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.
Wilders, a member of the Tweede Kamer and head of the Freedom Party, is a target for countless individuals in the Netherlands who would murder him in the name of Islam, and is obliged to spend his life behind all these layers of protection in order to avoid the unthinkable. In the last decade, after all, there have already been two assassinations of famous Dutch critics of Islam, Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and Theo van Gogh in 2004. And yet Wilders’s opponents in parliament, whose lives are shaped by the impact of the high-level security procedures that have become an everyday routine at their workplace, act as if the very threat that makes these procedures vitally necessary is a chimera. Indeed, to listen to them, and to the media, and to the great majority of the professors and commentators and business leaders who make up the Dutch establishment, is to acquire the distinct impression that it is Wilders himself, and not his Islamic would-be murderers, who represents a danger to Dutch society. In the interview that follows, I cite an opinion piece that appeared on Thursday in Trouw, a major Dutch newspaper (I mistakenly refer to it as having been in De Volkskrant), in which Thomas Mertens, a law professor at universities in Nijmegen and Leiden, argues that Wilders, by seeking so urgently to clarify for the general public the truth about Islam, is actually undermining the central precept that underlies the Dutch social contract which has been in place for centuries: namely, the agreement among members of different faith traditions to tolerate their theological differences – to close their eyes, as it were, to one another’s truth claims. What Mertens and others like him refuse to acknowledge is that the willingness of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Catholics, Calvinists, Lutherans, and others to agree to disagree about theological abstractions has no relevance whatsoever to the present situation, in which the Netherlands, and the West generally, are confronting a faith tradition for whose most committed adherents theological abstractions have calamitous real-world consequences – not only terrorist attacks but such appalling practices as polygamy, forced marriage, honor killing, and the execution of apostates, gays, and adulteresses. Indeed, what we are speaking of when we speak about Islam is a religion whose holy book calls for the conquest of infidel-run territories in the name of Allah – a religion, that is, whose guiding beliefs leave no room for the kind of live-and-let-live mentality that Mertens and his ilk think, or pretend to think, can still be relevant in a country whose largest cities will soon have Muslim majorities. In a nation whose guiding philosophy for centuries has been “don’t rock the boat,” Wilders has dared to challenge this traditional attitude and address these terrible realities, and it is for having done so that he is now on trial for speaking his mind – and speaking the truth.