Dutch leader Geert Wilders (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
CONTROVERSIES are not new to him but he remains unfazed even when they tend to take the most sinister form. Geert Wilders is never known for mincing words and often they are hard-hitting, so much so that he often ends up receiving life threats. But the Party for Freedom leader from the Netherlands refuses to give in under pressure.
The recent row over some controversial remarks made by Nupur Sharma, a former member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Prophet Muhammad on a television debate, saw Wilders taking a strong stand to support the Indian leader. He faced the wrath of the Muslims, as it has happened in the past over his anti-Islam viewpoints, but the veteran leader simply said, “Go to hell”.
Eastern Eye spoke to Wilders over the Sharma row which even saw India facing a backlash from the Muslim world and resorting to a diplomatic firefighting to assure its friends among the Islamic nations. Wilders was as forthright in the interview and spared no effort to slam the Muslim world while reiterating his support for Sharma.
When Eastern Eye asked the Dutch politician about the reason for backing Sharma consistently in the Prophet remarks row and whether it’s an ideological or political tussle, he said it was both. He also justified Sharma’s words saying she was provoked by someone on the show who insulted Hindu gods.
“She was provoked on a TV show when someone insulted Hindu gods and spoke about Muhammad in reaction. I applaud her for that.” Wilders said.
When Eastern Eye wanted to know whether the Muslim world over-reacted to Sharma’s remarks and the Indian government could do without taking a step against her, Wilders said the reaction was excessive and called the Muslim nations “biggest hypocrites”.
“Muslim countries are the biggest hypocrites as well for they have the worst record themselves on human rights and their mistreatment of minorities. Muslims should accept that in a free world there is rule of law and freedom of speech,” the Party for Freedom leader added.
Sharma was suspended by the BJP in the wake of the diplomatic backlash. Naveen Kumar Jindal, another former member of the party who also made similar remarks, was expelled.
While Wilders never hesitates when it comes to attacking Islam, it has taken a toll on his personal freedom. The man lives under strong protection of the army and government with his wife for nearly two decades now because of life threats but despite concerns that his life is vulnerable, he is never afraid to utter what he feels is right.
“I have lost my personal freedom for almost 18 years now because I criticize Islam and Muhammed. My wife and I have lived since 2004 in army barracks, prison cells and government safe houses just to stay alive. I am on the death list and got fatwas from Al Qaida, the Pakistani Taliban, ISIS and many others among which the leader of the Pakistani TLP party Rizvi. I am concerned that they will kill me but I will never stop speaking the truth even if it will cost my life one day,” Wilders told Eastern Eye.
While Wilders has backed Sharma over her viewpoints, what is his take on India, a pluralistic society? Given its demography and society, can India afford to see violent religious clashes and could Sharma avoid speaking what he feels is truth?
The Dutch leader reiterated that Sharma spoke the truth and it was Muslims who started the clashes and threatened to kill her. Wilders then lauded India saying it is a democratic society in a region which is otherwise filled with darkness.
‘India should be proud of its dominant culture’
“It (India) should be proud of its dominant culture that is based on Hinduism. Never give in to violence and defend the freedom of speech and the truth is what should be the main goal of the Indian government, according to me,” he said.
Wilders also did not spare the United States after it condemned Sharma’s words recently. He reacted strongly against the US in a social media post saying the world is full of cowards after the state department issued a statement on the row.
The US has in fact spoken over the state of religious freedom in India in recent times and against that background, could one expect any different reaction from Washington on the Prophet controversy? To this, Wilders said, “I am a friend of the USA. They are a beacon of light and democracy. However, with the current administration, things seem to have changed indeed and for the worse.”