UN human rights chief compares Trump, Farage and others to Isis
Dutch prime minister stops short of ruling out coalition with Geert Wilders
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte: he took the opportunity last weekend to condemn Geert Wilders’s election manifesto as arguably “a threat to the rule of law” while UN high commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein dismissed Wilders’s promise to close mosques, ban the Koran, and end immigration by Muslims, as “grotesque”. Photograph: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images
It was striking this week to hear the UN’s human rights chief launch a full-frontal assault on Geert Wilders and his call for the closure of all mosques in the Netherlands – just days after Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte refused to rule out working with Wilders after the March election.
High commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, formerly Jordan’s ambassador to Washington, chose a conference in The Hague to launch a scathing attack on western populist politicians in general – including Donald Trump in the US – branding them “demagogues and political fantasists”.
Using the kind of robust language rarely aimed at the Freedom Party leader by his Dutch opponents, Hussein dismissed Wilders’s promise in his election manifesto at the end of August to close mosques, ban the Koran, and end immigration by Muslims, as “grotesque”.
His anger, he admitted, was at least partly personal.
“I am a Muslim who is, confusingly to racists, also white-skinned. My mother is European and my father Arab. And I am angry because of Mr Wilders’s lies and half-truths, manipulations and peddling of fear.”
It was not surprising therefore that Hussein identified what he saw as a common thread of intolerance between Wilders and other right-wing politicians in Europe and the US, namely Trump, Marine Le Pen, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage.
What was surprising was his reasoning: all of them, he maintained, espoused an ideology similar to that of Islamic State, the jihadist group also known as Isis responsible for the Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul, Nice and Rouen attacks, not to mention their many atrocities in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
“All seek in varying degrees to recover a past, halcyon and pure in form, where sunlit fields are settled by peoples united by ethnicity or religion . . . ”, he argued, “ a past that most certainly, in reality, did not exist anywhere, ever.
“Make no mistake, I certainly do not equate the actions of nationalist demagogues with those of Daesh [Islamic State]. But in its mode of communication, its use of half-truths and over-simplification, the propaganda of Daesh uses tactics similar to those of the populists.”
Veiled referenceIn fairness to Rutte, he too took the opportunity last weekend to condemn Wilders’s election manifesto as arguably “a threat to the rule of law” – a veiled reference perhaps to the court case the Freedom Party leader faces next month for allegedly inciting hatred against Moroccans.
However, when asked directly whether his distaste for Wilders’s policies meant he would absolutely rule out forming a coalition with him after the March election, Rutte prevaricated in a way that Hussein might have felt was more than a little disingenuous.
His response could best be described as limp: “I’m not ruling out any other party – but I can’t see it happening.”
The reality, however, is that what allows Hussein to speak his mind so uncompromisingly is that he doesn’t have to take his chances with the Dutch electorate in six months’ time. Rutte does.
Hussein may have received a standing ovation from a room packed with middle-class neoliberals, but their views are a million miles away from those of a large segment of the Dutch electorate – shown in a succession of polls to support Wilders and his illiberal policies.
The latest gives the Freedom Party 33 seats in the 150-seat parliament, and even that is down nine from their all-time high of 42 in February. In both cases they would be the biggest party. In both cases, Rutte’s Liberals would be second.
And in the Netherlands, the prime minister always comes from the largest party in the governing coalition.
However, it is possible that the Freedom Party could be the largest party after an election but that the mainstream parties would refuse to work with Wilders to form a coalition – as they have already threatened to do.
The job of forming a government would then move on to the leader of the second-largest party, one Mark Rutte.
This debate has already begun. Such a scenario, warns Wilders, would be undemocratic and could lead to a national non-violent “revolt”.
However, it’s no longer an impossible – or, increasingly, even an unlikely – scenario.