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In Netherlands, Anti-Islamic Polemic Comes With a Price

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 1, 2005; Page A13

THE HAGUE -- Sometimes the threats come by e-mail. Other times, warnings show up on Internet chat sites. Occasionally they are short video clips. The latest has a soundtrack of Arabic song and automatic-weapons fire, and a photograph of the intended target -- a Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders.

"He is an enemy of Islam and he should be beheaded," the narrator of one video clip posted on the Internet says in Arabic, against the crackle of gunfire. Behead him, "and you will earn a place in paradise."


Dutch politician Geert Wilders watches the latest Internet video clip calling for his beheading. He has adopted an aggressively anti-Islamic position, saying that Islam and democracy are "not compatible, not now and not in a million years." (Keith B. Richburg -- The Washington Post)

Wilders, 41, grimaces as he plays the video for a reporter on his office computer. "I've been threatened many times," he says. "We've never experienced this before. It's something that nobody wants to live with."

Wilders is among the more provocative critics of radical Islam and immigrants in the Netherlands. He wants the preemptive arrest of suspected terrorists, whom he calls "Islamo-fascist thugs." And he wants immigrants expelled from the country for even minor infractions.

Since the execution-style killing last November of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam, and the discovery of an Islamic extremist cell in the Netherlands with a "death list" that included Wilders, police are taking seriously the threats against him and other people whose names have appeared on the list, often for far more moderate statements.

Wilders now travels everywhere with six bodyguards. He cannot sleep in his own home, but is moved around between various undisclosed safe houses. He sees his wife twice a week, at a safe house. Visitors to his parliament office must be cleared in advance and are thoroughly searched; even ballpoint pens are carefully examined.

"It's like being caught in a bad B movie," Wilders said. The guards are always there: "If I go to the toilet, they are standing behind the door." The irony, he said, is that the people who are threatening him walk the streets freely, while "the people who are threatened are more or less in prison."

Other Dutch politicians who are under similar protection include Job Cohen, the mayor of Amsterdam; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of parliament who is Muslim and collaborated with van Gogh on a controversial film about Islam's treatment of women; and Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Moroccan-born alderman in Amsterdam who has talked about tolerance and the need for Muslims to adapt to the Dutch way of life.

"We simply don't know if people are walking around targeting me or not," Aboutaleb said in an interview at Amsterdam's city hall. "I show up in meetings and give speeches -- unfortunately always surrounded by people armed to the teeth."

This kind of security is something entirely new for politicians in the Netherlands, where until recently even the prime minister had minimal protection compared to senior officials in the United States. The change illustrates how some European cities have become fronts in a war of ideas between extremist intolerance and freedom of expression.

"We truly lost our innocence with Theo van Gogh," said Kay van de Linde, a political consultant with long experience in New York and Pennsylvania politics. "We used to think that if we got along with everybody, we'd be okay. That approach does not work in the war on terror."

"We have to draw a line, not between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between the good people and the bad people," said Aboutaleb. "This group of bad people is not that big, but one or two can put the place on fire."

Wilders is more blunt. "We are in an undeclared war," he said in his parliament office. "These people are motivated by one thing: to kill everything that we stand for."

Wilders's transgression, according to the extremists demanding his death, is his insulting of Muslims in the Netherlands, with frequent denunciations of Islam. "Islam and democracy are fully incompatible," he said in the interview. "They will never be compatible -- not today, and not in a million years."


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