Netherlands: Explaining Wilders to Indonesians
11 October 2010
Citizens of the former Dutch colony have trouble understanding the populist leader’s rise to power. The Netherlands was long considered a beacon of tolerance for the world’s most populous Muslim country, but those days are over.
In Indonesia, people sometimes ask me: “Who is Kert Wailders?” Although he is well known in the Netherlands and neighboring countries, hardly anyone has heard of Geert Wilders in the former Dutch colony, which gained its independence in 1945. I explain that Wilders directed the film Fitna, which claims that Islam is a barbarous religion. I also tell them that he comes from the same “kampong” [neighbourhood or village] as me, which is why we have the same accent. And to set the record straight, I point out that this has nothing to do with the other point we have in common, which is that we both have bleached blond hair. This last line usually gets a good laugh, but the next question is: “What has he got against Muslims?”
Approximately 800,000 people of Indonesian origin live in the Netherlands, which in Indonesia still benefits from the reputation of being a small eccentric country where everything is allowed: the land of freedom and tolerance, where homosexuals kiss each other in town halls, where grocers sell drugs, and where everyone is given the same impartial treatment. Most Indonesians have yet to learn that a major trendsetting politician in Netherlands, the linchpin in the new Dutch government – has described Islam as backward and barbarous.
Indonesians have no time for holier-than-thou preachers
The vast majority of Indonesians are devout. Many a Dutch pastor would be envious of the size of congregations in a country where, whether it’s Hindusim, Islam, Christianity or Buddhism, religion plays a major role and is the main source of inspiration in daily life. And because they are sincere believers, most Indonesians interpret an insult to their religion as a personal affront.
Indonesia is also a country which prides itself on being a place where Islam and democracy work together – a place where, notwithstanding the existence of a small number of troublemakers, moderate Muslims continue to hold sway. In this country with a Muslim population of over 200 million – more than in the entire Middle East – the holy days of the five major creeds are all recognized as public holidays. And for centuries, Christians and Muslims have visited each other to exchange their best wishes at Christmas and Eid al-Adha.
Over the last decade, the influence of the Arab world, on the back of globalisation, has increasingly come to the fore. But that has done little to change the views of the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims who have no time for holier-than-thou preachers that disrupt public order and give their religion a bad name: nor do they have any truck with extremists, or bomb attacks and military training camps.
A Limburger taking the Northern Dutch to task
Hence a great deal of perplexity over Wilders’ seemingly inexorable rise. In spite of official reassurances, it is now obvious that the new government propped up by the PVV has come as a shock to Indonesia. Not because Indonesians want to dictate political developments in another country, but because the majority of them feel that they have been deliberately offended and humiliated by a former colonial power from which they have never asked nor ever really obtained an apology for crimes of the past. No matter what anyone says, in many countries in the world, the new Dutch government will be viewed as anti-Muslim.
But are the Dutch really anti-Islam? In the village where I was born at the southern tip of Limburg, there are barely more than a dozen Muslims. And yet it comes as no surprise to me that almost 30% of the population voted for the PVV [Party for Freedom]. The reality is that most of them are proud to see a local, a Limburger, taking the Northern Dutch to task. This is hardly hatred of Islam – more like a misplaced expression of provincial pride.