THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – One of the most popular politicians in the Netherlands said Friday his country’s democracy is under threat and called for rejecting immigration from non-western nations in the wake of the killing of a Dutch filmmaker, allegedly by a Muslim radical.
“We are a Dutch democratic society. We have our own norms and values,” Geert Wilders told The Associated Press in an interview Friday. “If you chose radical Islam, you can leave, and if you don’t leave voluntarily, then we will send you away. This is the only message possible.”
In his first interview to the foreign media since the slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh on Nov. 2, Wilders said his own life has been repeatedly threatened and he has begun living under state protection, and had to stay away from his own home.
Wilders split with the free-market coalition partner Liberal party two months ago because it backed the candidacy of Turkey – a predominantly Muslim country – to the European Union.
He formed his own conservative party, the Wilders Group, which has one seat in the 150-member parliament. But a recent poll suggested his anti-immigrant message was reverberating through the Dutch electorate, and he would win 24 seats if elections were held today – up from 19 seats before van Gogh’s murder.
Muslims make up about six per cent of the Netherlands’ 16 million people. Wilders said he was concerned about studies saying some 10 per cent of Dutch Muslims – or about 100,000 people – support radical Islamic views.
Without swift, bold action, Islamic fundamentalism will topple the country’s democratic system, he said.
“The Netherlands has been too tolerant to intolerant people for too long,” he said, “We should not import a retarded political Islamic society to our country. There is nothing to be ashamed of to say this. It’s not Islam. I speak out against the facts.”
In Brussels, Belgium, European Union leaders met to discuss immigration, one of Europe’s most pressing and sensitive issues. EU justice and interior ministers agreed to demand that immigrants learn language of their adopted countries and adhere to “European values” to guide them toward better integration.
Even as the number of immigrants arriving in Europe falls due to tougher policies, led by a sharp drop in the Netherlands, Wilders said closing the borders isn’t enough. Newcomers should be forced to integrate.
Mosques that advocate fundamentalism should be shut down, he said.
“If in a mosque there is recruitment for jihad it’s not a house of prayer, it’s a house of war. If it’s not a house of prayer, it should be closed down,” he said.
Wilders, known by the Dutch for his radical positions and peroxide-blond hair, has been a member of parliament since 1998. He was born and schooled in the southern Dutch city Venlo, near the German border.
“I’m very tough on radical Islam. I have the toughest ideas on beating this problem, and I’m proud of it. I say nothing wrong. I’m no racist, no anti-Islamist,” he said.
Wilders and the Dutch police took the death threats even more seriously following the slaying of van Gogh, who had produced a television drama critical of how women are treated in some Muslim societies. The filmmaker was shot and stabbed to death, allegedly by a 26-year-old dual Dutch-Moroccan citizen threatening jihad, or holy war.
The most recent threats were disclosed when two terror suspects, arrested Nov. 10 after a daylong standoff in which several policemen were injured by a hand grenade, have been charged with threatening Wilders and other Dutch politicians, their lawyer said.
The latest video threat broadcast on the Internet – in Dutch, with Arabic music in the background – condemns Wilders for insulting Islam and offers the reward of paradise for his beheading.
Wilders’ style and cause are reminiscent of Pim Fortuyn, a flamboyant political outsider who put immigration on the national agenda before the 2002 elections. Fortuyn was shot to death by a Dutch animal-rights activist days before the vote, but major parties since have largely embraced his ideas.
On Friday, he cited a report by Dutch intelligence saying recruitment for jihad is taking place in as many as 20 mosques in the Netherlands, and said they should be closed and their imams, or preachers, arrested and deported.
“If we don’t do anything . . . we will lose the country that we have known for centuries,” he said. “People don’t want the Netherlands to be lost, and this is something that I get angry about and I am going to fight for, to keep the country Dutch.”