Seldom has there been so much interest from the international media in the outcome of a parliamentary election in the Netherlands as in the election to be held on 15 March 2017. The explanation for this lies in last year's Brexit vote in Britain and the election of President Trump in the United States on the one hand, and the elections that will be held later this year in France and Germany on the other hand. The question this raises is whether voters in the Dutch elections, which take place in between these events, will follow the example of British and American voters and thus set the stage for a continuation of right-wing populist victories. It is to be expected that such an election result would put the EU under even greater pressure than is already the case because of the Brexit vote.
Although the media are therefore right to focus on the question of whether Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) will end up being the largest party, which despite its recent decline in the polls might still be the case, it is submitted that this matters - and perhaps even more so - from a different perspective as well. In a recent interview with German TV, Mr. Wilders indicated that his party believes that Islam is not comparable to other world religions such as Christianity or Judaism, but rather to totalitarian ideologies like Communism and Fascism. As a result, Muslims in his view are not entitled to the same constitutional and international protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief as other believers.
A similar discussion about the nature of Islam has been taking place in the United States since at least the publication of the report Shariah: The Threat to America by the Center for Security Policy in 2010. Recently, Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to President Trump focusing on national security, left open for the second time whether the President believes Islam to be a religion: 'This isn't a theological seminary, this is the White House, and we're not going to get into theological debates'. That such a position can easily lead to religious discrimination is manifested not just in the United States, but also by the Freedom Party's (draft) election manifesto of 1 A4 which calls for a 'de-Islamification' of the Netherlands.
Without extending the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief to all believers, it is difficult to conceive how the Netherlands could still pretend to be a liberal democracy. It is precisely for this reason, that at least one constitutional scholar in the 1930s already argued that a political party should respect everyone's geestelijke vrijheid [freedom of religion or belief] and equal protection before the law in order for it to be admitted to the democratic exchange of ideas. As a recent special issue of the Dutch legal magazine Nederlands Juristenblad on the elections, representation and the parliamentary system points out, several scholars are indeed warming up towards the idea of increased party regulation.
As I argue in this special issue, a good place to start would be for the Dutch Lower House not to let the Freedom Party oversee the coalition talks after the elections, as would be the custom in the event it receives the most votes. To be continued next week.