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The rising popularity of Geert Wilders and his anti-Islamic Party for Freedom in recent Dutch polls has been watched with interest by international spectators who have interpreted the Dutch election as a weathervane for European sympathies for populist leaders with far-right politics.
The defeat of Wilders at the ballot box by Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) has been hailed by progressives as a promising sign. However, some observers still believe that European democracies are becoming dangerously Islamophobic including a Turkish minister who has claimed that “holy wars will soon begin.”
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, expressed derision at the notion that populism and anti-Islamic sentiment had been defeated in the Netherlands. He said, “When you look at the many parties you see there is no difference between the social democrats and fascist Wilders. All have the same mentality. Where will you go? Where are you taking Europe? You have begun to collapse Europe. You are dragging Europe into the abyss. Holy wars will soon begin in Europe.”
The Netherlands and Turkey are currently embroiled in a tense diplomatic incident following the decision of Dutch authorities to withdraw permission for Cavusoglu to land in the country which triggered a series of tit-for-tat sanctions. This diplomatic incident was played up by Wilders in the course of his general election campaign in a manner which became highly contentious as it led to spilling out of hostilities directed towards the Netherlands’ large Turkish population. Wilders led a protest outside the country’s Turkish embassy and labeled President Recep Erdogan ‘a dictator’. These incidents led to counter-protests in Turkey where the Dutch and German authorities were both labeled as ‘fascists’ and ‘Nazis’.
While Wilders tactics were not enough to secure his positon in coalition negotiations, observers have noted that his popular anti-Islamic rhetoric has had the effect of pulling the entire country’s political spectrum to the right. It is claimed that Wilders has led mainstream politicians to become more comfortable espousing anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Others have suggested that criticism of Turkey is entirely necessary for the current political context and does not necessarily have anything to do with Islamophobic sentiment. Following an attempted coup last year, which many people believe to have been staged, the Turkish authorities have detained thousands of citizens and eliminated a huge number of civil rights protections and freedoms in the country. Turkey soon plans to host a referendum which could see the democratic parliamentary system of the country replaced with an executive presidency. This turn of events has been strongly criticised by international human rights groups who fear that Erdogan will use his new powers to violently quash dissent.