Europe on Edge: Immigration fears boost Dutch far right

Europe on Edge: Immigration fears boost Dutch far right

That Duindorp has no immigrant community to speak of is part of its charm for Willem van Vliet, who runs the "Willem and Toet" fish bar in the neighborhood's small parade of shops, serving crispy homemade shrimp croquettes and other Dutch snacks.

When Van Vliet, a friendly bear of a man, leaves the quiet confines of Duindorp, with its neat brick houses, fresh sea air and cackling gulls wheeling overhead, and travels the few miles (kilometers) into the center of The Hague to the city's more culturally diverse neighborhoods, the cook sees a Netherlands not enriched by immigration, but ravaged by it.


In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, a fisherman works on his ship fixing a fishing net at the port in The Hague, The Netherlands. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


"In the last years, too many people have come to Holland with no education, no work experience, and they are coming here only for money from the government, and enough is enough," he said. "We lost our country.

Such views make this corner of the Netherlands one of the epicenters for the disruptive wave of populism sweeping across Europe, gate-crashing its politics, testing its institutions and clouding its future. European populist leaders are exploiting the concerns of people like Van Vliet that immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, threatens to swamp them and their traditions, with the eventual risk of them or their children becoming strangers in their own lands.


In this Saturday, March 4, 2017 photo, people walk along street stalls at a fruit market in The Hague, The Netherlands. In The Hague's most culturally diverse neighbourhoods, many women wear Muslim headscarves. In the market, young Muslim women eating battered fried fish, a Dutch favourite, took dainty, careful bites to avoid splashing grease on their hijabs. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


Of the Netherlands' 17 million people, just over one in five now has a foreign background. That number rises to roughly half-and-half in the four largest melting-pot cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague.

The specter of uncontrolled floods of migrants from countries that don't share Europe's Christian heritage is a principal selling point for the extremist, far-right brand of politics promoted by firebrand populists Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France.

For critics, Wilders and Le Pen are stoking anti-immigrant feelings, not simply diagnosing them. By harping on anti-Islam themes, they are accused of making the xenophobic views that Europe shunned after the Nazi horrors of World War II more mainstream again. Wilders was convicted in December of inciting discrimination for a rabble-rousing speech against the Moroccan population, which he has said includes "a lot of Moroccan scum."

For their supporters, Wilders and Le Pen simply tell it like it is. Paradoxically, hostility against immigrants is sometimes sharpest in places, like Duindorp, that have not absorbed large numbers of people from overseas. Some of those who most vehemently repeat Wilders and Le Pen's arguments that Islam is poisoning Europe don't actually have regular personal contact with Muslims. Many cite terrorism claimed by Islamic extremists in Europe as a major cause of their concerns.


In this Saturday, March 4, 2017 photo, members and supporters of the extreme right wing Nederlandse Volks-Unie (Netherlands People's Union) demonstrate in The Hague ahead of Parliamentary elections scheduled for March 15. The NVU is not fielding any candidates in the election but said it was using Saturday's demonstration to give its supporters voting advice. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


The No. 1 pledge on Wilders' election manifesto, which fits onto just one page, is to "de-Islamize the Netherlands," by banning the Quran and immigration from Muslim countries and shutting the country's estimated 475 mosques. About 5 percent of the Dutch population, at least 850,000 people, is now Muslim.

Duindorp has no mosques and few Muslims. Its several thousand people are overwhelmingly white, most born locally.

Yet Duindorp is Wilders territory. When his Party for Freedom got hammered in the last parliamentary election in 2012, Duindorp bucked the trend. At Duindorp's community center that serves as a polling station, where retirees come for billiards and company, 352 people cast votes for Wilders, more than for the two largest parties combined.

Wilders should score well again on March 15, when the Netherlands votes in the first of a series of European elections, followed by France, Germany and possibly Italy. The elections will show whether the populist storm that broke last year with Britain's "Brexit" vote is gathering strength or blowing over.

Leo Pronk, a community leader in Duindorp, said Wilders' anti-Islam message hooks voters who "don't know any better." There are jobs in Duindorp, with many self-employed in building trades, but few of its kids attend university, Pronk said. Because "windows were smashed, people were threatened" in the past, immigrants "don't want to live here," he said. To describe the neighborhood's suspicions of outsiders, Pronk quoted a Dutch saying: "What a farmer doesn't know, he doesn't eat."


In this Thursday, March 2, 2017 photo, a woman reads the bible at the central station in The Hague, Netherlands. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Saturday, March 4, 2017 photo, people walk past socks and stockings that are displayed for sale at a market stall in The Hague, The Netherlands. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


"Wilders is saying what the low-educated people want to hear ... 'Immigrants are taking our jobs, they are raping our women,'" said Pronk, who doesn't vote for him.

In his Duindorp workshop, sailmaker Frederik Quaedvlieg agreed that people perhaps fear what they don't know.

