Published in The Express Tribune
He’s hard to look at, Geert Wilders. A set of mean little eyes reminds one terribly of fish and furry things. They sit under a mane of Heseltine hair, bleached with peroxide. It’s only when people get beyond the grey eyes and frozen blonde tips that they pay attention to what Wilders has to say. And what he has to say isn’t pretty either.
More importantly, what he has to say doesn’t bode well for a tolerant Netherlands. Wilders, you see, is a card-carrying Nazi, and like all good fascists, his rise to fame was based on bashing a minority (Moslems), and railing against immigrants turning Europe into a Eurabia.
Parallels with fellow fascists abound. Much like the B.J.P.’s win following Modi’s massacre, Wilders’ Freedom Party (the P.V.V.) is succeeding because of its stance on Muslims, not in spite of it. And the usual cliche — that all chest-thumping hypernationalists were once confused little boys — ties it all together. As with the theory that Hitler’s grandfather was probably a Jew, Geert Wilders may be guilty of the same self-loathing: his ancestry is Indonesian, a fact he lies well and often about.
In an enjoyable take on the issue, anthropologist Lizzy Van Leeuwen chalked up Wilders’ politics to the same biases his mixed-race forefathers (Indonesia was once a Dutch colony) faced after moving back to the Netherlands. Summarised Dutch paper N.R.C., ‘Van Leeuwen describes how these people were put in the ‘cultural minority box’… (but) always felt very patriotic toward the Netherlands.” She also mentioned how they fell in with the far-right, ‘supporting the Dutch Nazi party in Indonesia in the 1930s.’
But pop psychology only takes us so far. Whatever his demons, Wilders has gone from being another visa reject to becoming the (literal) golden boy of the Dutch right. His P.V.V. bagged 15 per cent of seats in 2010; today it has as many seats in the House of Representatives, and 10 out of a 75-seat Senate. Items on the P.V.V. to do list are economic (taxing headscarves), international (kicking Turkey out of Nato), irrational (abolishing the Senate), racist (recording the ethnicity of repeat offenders), and plain stupid (repealing anti-smoking laws).
A bill of goods that spree-shooters like Anders Breivik could get behind. Breivik has made no secret of his fondness for Wilders; what’s disturbing is that the latter’s appeal goes beyond White Might mass-murderers. “I think we have really the best chances of becoming the main party in the Netherlands,” says the man once mocked as Blonde Geert. Yet, even across the rest of Europe, outfits like Wilders’ are edging into the mainstream.
As this week’s Economist points out, Europe’s own little Tea Parties are ‘likely to do better in 2014 than at any time since the Second World War.’ They’re a tough crowd; from the UKIP led by weird old Nigel Farage in Britain, to France’s National Front led by Marine Le Pen. And between Farage’s endearing oddness and Le Pen’s laundered past, the far-right is trying to shake itself dry. Even where it isn’t, it’s not doing half badly: Greece’s Golden Dawn, a pack of thugs best known for chasing rival football fans and thrashing Pakistani fishermen, bagged 18 seats in Greek parliament…with a semi-swastika as party symbol.
Yes, though they come in different shapes and sizes, it seems skinheads with flagpins are winning across the continent. But cause for alarm though it is, there’s nothing organic about the rise of the Eurofascists. They are unclean, unstable and, ultimately, unsustainable. Most ‘parties’ are one-man operations where the One Man is often autocratic, incompetent, or both. If infighting won’t implode them, the business of actually running things will. And though we’re in for a tough 2014, long-run rest and recovery will take the bite out of their message, and make them unloved and unwanted again.
None of this holds true for South Asia. India isn’t inching toward a hardliner holding government hostage — it’s heading for a government led by its hardest hardliner. Narendra Modi is thought the future; a solution to feeble Singhs and clueless Rahuls and corrupt Congress. That this is a man bathed in blood has been said enough in these pages. No one’s listening.
And over the border here, our right is also abdicating to the psychos on the fringe. Witness the J.I., so lost after losing the late Qazi sahib, co-opt the same killers that murder our soldiers in the north. Or watch sectarian monsters run in elections and take over Twitter to spread rage, mushrooming across the south. If ever there was a silent majority wedged in the middle, some sample of common souls with common morals and common dreams, it’s running scared.
And unlike in Europe, better economics can only fix so much — not that we’ve got that going for us either. Economics would be the baseline; the hard part would mean revising curricula, teaching tolerance, encouraging thought, giving the individual a stake in the state. It would mean good men standing up. Until then, we can thank ourselves that said psychos haven’t been voted in yet. With the love and care the state lavishes on all places other than Lahore and Islamabad, that too will change.
As for elsewhere, it may be best to avert our eyes. Modi’s fans think bloody hands a superpower make; Wilders’ voters think he can safeguard Charlemagne’s Europe from the Moors. They should look back to Walter Benjamin, that poor, tormented German philosopher who said, ‘One reason why fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm.’ Chances are they won’t. Instead, Wilders’ hair will get blonder and his party will get bigger. Modi will likely win Delhi, and win it well.
And Walter Benjamin? He committed suicide while trying to escape the Nazis, and Germany lost one of its finest thinkers. Things weren’t quite the same again.