By JOHN BURKE
(Editor’s Note: John Burke is a British journalist who speaks Dutch, and visits the Netherlands frequently.
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The slogan Allahu Akbar has been sprayed on the outside of the Catholic church in Ede whose priest serves five parishes in the central Netherlands. Both facts explain the surge short of success by the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Dutch general election on May 15 which saw it gain five seats but still four short of the 24 it had in 2010.
The party was founded only in 2006 to combat Muslim immigration and oppose the European Union, but the PVV’s attitude toward abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality is confused. Its leader, Geert Wilders, is a baptized agnostic from the southern Netherlands that used to be seen as the Catholic heartland in a country half the size of South Carolina. Yet only one in ten of the 17 million inhabitants remains a practicing Catholic, and Protestant churchgoers number not much more.
Although most Lutherans and Calvinists agreed to union a few years ago, the religious decline now has such momentum that one Christian church closes every week. Two-thirds of Catholic parishes will be gone by next year whereas, with a million Muslims in the Netherlands, their mosques, schools, and clubs will soon match the 1,200 windmills that once typified the doughty Dutch.
Rotterdam has a Moroccan mayor from the declining party of labor (PvdA), and a Turk from Istanbul runs his own anti-racist party, one of 28 that competed for the 150 seats that are allocated according to the percentage of votes.
The strongest indicator of rampant secularism — typified by Amsterdam’s toleration of narcotics, homosexuality, and prostitution — is Democracy 66 which has been in five coalitions during the past half-century. Usually it has been with the liberal-conservative People’s Freedom & Democracy Party (VVD) which once had Wilders as a member and whose leader, Mark Rutte, has been prime minister since 2007. He was brought up as a Lutheran.
By contrast, the Calvinist party, whose initials are SGP, always gets two to three seats, while the equally uncompromising Christian Union has had six at most, with one cabinet minister between 2007 and 2010. Neither religious party would work with Wilders because he defends homosexuals, although it is clear that several Christian churchmen and layfolk quietly support him instead of Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). This was the mainstay of most Dutch governments last century when the party was more interdenominational and traditional than today.
The churches do not seem to have issued guidelines, although any hostility to Wilders is not on moral grounds but because of what is viewed as sinful racism. Bishop Johannes Hendriks, auxiliary bishop of Haarlem, warned him, “The Netherlands is multicultural,” but Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden pointed out that Jesus was nonviolent (unlike Mohammed), adding, “Voters must follow their conscience.”
The 80 percent turnout suggests reminders of a religious and patriotic past, but the resurgent PVV is unlikely to make it into the customary government formed through consensus. The other major parties have refused to work with Wilders, although he briefly supported a former VVD-CDA government. His party is just in second place now, and VVD has lost eight of its 41 seats, but CDA and D66 each have 19 seats.
With or without one of those former allies, Rutte has nine smaller parties, particularly Christian Union, from which to choose members to complete a majority, but he and his colleagues have nevertheless been pushed into voicing concerns about Islamic immigration.