"Here you get accepted or not. If you are accepted, everyone says 'Hi!' No problem. If you are not accepted, you feel it and you have to get out," he said. "I think there's a lot of people here who really complain about immigration and about foreigners taking their jobs, but they get the social welfare and they stay at home and smoke weed all day."

Islam is relatively new in the Netherlands, and its spread has come as increasing numbers of native Dutch have abandoned religion. Those attending religious services at least once per month have dropped from about one in four in 1999 to about one in six now.

In The Hague's most culturally diverse neighborhoods, many women wear Muslim headscarves. In the market, young Muslim women eating battered fried fish, a Dutch favorite, took dainty, careful bites to avoid splashing grease on their hijabs.


In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, a banner by Stichting Vluchteling (Refugee Foundation of Netherlands), that reads in Dutch "Choose a Party" hangs on a lamppost in The Hague, The Netherlands. Ahead of a Dutch vote that will indicate whether populism in Europe is gathering strength or blowing over, divisive questions about immigration and Islam are testing the Netherlands' famed capacity for tolerance and inclusiveness. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Saturday, March 4, 2017 photo, rosary beads are displayed for selling next to a mannequin wearing a headscarf in a market stall at The Hague, The Netherlands. In The Hague's most culturally diverse neighbourhoods, many women wear Muslim headscarves. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


The Netherlands' oldest mosque, in The Hague, was built in 1955. Its imam, Naeem Ahmad, dismisses as "not possible" Wilders' call for the country to rid itself of Islam.

He says the Muslim community is thriving and generally integrated. The Mobarak Mosque gets New Year greeting cards from its Dutch neighbors. And before the ubiquity of GPS, people would lead worshippers who had trouble finding the building right to the door, he said.

"In what other country would that happen?" he asked. "The majority of the people in the Netherlands are still very liberal, very welcoming."

The mosque does community outreach, posting leaflets about Islam through doors and gluing stickers around town. One, stuck on a beam in the mosque's basement, reads: "Muslims for peace. Love for all, hatred for none."


In this Thursday, March 2, 2017 photo, a mosque is seen on the outskirts of The Hague, The Netherlands. Of The Netherlands' 17 million people, just over one in five now have a foreign background. That number rises to roughly half-and-half in the four largest melting-pot cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. About 5 percent of the population, at least 850,000 people, is Muslim. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


Ahmad hopes those who disagree with Wilders will stand up and be counted in the election.

"Otherwise the small group, the minority, will take over," he said.

Those who are receptive to Wilders' arguments also include wealthier people who could be hurt economically by his proposed policies were he to take power.

The crew of the Maarten-Jacob makes a handsome living, as much as 8,000 euros ($8,450) each per month, trawling fish from the murk of the North Sea. Five of the six men who work the vessel said they'd be voting Wilders, even though his desire to pull the Netherlands out of the European Union could be disastrous for the country's fishing industry, likely limiting access to European fishing grounds.


In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, fishermen of the Maarten-Jacob ship work fixing their fishing net at the port in The Hague, The Netherlands. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


As it is, the trawler's captain already is worried that Britain's "Brexit" will bar them from English waters, where they catch much of their fish. But for him and his shipmates, anxieties about Islam appear greater still. They come from Urk, a fishing town with roughly 20 churches, all Protestant, for a population of 20,000 people who are among the most devout churchgoers in the country. Urk has no mosque and few immigrants.

The captain, Jan de Boer, said as they repaired their nets that he has never met a good Muslim.

"Islam is very dangerous," De Boer said. "It's a religion of hate."

"Shut the doors, no more people," he added. "I'm very scared and I mean it, honestly."

Fear cuts both ways.

For immigrants and their Dutch-born children, Wilders' success in thrusting immigration to the top of the political agenda is making them question their place in a country long known for its tolerance and exploration of the world. Dutch mariners were the first Europeans to sail as far as New Zealand, in 1642; they founded New York and gave the word "yacht" and other nautical terms to the English language. More recently, the Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage — in 2001.


In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, the flag of The Netherlands flies near the beach in The Hague, The Netherlands. Ahead of a Dutch vote that will indicate whether populism in Europe is gathering strength or blowing over, divisive questions about immigration and Islam are testing the Netherlands' famed capacity for tolerance and inclusiveness. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Monday, March 6, 2017 photo, pedestrians walk along a platform at the central station in The Hague, The Netherlands. Of The Netherlands' 17 million people, just over one in five now have a migrant background _ rising to roughly half-and-half in the Netherlands' four largest melting-pot cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, Denice Spans, 30, center, walks next to her father Fred, 62, right, and their friend Rogier, left, as they go for a swim in the sea of The Hague, The Netherlands. "I think 80 percent of people who vote Wilders are afraid of change," says Denice Spans, a 30-year-old educator who works with asylum seekers. Those voters include her father, Fred, a hairdresser. The two of them swim together in the North Sea in the mornings but don't see eye-to-eye politically. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


Yet now many are buying into Wilders' arguments that tolerance has gone too far, and that the Netherlands cannot risk opening itself any further to a religion he calls dangerously intolerant, Islam. Although other politicians say they won't work with Wilders, they have shifted to the right to catch some of his electorate.

