Identity

We Talked to Dutch Muslims About Their Country's Election Results

Despite most predictions, anti-Muslim populist Geert Wilders didn't win Wednesday's national elections in the Netherlands.

by Sara Bolghiran
Mar 16 2017, 6:20pm

Photos by Kayle Crosson

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Yesterday, the Dutch held their national parliamentary elections, and with the fresh memory of Trump's victory and the rise of the political far-right in Europe on their minds, many feared (or hoped) that the populist anti-immigration, anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) would win. A big win for its leader Geert Wilders would be seen as the beginning of, in Wilders's words, a "patriotic spring" across Europe.

In the end, the center-right, conservative-liberal VVD party remained the most popular with 33 seats in parliament, while the PVV came in second with 20 seats, closely followed by the progressive liberals of D66 and the Christian democrats of the CDA, who both came to 19 seats. The current prime minister, Mark Rutte, of the VVD will likely remain in his position, while Wilders will probably end up in the opposition—most other parties have already announced they would not form a majority coalition with his.

After the first exit polls came in yesterday, we asked some young Dutch muslims how they felt about the results, and if they're relieved that Wilders's PVV wasn't as successful as expected.

Ola, 21, studies law and international justice.

VICE: Are you glad that the PVV did not win?
Ola:
No, I'm not necessarily relieved. I think it's striking that a lot of foreign media are painting this as a loss for Wilders, while the PVV still has 20 seats in parliament. His is the second most popular party now.

Did you follow these elections more closely than previous ones?
This was the first time that I got to vote and the first time that I was really involved and followed everything closely. I'm 21, and I know what is important to me, and I wanted my values to be represented properly. Especially since Trump's victory.

Do you feel threatened by the results?
No. I believe that you have to try to contribute to a healthy political climate yourself and that you shouldn't feel threatened. But I do see how the country has changed. I wear a hijab, and people respond negatively to that sometimes—like yelling "Allahu Akbar, boom!" at me. I've always felt Dutch through and through, and it's very annoying to constantly have to prove myself.

Mohammed El Baroudi, 21, studies government, economics, and development.

VICE: Are you relieved that the PVV is not the biggest party?
Mohammed: No, I'm not relieved—he still gained five seats in parliament. I'm not going to follow along with the trend saying that we should be happy because he didn't win—five more seats is still a lot.

Did you feel like there was more at stake this year?
Yes, it was different. I saw Moroccan mothers and aunts from my neighborhood asking for advice and wanting to go out and vote. Everyone wanted to participate. It felt like a make-or-break moment. That's because of the current political climate but also because there were some new parties like DENK [a pro-migrant, pro-tolerance party] that really managed to mobilize people.

How do you see the future?
I'm fairly positive, but I want to stay sharp. I'm afraid that poorer people are getting a really bad deal from this result. That's why I hope that people will start to realize that it's a bad idea to vote for a right-wing party out of anger and forget to look at their place in the bigger picture. In the end, it's especially the working class who will suffer the consequences of the far right.

Sevgi, 24, studies governance of migration and diversity.

VICE: Are you relieved that Wilders didn't win the election?
Sevgi: I'm definitely relieved—I was genuinely scared he would win. Trump's win really got to me, especially as a Muslim and a Turk. And I was worried that the diplomatic row between Turkey and the Netherlands last weekend would affect the result in a major way as well.

Still, more than 13 percent of Dutch people voted for him. Does that worry you?
Yes, his party came in second, that's a very worrying development. But it's important to remember that other parties did really well, too. I hope the other parties stick to their promise that they won't form a majority coalition with the PVV and don't involve Wilders.

Did you follow these elections more closely than you otherwise would have?
Absolutely. I wasn't that interested in the elections four years ago—my dad really had to push me to go and vote. It felt different this year. There is so much polarization between majority and minority groups in this political climate that, as an ethnic and religious minority, I often felt like I was personally being addressed during the campaign and affected by some developments.

Ilyaas, 21, studies international relations.

VICE: Did you vote yesterday?
Ilyaas: Yes, I voted for a left-leaning party, purely because I think it's important—especially now—to counter the right-wing populism that is gaining ground in Europe.

Are you relieved that Wilders didn't come in first?
Absolutely. I've always been optimistic, though. I thought, The people of the Netherlands know better. There was a lot more pressure on these elections—we've seen Trump win, we saw Brexit happen, and the fact that our society is on the edge has pushed more people to go out and vote.

What did your friends think about the results?
We talked about the elections a lot, but we were also pretty lighthearted about it. We'd joke about what the country under Wilders would look like, for example. But those jokes come from a place of fear—what if he really had won? During these elections, the political middle took a more radical stance on things like immigration, to make sure people would vote for them instead of Wilders. I think it's very worrying that right-wing populist movements are being normalized like that. Politicians say things that pit people against one another, but as active citizens, we need to hold them accountable and make sure we can discuss using reasonable arguments.


Ouafa, 20, studies social and cultural education.

VICE: Were you relieved when you found out the election result?
Ouafa: I was. An old classmate of mine had posted on Facebook that she'd voted for the PVV, and I'd responded that I felt happy that she was being honest about it, but that I also found it a pity. I think it's sad to see that people put so much hope in a guy like that and honestly think that he can make everything better.

How do you feel about the future?
I'm really worried that there's going to be more friction between certain groups. I read an article where Wilders said he wasn't going to make it easy. Why not? Why can't he dedicate himself to all Dutch citizens, and why can't he try to make it easier and better for everyone?

Zouhair, 26, is a sociologist.

VICE: Are you relieved that the PVV didn't win the election?
Zouhair: In part, but a lot of people still voted for Wilders. The fact that a lot of people agree with the things he thinks and says doesn't necessarily mean that they hate Moroccans and Muslims, but it does mean that they have problems that need to be heard. That's something we need to work on.

What kind of influence do you think this will have on other right-wing populist parties in Europe?
That's hard to say. But it's clear that populism is graining ground, and that there are certain social groups that feel like they have been overlooked by the governments of the past. They're attracted to that rhetoric and are happy to choose scapegoats. That worries me.

How do you feel about the future?
I think these results are a small victory. I don't like that the VVD [the conservative-liberal party that won] is the most popular party again, but it could have been much worse. There is a Japanese saying: "In victory, tighten your helmet straps." In other words, we still have to stay focused and think about why two million people voted for Wilders. And about how we can work toward a more inclusive society.