Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders’ plan to make a speech at Ground Zero has sparked a minor political row. On 11 September a protest meeting will be held at the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York against the construction of an Islamic centre nearby.
Geert Wilders has become a celebrated guest in some US circles. For instance with media and politicians who share his opposition to Islam.
"We cannot escape from totalitarian ideologies that want to destroy us. Well, the totalitarian ideology that wants to destroy our freedom today unfortunately is the Islam, and we should stand up and fight it."
In political circles in The Hague, there is widespread irritation about his plan to make a speech at Ground Zero in New York, where 3,000 people were killed when Muslim extremists flew hijacked planes into the two towers of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.
There is nothing new about Geert Wilders’ opposition to Islam. What is new is his new-found political clout since his party gained more seats than any other in the June general elections. The formation of a new Dutch government will be difficult, if not impossible, without his support. The outgoing Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen called on Mr Wilders to restrain himself at the New York meeting. The Freedom Party leader reacted by saying:
"We have agreed that, on the one hand, I will keep speaking my mind. About Islam, about New York and also about that terrible mosque which is being built there. And Mr Verhagen, in turn, can say what he wants to say about that, also when he disagrees. It’s a practical agreement 'to agree to disagree', and that is fine”.
The construction of the new Islamic centre in New York is supported by a wide variety of organisations and prominent citizens, varying from organisations of relatives of 9/11 victims and Islamic and Jewish organisations to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The people who took the initiative for the new centre say they want to build a bridge between Islam and the West, and more in particular between Muslims and Americans.
"This is an insult; this is demeaning, this is humiliating that you would build a shrine to the very ideology that inspired the attacks of 9/11."
A juicy detail is that the Dutch foreign ministry is indirectly footing the bill for part of the new Islamic centre in New York. The ministry has earmarked 1 million euros for a women’s project by the American Society for Muslim Advancement.