“Do we want more or less Moroccans?”, asked Dutch politician Geert Wilders his voters after the regional elections in March. “Less!”, was the crowd’s unanimous answer, “Less! Less! Less!”. Thirteen times, shouted out loud. “Then that will be arranged”, promised Wilders. It was the start of a heated debate in the Netherlands of which the outcome is still unclear.
It is not the first time the right-wing politician is subject of heavy controversy. In 2010, Wilders was sued for discrimination and breading hatred. The inducement was his short movie Fitna, in which he meant to warn people for ‘the Islamic invasion’, as well as statements such as “If Mohammad would live today I would tar and feather him and banish him as an extremist” . He also proposed to prohibit the Quran, “that fascistic book”.
The attempt of prosecution was in vain: the judge determined Wilders had not violated article 1 – saying that every individual deserves equal treatment, regardless any personal characteristics – and Wilders was acquitted. Freedom of speech turned out to be a highly valued and heavily defended right. Many opponents lost their hope that Wilders would ever be convicted .
Until last month, when Wilders’ promise to “arrange less Moroccans” shook up the country like never before. An immediate hype appeared on Twitter, where Dutchmen with Moroccan roots tweeted #bornhere, showing selfies with their Dutch passport. Dutch-Moroccan actors Nasrdin Dchar, Achmed Akkabi and director Abdelkarim El-Fassi had started the action a few days before the controversial speech, but Wilders’ statements added fuel on the fire.
Even more attention was attraction by a Facebook group page created to convince people to go to the police. “Ik doe aangifte tegen Wilders” (“I will report Wilders to the police”) was liked by over 99.000 Facebook members, who initiated actions for mass police reports and posted pictures of their reports.
The Public Prosecution Service (OM) announced last week that more than 5000 people reported Wilders’ statements to the police. Another 15.000 complaint officially. The police forces were unable to administrate the unexpectedly high number of reports individually and decided to create a standard form to speed up the process.
Among the complainants were local politicians, such as the entire council of the cities of Nijmegen, Zwijndrecht, Woerden and Meppel. Pieter Klein, chief editor of one of the biggest news broadcasting agency´s in The Netherlands, RTL Nieuws, publicly criticized Wilders in an open letter under the title ´Geert, ga je schamen’ (´Geert, be ashamed of yourself´). NRC, one of the biggest national news papers, also criticised Wilders´ actions.
Meanwhile at Uni
Indignation marked the reactions of students all over the country. Kyra Bos (22, student International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam): “We are angry, emotional and upset about Wilders’ statement. We immediately felt like we needed to do something”, writes Folia Web. And so the student decided to initiate a demonstration in the nation’s capital city, which was attended by an estimated number of 5000 protestors.
Robin Alberdinus Vlieger and Marlies van Liempt, students at Maastricht University, felt a similar need and organized a demonstration in the southern-most city of The Netherlands. “Whether it is legal or not, I don’t know, but it is an opportunity to transmit a message. We need to show that we as students do not accept this”, the students tell to De Observant Online. The boards of universities, such as the Radboud University Nijmegen, agreed and went to the police too, writes Universe Online.
Other universities, such as Tilburg University (TiU), choose not to pick a side. “Universities do not adhere a political ideology, nor do they prefer a certain religion. Science is supposed to be objective”. It is a statement that is criticized by Universe Online – the city’s university press.
The Hogeschool van Rotterdam (HS, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences) adheres a similar logic. Ron Bormans, head of the board of HR: “The University as a public institution should maintain it’s neutrality, so we will not get involved in such a juridical procedure”. However, he emphasized that he considers Wilders’ statements discriminatory. “He eliminates an entire group, which is unacceptable. I understand that people, including HR staff-members and students, want to report his statements to the police.”
The Saxion (University of Applied Sciences for future primary school teachers) sent out an e-mail to its students, in which they gave them advise about how to deal with Wilders’ words in front of the children they meet during their internships. “There can be a big impact on children. Talking about what is happening is a good option. Most importantly: reassure kids if they are afraid to be sent away.” The school emphasizes that they have an entirely different message than Wilders: “Children deserve a safe place in our schools, regardless race, religion or ideology. We need to stand up against scary ideas.”
Despite the widespread disapproval and mass reports against Wilders, prosecution is not self-evident explains Henny Sackers, professor criminal law, in Trouw. “His statements are about people of a certain nationality. The law prohibits discrimination of people based on religion, race, etc. but nationality is not mentioned. This situation is completely new.” The professor considers the chance that Wilders will get away with his statements high: “German judges are more likely to condemn in cases of discrimination, which is explicable in terms of history. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, we have a tradition that allows people to say quite a lot.”
Kritische Studenten (Critical Students) argues therefore that mass police reports are a bad idea. Peter Storm: “Are we sure we are not getting trapped by Wilders? There is a considerable chance that a process would lead to acquittal, in that case Wilders would have proofed that what he does is legal. That cannot be what people want.”
Now that the biggest wave of police reports and protests seem to have passed, the public prosecution service OM has announced to carefully consider its next steps. In an official declaration, the OM explained that the number of police reports does not influence the outcome. “For the OM, one single police report is enough. We take the number into account, but that does not influence what Wilders has said and whether or not that is punishable”, writes Omroep West.
Yet, this does not discourage students Van Liempt and Alberdinus Vlieger. “Even without prosecution, these police reports help to make a statement against the discriminatory actions of Wilders and his party”, they tell to Dichtbij.
At Kritische Studenten, Storm agrees. “Reporting is taking a side and taking true steps. That attitude of ‘we do not accept this, we fight back’ is very healthy. It is a determined attitude of which we need more, not less.”