THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Netherlands could ban the burqa, the full-body covering worn by some Muslim women, as soon as next year, Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders told Reuters in an interview Thursday.
Wilders’ populist Freedom Party is the third largest in parliament and provides crucial support to the minority ruling coalition in exchange for the government taking a tougher line on Islam and immigration from non-Western countries.
His party has grown in popularity largely because of his outspoken criticism of Islam, which he describes as “a violent ideology.”
“There are not too many people who are willing to fight for this cause. It’s a big responsibility. It’s not only a Dutch problem, it’s a problem of the West,” said Wilders.
He has been charged with inciting hatred against Muslims for comparing Islam to Nazism. The case is due to start over again following a request for new judges.
“We are not a single issue party but the fight against a fascist ideology Islam is for us of the utmost importance,” said Wilders, who argues his comments about Islam are protected by freedom of speech.
Wilders said immigration from Muslim countries “is very dangerous to the Netherlands. We believe our country is based on Christianity, on Judaism, on humanism, and we believe the more Islam we get, the more it will not only threaten our culture and our own identity but also our values and our freedom.”
The burqa ban, which his party agreed as part of a pact with the minority coalition, is due to come into force within four years and possibly as soon as next year or 2012, he said.
With no clear winner in the elections in June, Wilders emerged as a kingmaker and won considerable influence for his Freedom Party over government policy. He promised support for the minority Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition in return for a tougher line on Islam and immigration, especially from non-Western, or predominantly Muslim countries.
The rise of Wilders and his party reflects changes within Dutch society over the past decade, in particular growing concerns that years of an open immigration policy and generous benefits have failed to integrate some immigrants.
Those concerns were previously highlighted by Dutch politicians Pim Fortuyn and Somalia-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as well as by the film-maker Theo van Gogh, all of whom spoke out against Islam and attracted death threats.
Fortuyn was murdered by an animal rights activist, Van Gogh was killed by a Muslim extremist, and Wilders lives with round-the-clock security in a government safe house, sometimes using wigs or other disguises when he moves around.
ATTACK ON MONARCHY
Wilders has used his party’s new-found power to push for cuts in the international aid budget, and strongly opposed the presence of a Dutch contingent in Afghanistan -- an issue which brought down the previous government earlier this year and led to the withdrawal of Dutch troops.
Wilders’ influence has also caused consternation in the United States, which according to cables released this week by WikiLeaks had been pushing the Netherlands to take an even more prominent international role.
The U.S. cables described the “golden-pompadoured, maverick parliamentarian” -- a reference to Wilders’ dyed-blond mane -- as “a thorn in the coalition’s side, capitalising on the social stresses resulting from the failure to fully integrate almost a million Dutch Muslims.”
They also described him as “no friend of the U.S.” because of his opposition to a Dutch military role in Afghanistan.
Wilders laughed off the description of his appearance but stressed he was a friend of the United States who admired many of U.S. values, including freedom of speech.
In contrast, he opposed bailouts for the European Union’s heavily indebted periphery: “The Dutch taxpayer will have to pay for countries that messed up ... If you mess up, you have to be responsible for your own problems.”
Wilders has also taken aim at the monarchy, saying Queen Beatrix should be reduced to a ceremonial role. A single party rarely wins an absolute majority in Dutch general elections and the monarch plays an important role in forming a government.
“We are not against the royal house. We are not republicans, but we believe that in the 21st century it’s not appropriate that just because you have a certain bloodline you have a part in government,” said Wilders.
The Freedom Party leader criticised Queen Beatrix after she called for tolerance in her annual Christmas Day speech -- a comment Wilders felt was directed at him and his party.
Reporting by Sara Webb; Editing by Jon Boyle
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