Newsweek did an article on Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders for which I was interviewed too. I tried to explain the reporter a bit on his “successful” polarisation of Dutch society, how he manages to set the agenda on various issues including Islam, immigration and crime – and finally, his media antics. A brief look on Wilder’s Twitter feed is quite telling: 400k+ followers, follows 0.
“He’s definitely playing the media,” says Anno Bunnik, a Ph.D. fellow at Liverpool Hope University in the U.K., who specializes in politics, extremism and intelligence in the Middle East. “His positions are so polarizing…. Some say, ‘Yes this guy is right,’ and others say he’s a total menace, and almost everything he says is automatically picked up.”
This paragraph from the Newsweek piece comes close to explaining why he is perhaps one of the most successful populist politicians in Europe.
For all the stunts, Wilders also owes his success to a nuanced, Tea-Party brand of Islamophobia. He’s the first anti-Islam politician in Europe who doesn’t come from an extreme right, nationalist background, says Fennema. He’s liberal on issues like gay rights, which makes him appealing to a wider cross section of Europeans and helps him ally with a budding legion of politicians bashing Islam.