"The Netherlands that I grew up in are not the Netherlands I live in today," said Sylvana Simons. The 46-year-old former TV presenter of Surinamese descent has been subjected to sickening online abuse, including photos doctored to make her look like the hanged victim of a lynching, after speaking out about discrimination.

"We've told ourselves and we desperately wanted to believe — and believed — that we were the most tolerant country in the world," she said. "It has proven not to be enough."

Wilders supporters cite a lack of space as another reason to close the Netherlands' doors. The Netherlands is densely populated, with some of its land reclaimed from the sea. The country is full, they argue.

"I think 80 percent of people who vote Wilders are afraid of change," said Denice Spaans, a 30-year-old educator who works with asylum seekers. Those voters include her father, Fred, a hairdresser. The two of them swim together in the North Sea in the mornings but don't see eye-to-eye politically.


In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, a man walks past a clothes shop in the The Hague, The Netherlands. Islam is relatively new in the Netherlands and its spread has come as increasing numbers of native Dutch have abandoned religion. Those attending religious services at least once per month have dropped from about one in four in 1999 to about one in six now. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, Agne, 12, plays his trumpet as he practices in the centre of The Hague, The Netherlands. Of the Netherlands' 17 million people, just over one in five now have a migrant background _ rising to roughly half-and-half in the Netherlands' four largest melting-pot cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


He blames Islam for "80 percent of the crime and the dangers" in the world. He used to cut out and collect newspaper crime stories that involved immigrants until the clippings took up too much space.

"If you have educated Muslims, then it's not a problem," Denice said. "But I think it's uneducated people with old-fashioned mindsets which don't fit into a modern society like here in Holland."

Born in The Hague, and seeing himself as part-Dutch and part-Moroccan, 36-year-old Latif Boujada said he no longer feels at home in either country. He sells hijabs, let's-learn-Arabic books, recordings from the Quran and other Muslim apparel in The Hague's market. Legions of foreign workers the Netherlands took in the 1970s when it needed labor included Boujada's father, who moved from Morocco's Rif Valley for work in the textile industry.

"The Dutch didn't want to do the dirty jobs. We helped make the country rich. Now they want us to go back," Boujada said.

Sounding vexed, he said he was stopped by Dutch police and asked to show ID when recently visiting his parents, who have retired to a town northeast of The Hague. In Morocco, he's treated as a foreigner, too, he added.

"We're not welcome here or there," he said. "Holland is not the Holland of 20, 30 years ago."

But he added defiantly: "We're not going anywhere. We are staying."


In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, people are seen reflected in a restaurant window in The Hague, the Netherlands. Of The Netherlands' 17 million people, just over one in five now have a migrant background _ rising to roughly half-and-half in The Netherlands' four largest melting-pot cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Saturday, March 4, 2017 photo, people have dinner at a restaurant at The Hague, The Netherlands. The Netherlands is densely populated, with some of its land reclaimed from the sea. Geert Wilders supporters cite lack of space as another reason for the Netherlands to close its doors. The country is full, they argue. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Sunday, March 5, 2017 photo, people walk along the beach in The Hague, The Netherlands. Of The Netherlands' 17 million people, just over one in five now have a migrant background _ rising to roughly half-and-half in The Netherlands' four largest melting-pot cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Monday, March 6, 2017 photo, a cyclist looks for a slot to park her bicycle at the bike free parking in The Hague, The Netherlands. The Netherlands is densely populated, with some of its land reclaimed from the sea. Geert Wilders supporters cite lack of space as another reason for the Netherlands to close its doors. The country is full, they argue. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, a poster with a portrait of Michel Rog, candidate for the CDA (Christian democratic party), is displayed in a window in the centre of The Hague, The Netherlands. Ahead of a Dutch vote that will indicate whether populism in Europe is gathering strength or blowing over, divisive questions about immigration and Islam are testing the Netherlands' famed capacity for tolerance. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

In this Friday, March 3, 2017 photo, people walk by a billboard showing the candidates for the Parliamentary elections scheduled for March 15 at The Hague, The Netherlands. Ahead of a Dutch vote that will indicate whether populism in Europe is gathering strength or blowing over, divisive questions about immigration and Islam are testing the Netherlands' famed capacity for tolerance and inclusiveness. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.

Photos by Emilio Morenatti

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Nat Castañeda is an interdisciplinary visual artist based in Brooklyn, New York. A California native, Castañeda works primarily in video and collage, with an emphasis on tactile intimacy with her materials remaining an important aspect of all her projects. Common issues in Castañeda’s work are the conflating of iconography and pornography, the questioning of traditional gender binaries, and the role of technology within personal narratives. She received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts and has shown at venues such as El Museo del Barrio and Electronic Arts Intermix. In addition to her art practice, Castañeda currently works at The Associated Press where she leads a team that curates AP's online archive of historic and contemporary photojournalism. Castañeda’s photography has appeared in the New York Times,U.S. News & World Report and USA Today.