Back in the 1990s, when Bruce Bawer was working on a book with a congressman in Washington D.C., he could walk freely in and out of the Congress building. No security, no checkpoints. The situation was the same when Bawer visited a senator's offices in Washington D.C.: nobody stopped him or asked him for I.D. Interviewing Geert Wilders in the Parliament in The Hague this weekend was a totally different story, more like a science fiction. The result, in any case, was that Bawer was granted an exclusive video interview with the most hunted politician of high rank in todays Europe.
Back in the 1990s, when I was working on a book with a congressman in Washington, D.C., I was able to walk freely in and out of the building where his offices were, and to tag along with him around the halls of Congress, without anybody ever stopping me, asking me my name, or demanding to see some identification. A couple of years later, when a friend of mine was working on the staff of a senator in Washington, D.C., I was able to walk right into the Senate office building where he worked, and the situation was the same: nobody stopped me at the entrance, and I made my way up to the senator’s offices and let myself in, simple as that. Once, when my friend gave me and my partner a tour of some of the more remote, unfrequented areas of the Capitol building, and took us along on the underground train that connected the Capitol with the senatorial and congressional office buildings, nobody anywhere asked for our I.D. or detained us at any point along the way to ask who we were and what we were doing there.
That was before 9/11. Last Friday, in The Hague, I presented myself at the entrance to the offices of the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament. Just inside the door I had to go through an airport-type screening, and was asked to empty my backpack and the pockets of my coat and display each item to the polite but exceedingly attentive uniformed guards. I then proceeded to the front desk, where my passport was scrutinized and a phone call made to some office upstairs. Finally I was given a badge to wear and asked to walk into the large adjoining atrium and wait for the young woman who would come downstairs to pick me up. She appeared shortly, and led me up two flights of stairs. At one point we arrived at a cylindrical glass contraption that looked like the frame for a set of revolving doors, yet instead it was a high-tech pass-through chamber that wouldn’t have been out of place in Star Trek or some True Lies-type spy thriller. At the instructions of my guide, I held my badge over a scanner on the wall and the concave door on our side of the contraption slid silently open. I entered the chamber, and once the door had closed completely behind me, the door in front of me opened and I stepped out of the chamber. My guide then passed through the chamber using her own badge. We were now in the offices of the Freedom Party, where my backpack was inspected once again, and again with great care, this time by several solemn-looking men in suits. I was asked to wait for a few moments while my guide disappeared into an office, after which she reappeared, led me down a couple of flights of stairs to a conference room, where two other men in suits introduced themselves and for the third time my things were carefully inspected. They thereupon performed an inspection of the conference room, apparently on the lookout for anything unusual, and then said a solemn goodbye and withdrew from the room. A moment or two passed, and Geert Wilders appeared.
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