Wilders's success rests almost entirely on such strident rhetoric. To give an idea of the tone of his discourse in the Netherlands, he has called for a "head rag tax" on women wearing headscarves. He favors banning the Quran, wants to close Muslim schools but not equivalent Christian or Jewish ones, wants to force immigrants to sign "assimilation contracts," and wants to include the "Judeo-Christian character" of the state in the constitution.
But some Dutch analysts warn that it is a mistake to "blacken" Wilders's name too much or lump him with fascism or Nazism. "For one, he's not anti-Semitic," says Alfred Pijpers of the Clingendael Institute of International Relations in The Hague. Israeli officials have indeed privately commended him as "a friend of Israel." Pijpers says that Wilders has more in common with the Tea Party activists in the United States than with any old-style European right-wing party, because he can't really be classified as either right-wing or left-wing. His party has also embraced a left-wing populist defense of the Netherlands' besieged welfare system, and he scores points with his tough stance against crime, which he often links to immigrants.
His outspokenness has made him a hated figure for some Muslims, and he lives under constant police protection. Recently, an Australian imam called for his beheading, the last in a long line of threats. Wilders himself argued in July on the website muslimsdebate.com that he does not hate Muslims -- he just opposes Islam and wants Muslims to liberate themselves from its shackles. Strikingly, he seems to have formed his low opinion of Arab and Muslim societies at a young age when he visited both Israel and Egypt and contracted a stomach bug in the latter.
If his intention is to make the Netherlands a less attractive place to Muslims, he may be succeeding. In the months since the elections, unrest in the community has increased, and more are reportedly considering leaving the country. "I hear from many people that they don't feel comfortable. They don't feel that this is their country anymore," says Farhad Golyardi, an Iranian-born Dutch intellectual who heads an intercultural institute in Amsterdam.
Wilders's ambitions go beyond either Dutch or European borders. In July, Wilders announced that he was setting up a Geert Wilders International Freedom Alliance aimed at stopping Muslim immigration to the West. He designated the United States as one of five countries that were "ripe" for his alliance, and he may have had this confirmed at the 9/11 rally in New York. Says Golyardi, "He sees that there are people who agree with him all over the world, and he wants to provide an umbrella for them, to found an anti-Islam international."
High-profile international sallies appear to be part of Wilders' strategy. During a June 2009 visit to Denmark, he said on Danish television that "deporting millions of European Muslims may be necessary." Earlier he had caused international concern over a possible repeat of the Danish cartoon riots in the run-up to the release of his widely hyped anti-Islam film Fitna in 2008. In the end the video compilation of familiar anti-Islam snippets was a dud. Wilders also gained some notoriety when he was banned from entering Britain, where he had been invited to show Fitna in the House of Lords. The ban was later reversed.
So Dutch politicians across the political spectrum breathed a sigh of relief after Wilders's New York speech. His most notable one-liner was a warning that "New York, rooted in Dutch tolerance, will never become New Mecca." Earlier, Wilders had even appealed to mainstream opinion in the United States and Europe by opposing the planned burning of the Quran in Florida, even though he has compared the Quran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Such newfound mildness plays into assertions by some Dutch politicians and analysts that once Wilders has been co-opted into the system, as he now is, his sharp edges will be blunted. It may also indicate that above all else, Wilders is a wily politician who is gunning for more influence, both internationally and in the Netherlands. The mildness detected in his New York speech was at the time taken as a green light for the other parties to proceed with the talks and eventually reach an agreement with him.
Of course, both left and right fear serious damage to the Netherlands' reputation abroad now that Wilders is somehow involved in the government. "I abhor the image that the Netherlands will get internationally," Peters, the GreenLeft MP, told The National. Even the Christian Democrat leader and outgoing foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, was worried ahead of Wilders' speech in New York, cautioning him to be "responsible" while at the same time begging for his support in parliament.
But now Verhagen says that his Christian Democrats and the Liberals, the two parties that are forming the government, have "sharp differences of opinion" with Wilders on the subject of Islam, but that this not an obstacle to their effective cooperation.
It is indeed the willingness of Dutch mainstream parties to be pulled into Wilders's orbit that most appalls his opponents. "I'm not just upset with Wilders; I'm much more upset with the established parties," says Brahim Bourzik, a Muslim politician who is the former city councilor of Rotterdam. And Peters calls on Arab and Muslim countries to raise the issue of Wilders's role in government with Dutch representatives to "shake them awake." Judging by Wilders's smooth rise thus far, a whole lot of shaking may have to be done.
*This sentence has been updated to clarify that the funds were given to support Wilders's legal defense, and not to support his political campaign.