Amsterdam, Netherlands – For the first time in years, Mohamed Rabbae feels like Holland is becoming tolerant again.
The chairman of the Dutch National Council of Moroccans (LBM), Rabbae went to an anti-discrimination rally in Amsterdam last Saturday and saw thousands of protesters against Geert Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party (PVV). Many of them wore T-shirts bearing the slogan: “We are all Moroccans now.”
“Black people, white people, Japanese, Moroccans and Jews – they all stood up against exclusion after what happened,” Rabbae told Al Jazeera. “It felt like I was back in the tolerant 80s or 90s. I was so touched.”
The PVV leader is facing the most serious backlash since the party’s creation in 2006. Six members of Wilders’ party, including the head of its European parliament delegation, resigned after he led supporters and members of the party in chants that they wanted “less Moroccans” in the country.
The defections are a serious problem for Wilders, whose party had until now been leading in national opinion polls.
The trouble started last Wednesday, when Dutch TV broadcast the platinum-haired Wilders speaking in The Hague, asking party supporters whether they wanted “fewer or more Moroccans in the city and in the Netherlands”.
“Fewer! Fewer!” the crowd shouted as a smiling Wilders answered: “Then we’re going to take care of that.”
Tens of thousands speak out
“I got goose bumps all over my body when I saw that video,” Anne, a middle-aged Dutch woman who gave only her first name, told Al Jazeera. “It sounded like a promise to deport all Moroccans.”
Over the past few days, tens of thousands of Dutch people have spoken out. A Facebook group called “I’m filing a complaint against Wilders” was founded immediately after the anti-Moroccan video went viral and it has garnered almost 100,000 likes.
Boutaina Azzabi, the creator of the Facebook page, told Al Jazeera that filing police complaints is not the only purpose of the page. “We also want to make a statement against racism in general. We want the Netherlands to be tolerant again,” she said.
Somehow, we all got used to it, until Wilders went too far and everybody woke up.
About 368,000 Moroccans live in the Netherlands – a country of 17 million – and hundreds have already lodged complaints against Wilders, including through the Dutch National Council of Moroccans. Police have received so many that they now have an automated form to assist the process. And it isn’t just Moroccan-origin citizens who are complaining.
Umar Mirza, a Dutch writer and television presenter with Pakistani roots, has called for people to lodge more police complaints.
“A woman at the police station told me that the police officer whispered to her that he did the same thing. That is good. We must not let this moment slip by,” she said.
According to Mirza, racism in the Netherlands is more widespread than people think, but there is now much more awareness of it because Wilders has taken aim at a specific ethnic group, instead of a religion.
“Somehow, we all got used to it, until Wilders went too far and everybody woke up.”
Crossing the line
Wilders’ inflammatory comments are nothing new. In 2011, the politician was acquitted on hate-speech charges after a court ruled he had targeted a religion – which is permitted under Dutch freedom of speech laws – rather than a specific ethnic group.
He has also compared the Quran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf and has called Islam a fascist religion. He also proposed to raise taxes on headscarves and made an anti-Islam movie called Fitna – which argued that Muslims are inherently violent and intolerant, which caused outrage across the Muslim world when it was posted online in 2008. Receiving death threats after the film was released, Wilders is now protected by bodyguards around the clock.
Although his statements have been routinely condemned by sections of Dutch society and some politicians, the outrage that has now erupted is significant in scale. Critics include prominent Dutch actors, criminologists and journalists. The Dutch news service RTL took an editorial position for the first time in 25 years, with deputy editor Pieter Klein writing an open letter to Wilders saying he had “crossed the line” and “should be ashamed”.
According to Hasna el Maroudi, a writer and editor for the Dutch opinion website Joop.nl, the problem goes beyond just one remark. “He always gives us the feeling that we, Moroccans, are less than ‘Henk and Ingrid’, as he calls his average voters – even though we were born and raised in Holland,” she told Al Jazeera.
I told the truth, and I said nothing wrong.
Following his anti-Moroccan speech, Wilders has been compared to Nazis in both international and local media. In Germany, the press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) likened Wilders’ remarks with those made by the Nazi minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.
“People were always really careful with such comparisons, but not anymore,” said el Maroudi.
Rabbae said Wilders had not only stirred up animosity against Moroccans, but also Eastern European migrants who have been blamed for the nation’s problems. In 2012, the Freedom party set up a website where complaints about people from Eastern Europe could be registered.
“Dutch people have been hiding behind their tolerant history for a long time – until now,” Rabbae told Al Jazeera, adding, “Well, better late than never.”
At a press conference in the Hague on Saturday, Wilders refused to apologise or withdraw his statements. “I told the truth, and I said nothing wrong,” he said. “That people are comparing me to Hilter or Goebbels is inappropriate and kooky.”
He elaborated on his reasons for wanting “fewer Moroccans”, arguing that Moroccan immigrants are more likely than other groups to be convicted of crimes. He said his method to reduce their numbers would be to revoke passports for dual-nationality Moroccans who are found guilty of violent crimes, closing borders for new immigrants, and implementing a new emigration law.
But Dutch Moroccans are standing up for themselves. “I’m not going anywhere. We are not going anywhere. We are all going to stay,” el Maroudi said. “And there is no train or truck that can get us out of our country.”