September 29, 2010 / 2:43 PM / 9 years ago

Wilders taps Dutch Islam fears to gather power

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders has risen to a position of power with his message to voters that Islam is a violent religion and Muslim immigration to Europe must stop.

Dutch politician Geert Wilders speaks at a demonstration against the proposed Islamic cultural centre and mosque on the ninth anniversary remembrance of the attacks on New York and Washington, in New York, September 11, 2010. REUTERS/Chip East

Winning 24 out of 150 seats in the Dutch lower house in June elections, his Freedom Party clinched a deal on Tuesday with Liberals and Christian Democrats allowing him backroom influence over the Netherlands’ first post-war minority government — even though he is standing trial for inciting hatred.

Wilders, who sometimes wears a bullet-proof vest in public and lives under constant police protection, has compared Islam’s holy book the Koran to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” because he said it incites violence.

Formally not part of the government and only giving parliamentary support to pass legislation, Wilders said there would be “a historic policy which will be very different on various matters,” though so far little is known of how the welcoming Dutch immigration policy will change.

Wilders, a 47-year-old with a shock of dyed blonde hair, has risen to prominence in Dutch and international politics since he broke from the Liberal party in 2004, opposing Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

“Islam is a violent, totalitarian ideology which is at odds with freedom, democracy, and tolerance. The Netherlands cannot see more Islamisation,” Wilders said in April when he presented his party’s policies.

Prosecutors have opened a case against him on charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims. His trial resumes on Monday.

In 2008, Wilders aired a 15-minute movie on the Internet called “Fitna” (strife), linking Islam to violence and provoking protests in Muslim countries such as Indonesia.

Death threats have not silenced Wilders, who says he has nothing against Muslims, only against the “ideology” of Islam.

POLITICAL MAVERICK

Support for his party has grown among voters frightened by a growing Muslim presence in the Netherlands, where about 1 million Muslims live out of a total population of 16.5 million.

Stepping into the shoes of anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated in 2002, Wilders rapidly found a following with a series of audacious campaigns.

Wilders, who was a civil servant and Liberal Party policymaker before becoming entering parliament in 1998, has questioned the loyalties of the first Dutch Muslim ministers. He has called for a ban on women’s burqas and a halt to Muslim immigration and the building of mosques.

What motivates him, Wilders says, is his desire to uphold traditional Dutch liberties such as freedom of speech, and to shake-up political culture.

His political roots are in the moderate right but he also attracted more left-leaning voters in June, arguing against raising the retirement age from 65, easing dismissal laws and increasing private health care contributions.

Wilders worked in an Israeli kibbutz as a 17-year-old and local media say his wife has dual Dutch-Hungarian citizenship. He was born in Venlo on the Dutch-German border, the youngest in a Roman Catholic family. His father was a director at a local copier firm.

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