IN a recent development, Netherlands’ parliament has permitted an ultra-Right Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, to hold a profane caricature competition in the protected office of his political party inside the premises of Netherlands’ parliament. While earlier such incidents were an act of non-state actors, parliamentary permission has made the government of Netherlands a party to this nefarious act of religious terrorism. Time and again, European Christian countries purposefully hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims through public display of profane audio-visual and print material about Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), under the pretext of their so called doctrine of freedom of expression. In a stark contradiction, same very European States immediately imprison anyone questioning the veracity of ‘Holocaust’, while Muslims and their religion don’t get the similar preferential treatment.
Opposition leader Greet Wilders has a track history of airing anti-Muslim sentiment. In his electoral campaign in December 2017, he proposed that European countries should adopt Donald Trump-style travel bans to counter a wave of Islamisation, supposedly sweeping the continent. Wilders urged Europe to adopt Australia’s tactics in turning back migrant boats and to build new border walls, as Trump had vowed to do along the US frontier with Mexico. Wilders is the parliamentary leader of his party in the House of Representatives. During his election campaign, Wilders had published a one-page election manifesto calling for a ban on all asylum seekers and migrants from Islamic nations, and for his country to leave the European Union. Wilders also calls for banning the Quran and closing all mosques and Islamic schools.
Political environment in Netherlands is quite murky, where both the government and the opposition are more often than not competing to appear more racist and exclusionist. Wilders was beaten in March 2017 elections by Mark Rutte. According to Guardian “cost of latter’s victory against Geert Wilders’ anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-Islam Freedom PVV party was a pyrrhic victory”. Mark Rutte’s VVD party had adopted the very rhetoric of Wilders to beat him. Rutte had said: “something wrong with our country” and claimed “the silent majority” would no longer tolerate immigrants who come and “abuse our freedom”. Situation is akin to India where both BJP and Congress compete to be more pro Hindu rhetoric to encash Hindu vote bank.
Pakistan has approached Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to lodge a protest against this planned cartoon competition in Netherlands. Former caretaker Foreign Minister Abdullah Haroon had set the dice rolling by writing a letter to the OIC Secretary General seeking his leadership for a collective action to register a protest of OIC countries with the Dutch authorities, who in turn has written to the Dutch foreign minister, on behalf of 57 Muslim countries, protesting against this abominable event. It is not the first time that the Netherlands is holding such competition. In the past also such acts have frequently been committed by this country with a malicious intent to target the noblest personality of the Holy Prophet (Pbuh). Pakistan has called upon the Dutch ambassador and EU envoy to register the protest. “We have conveyed our condemnation of this deliberate attempt to vilify Islam. Such incidents should not go unpunished,” Foreign office spokesperson said.
Pakistan’s new government has taken forth the process. During its first meeting, Pakistan’s new cabinet decided to take up the matter at bilateral level as well. Pakistan has lodged a strong protest with the Netherlands. “The charge d’affaires of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was summoned to the Foreign Office on August13 and a strong protest was lodged”, Foreign Office stated. Deep concern was conveyed at this deliberate and malicious attempt to defame Islam. “Pakistan’s ambassador in The Hague has been instructed to forcefully raise the issue with the Dutch government along with ambassadors of OIC member states,” the Foreign Office went on to add.
Pakistan’s permanent representatives to the United Nations in New York and Geneva have also been directed to take up the matter with the UN Secretary General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN bodies and procedures. The issue would also be discussed in the forthcoming meeting of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, scheduled to be held on the side-lines of forthcoming 73rd ministerial session of the UNGA. During this meeting the Muslim countries should send a loud and clear message that the despoliation of Muslim holy personalities is not acceptable to them. They should firm up an action plan if Netherlands goes ahead with the blasphemous competitions. The first step should be to boycott all Netherlands products and cut off diplomatic and trade ties with it until the country takes necessary action that prevent holding of such events in future.
The silver lining is that there have been saner voices from within Dutch civil society. Demonstrations were held by Dutch nationals to show solidarity with Muslims. During March 2017, Dutch citizens gathered at a mosque in Amsterdam, to show solidarity with the country’s Muslim population. People representing a broad coalition against racism gathered at the central Al-Kabir mosque to show opposition to anti-Muslim sentiments in the country. “We as a Muslim community pose no danger whatsoever to society,” said Najem Ouladali while addressing the gathering. “We believe that what Wilders is doing is very dangerous to our society,” Ouladali added. Najem was one of the organizers of the gathering Pakistan should continue to work closely with all the OIC member states to take up the issue with the Netherlands’ government. And raise the matter at the relevant international fora from preventing this and similar abhorrent acts taking place. However, in addition to diplomatic channels, option of taking the matter to Netherlands’ civil society should also be duly explored.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.