuries was developed by immigrants, from Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal,” she said. “Nothing has changed. The Netherlands was as multicultural 400 years ago as it is today.”
“Time solves a lot of things,” said Mr. Rath, of the University of Amsterdam. “It is a process of the Netherlands, of Germany, of France redefining who and what we are. Right now, we don’t know who we want to be. All we know is that we don’t want it to be Muslim.”
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