I am listening to Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician, deliver the keynote address to a conference of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles. The conference’s theme is “Europe’s Last Stand?: Debt, Demography and the Abandonment of National Sovereignty.” Wilders is known for his tough, provocative stand against Islam–not just radical Islam–and for his opposition to membership in the European Union.
Wilders tells the audience that Islam “cannot be reformed”; that “while most Muslims are moderate people,” the notion of a moderate Islam is impossible, particularly as it commands Muslims to follow the example of Muhammad, whom he calls “”a warlord, a terrorist, and a pedophile.” He cites opinion polls showing that many in Europe favor ending immigration from Islamic countries and even the building of new mosques.
As evidence that his views are gaining traction, he cites polls showing that his party is leading Dutch polls, and notes the rise of other nationalist parties across Europe, including the strong performance of Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France. “Europe might be on the verge of a fundamental change for the better,” he says. “In Europe now the time is ripe for a democratic and non-violent revolution…to restore our sovereignty.”
Wilders is at pains to defend Le Pen from charges of antisemitism. “She is not her father,” he says. He adds that the Jewish people did the exact opposite of what Europe has–in his view, mistakenly–done: they have reinforced the notion of the nation-state in Israel, even as Europeans have rejected that model and weakened its culture and institutions. “What we need today is Zionism for the nations of Europe,” Wilders says.
I’m here with Breitbart News’ John Sexton, who will be covering the conference. I will state my biases up front: I disagree strongly with Wilders. There are moderate versions of Islam–not only in dissident sects that have sought refuge in the West, but also in a modernist culture that flourishes in parts of the Muslim world, even if that culture is under siege by fundamentalists. It is possible to be a devout Muslim and part of the West.
Wilders’s evident enthusiasm for an end to immigration from Islamic countries, and an end to the building of mosques, may be less troubling in a European context, where there are official state religions and where individual rights are less robust than in the U.S. But in an American context, these measures offend our constitutional liberties and the notion of the separation of church and state–which, of course, radical Islam rejects.
It is interesting that Wilders places greater emphasis on the use of state power to resist Islam than he does on the use of cultural revival to restore the Christian roots of European nations. It was Alexis de Tocqueville who observed that Christianity was stronger in the U.S. than in Europe because it was kept independent of state power. Perhaps Europe is more vulnerable to the pitfalls of multiculturalism because it failed to do the same?
It strikes me that using the government to impose intolerance of Islam would undermine the public self-confidence in Western values necessary for those values to triumph. It is worth noting that Zionism, as it was conceived by Theodor Herzl, foresaw the thriving of its Arab and Muslim citizens in a common mission. What Europe lacks today is confidence in anything other than the state. That, and not Islam, is where the problem begins.