17 March 2017

Special Friday Edition: The Dutch Election, Domino Effects and Wilders' Patriotic Spring

Both contributing bloggers on this website completed their PhD research in the Netherlands. Why? We were drawn to understand the influence of nationalistic Dutch politicians on the everyday lives of ordinary Dutch residents. The platforms and rhetoric of these nationalistic politicians sought to re-define and identify what it meant to be 'Dutch' in an age of (seeming) globalization.

In a recent chapter (Long 2016) for Loring and Ramanathan's Language of citizenship and immigration: policies, pedagogies, and discourses, I introduced the Dutch context as follows:
Following the deaths of right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and film director Theo van Gogh in 2004, the Netherlands generated its own brand of Islamophobia that dominated the European landscape, especially when it was led by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim politician, Geert Wilders. Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) received significant popular support and became one of three ruling political parties in a Dutch coalition government between 2010 and 2012. Although this coalition dissolved, the PVV is currently ranked at its highest popularity according to national opinion polls (Bolt, 2013). Wilders most recent platform (the platform he ran on and secured the second largest number of seats with) included breaking ties with the European Union and securing social supports for older generations, in addition to his long-standing platform concerning the decrease in non-western migration and a renewed interest in Dutch national identity (Party for Freedom, 2012).
In a recent  article (Mosher 2015) for a special issue in the Journal of Social Science Education, Rhiannon wrote:
Muslims especially have been positioned in the context of the Netherlands as having dramatically different – even incommensurable – cultural, historical, and political values and norms than the national majority (cf. Long, in this issue; Silverstein, 2005; Duyvendak, 2011; Geschiere, 2009; Stoler, 1995). The challenges for the civil enculturation of non-Western adult newcomers have contributed to the consensus across all sections of mainstream Dutch society that the Dutch government is at least partially to blame for the failure of many newcomers to demonstrate an appropriate fit through language and social skills acquisition. At the same time, support for cultural diversity (including religious diversity) has come under increasing scrutiny.
The context for our original doctoral research seems not to have significantly changed since 2009-2010 when we conducted our research. Wilders' warnings against what he calls "the Islamification of Western Culture" had received attention from national and international audiences in the past; however, his (rather monotonous) platform and bid for the top spot in this national election received even more attention because journalists likened him to the divisive politics of the US President. Indeed, international media called Wilders the Dutch Donald Trump, on account of Wilders' "call to Make the Netherlands great again (1), (...) for his increasingly outrageous positions, and his reliance on social media to circumvent the press and speak directly to the people" (Wildman, Vox, 15 March 2017)

Wildman quotes Dr. Sarah de Lange from the University of Amsterdam, who argues that Wilders is different from Trump because:
  1. He's more ideological with a better understanding of society
  2. He's more rational and calculated with a focus on strategy
  3. He's more interested in exerting influence than gaining absolute power
And I would agree - the racism, ill-will, ill-feelings, and questioning that surged through these elections does not dissipate with the fanfare of election night. Instead, this energy digs roots and finds its way into everyday interactions and residents' relationships.

Much of the news coverage of Wilders' defeat has the hallmarks of the 'good triumphed (no pun intended) over evil' story. Yet, Martijn de Koning (on his blog: Closer, March 16, 2017) has argued that
the Dutch did not stop the domino effect of racist populism: the mainstream parties have taken over the racist rhetoric that was the result of the populists strategy of politicizing Islam, integration and immigration. And worse, the rhetoric of the domino effect [which he defines as the outcome of the Dutch elections and its possible influence (i.e. the domino effect) on other racist populist parties running in the French and German elections and set after Brexit and Trump’s election victory] reproduces the invisibility of the racist mainstream as well as Dutch nationalism by directing our attention to Trump’s US and Brexit as symbols of what went wrong and the Netherlands as a bulwark against what PM Rutte has called the ‘wrong kind of populists‘.
While Wilders' party didn't win top place, his form of politics and his bid for influence, rather than power, did triumph. What I haven't heard many scholars discuss however, is Wilders' idea of the Patriotic Spring.

In late 2016, Wilders first used the term "Patriotic Spring" to describe Donald Trump's win and England's vote to leave the European Union. Wilders described this movement as "historic", "a revolution" and tweeted #MakeTheNetherandsGreatAgain for the purpose of taking back the Netherlands.

I think this term would prove to be an important term to unpack in order to more fully understand the role of continued colonialism in Wilders' political ideology and platform.

Alhassan (N.d.) argues that the term “Arab Spring” is 
not a new one and was originally applied to describe a prescient “democratic domino effect” that was expected to spread its “seeds” across MENA after the elections in Iraq in 2005. “Arab Spring” and the metaphor of spring as a time of “renewal” also historically defined “liberal reform” movements that were either short-lived or quickly crushed (like the “Prague Spring” of 1968 that was put down by the USSR).
This continuation of the colonial framework that Alhassan writes about was recently articulated in Sarah Salem's post (thanks to de Koning for pointing out this blog and post) about the Dutch context.

Salem writes about the continued colonial framework that positions racialized identity at the center of Dutch politics and identity-making. She argues that "the Dutch self is a racialized self. This is not new, but as old as the Netherlands itself." Check out her blog post at the link above for a more detailed overview.

In sum, I think Wilders' use of the term Patriotic Spring is an example of a westernized misunderstanding, what Alhassan has argued as an Orientialist view, of the (dignity) revolutions in MENA since 2005. It is also an attempt however to appropriate not only the populist but perhaps includes an undercurrent of radicalism, dangerousness, and revolution by and for the people. In much of Wilders' dialogue, I see a desire to spark his followers into action. This incendiary approach envelopes a narrative of the Wild- (and Arab) East, a play on words here from the Wild West. If this is the case, Wilders' use of the "Patriotic Spring" works not only to erase its original meaning as experienced by those in MENA, but also continues to build on and appropriate the term as used by Orientalists and conservatives in "the West". It's only difference perhaps is its play on the radicalism and populism that this term evokes.

Note from both Rhiannon and Jenn:
We are interested to see how these relationships continue to unfold. We welcome your thoughts on this (and any other) posts - to get in touch, you can email or tweet at us (see our contact information on the blog).

End Notes
(1) Rhiannon made a great point about this hashtag: It's important to recognize the use of the English language in Wilders' tag, which plays interestingly into the broader language politics and questions of acceptably cultural difference in the Netherlands in a much more banal way.

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