A friend that I hoped would know better emailed me a speech from Dutch legislator Geert Wilders with the subject line “Warning from Holland.”
Wilders was indicted for hate speech against Islam, and this lecture, apparently from 2008, offers ample evidence why. He denounces the Qur’an and the prophet Muhammad while denying that Islam is a religion, instead branding it a violent cult that targets non-Muslims for destruction.
Built on the fallacy that there is a single monolithic Islam that combines the worst of Osama bin Laden and Iran’s mullahs, Wilders mixes half-truths and outright lies to argue Muslims are taking over the world. “We might be in the final stages of the Islamization of Europe,” Wilders claims. “This not only is a clear and present danger to the future of Europe itself, it is a threat to America and the sheer survival of the West.”
On the contrary, Europe’s growing tide of bigotry, thanks to Wilders and his disciples, represents a great opportunity for America, and there’s no better time to remember it than Thanksgiving Day.
During a televised debate on outlawing Muslim headscarves, one participant noted that 70 years ago, Europe demonized another religious minority and that didn’t turn out well for anyone.
Take these words from Wilders’ speech: “All throughout Europe a new reality is rising: entire Muslim neighborhoods where very few indigenous people reside or are even seen. And if they are, they might regret it… The shops have signs you and I cannot read. You will be hard-pressed to find any economic activity. These are Muslim ghettos controlled by religious fanatics. These are Muslim neighborhoods, and they are mushrooming in every city across Europe. These are the building-blocks for territorial control of increasingly larger portions of Europe, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city.” Substitute Jew for Muslim, and that rant could have been given by a leader of the Third Reich.
But Europe’s history of hatred toward religious minorities stretches back far beyond Nazi Germany. America was founded in part as a response to Europe’s centuries-old tradition of prejudice.
The Plymouth Pilgrims that we Americans commemorate with our Thanksgiving holiday fled England and then Wilders’ Netherlands to find freedom. Their Puritan neighbors in Massachusetts Bay and fellow colonists in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Maryland all founded their settlements in search of religious freedom they couldn’t find in Europe.
From those early crucibles of liberty to the Manhattan Project and Silicon Valley, the US has benefited from others’ intolerance, attracting the best and brightest from around the world. Immigrants from Alexander Hamilton to my Indonesian niece have extended America’s family and expanded our horizons, enriching us by every measure. Americans’ basic fair-mindedness and decency plus our shared heritage of immigration have triumphed over persistent nativist impulses throughout our history.
That’s something to be thankful for on Thursday. At the same time, please offer a prayer that America’s better instincts will overcome this latest wave of hate hitting our shores from Europe and let their weakness and shortsightedness keep making America stronger.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.