Letter to Mr. Wilders
Dear Mr Wilders,
Please stop your damaging crusade against Islam. It will destroy the very country you profess to fight for. A country is a place where there is a special climate, an atmosphere; it is a place where the people and their environment are organised into institutions; a country has built, of its own peculiar mix of ingredients, its own culture, its own morality. Destroy that and you have destroyed the country in all but its name. You will have created a new country of course, but in your case you will have created a hateful country, lead by stupidity and resentment, jealousy, hubris and conceit. It will be a poorer country. I don't want your self-serving battle against invading windmills. I love my country as it is, full of all-sorts. It is rich. Racists, bigots and the xenophobic are the real foreigners to a nation state because they define their nation only in opposition to the other. Their obsession with the other makes them forget themselves, makes them into what they become obsessed with: the chimera of the object of their hate, their mirror image. They understand only borders and the myths that these borders are said to enclose and exclude: the monsters of prejudice and irreducible dislike. They believe those borders to be the issue, the line defining a metaphysical unity against chaos. That is a primitive way of defining yourself. It belongs to a way of being we should have learnt to do without by now; it belongs to a sort of people we will always have amongst us and who deserve their place in society as everyone else does, but who should not be put in a position of power. Their rule would institute a defeat of the reasonable and of justice as fairness.
A nation is not a place particularly defined by its borders and its myths, for they constitute but a crude approximation of the full thing. A nation is more fully defined by its institutions to help people find a way to live a life with the possibility of fulfilment and the real promise of dignity. The best we can hope for is to gather enough to live by and the social resources to build and maintain a sense of our own dignity, a dignity constituted and reinforced by the dignity of others. There is enough to go around. We can achieve that dignity, not by trampling on the dignity of others, for that disqualifies our own; not by seeing ourselves shaped by the rivalry with others but by simply defining our own terms, our own sense of the good.
I am appealing to you as one human being to another: hate and exclusion serve no purpose but ugliness, destruction and sadness. If you feel you want to be seen as a great man, why not take an example in president Obama's speech held at the University of Cairo a few days ago, in which he laid out a clear map for peaceful cohabitation and mutual respect? Following his map we could actually get somewhere. You might play a real role there instead of pursuing this sad, self-defeating and ignorant stand you have taken. The course you are on will perhaps serve your hungry and lustful ego for a short while, but only as long as people are beguiled by your strong words, your confident dismissal of others, your cunning sarcasm and your simple message. There will come a day when they will be made to see the other side by the sheer force of the example before them: the product of your vision; they will see what a hateful world you and others like you have created and what they themselves have helped to bring about. On that day they will deny you, they will turn their back on you and they will make you the scapegoat of their own weakness, their own stupidity in having made the mistake of supporting you, in having given you the power you think you have been given. You will become the object of a hate as senseless and as pointless as the hate and lust and greedy expectation that you now promote in your hungry followers. And who will be able to blame them? They will only be able to blame themselves. They will forget to do that, they will straighten their ties and dresses, readjust their expressions, tame their lust and instead they will blame you.
Look at the world you are creating. The pathos of indignation you spread and the hate you stir puts you on the level you have defined for the group you single out for your hate. You have yourself created and instituted that "level"; you have defined it by proclaiming the supposed backwardness of Islam. However, your own elevation into the realm of the indignantly righteous is but a trick of perspective. You inhabit the very level you have lowered others on to. The mythical enemy you portray, is you yourself! The islam you describe is your own mirror image! That is not to say there are not stupid, misguided and evil people within Islam. Of course there are. There are such people within all institutions, including the Christian tradition, the communist and democratic traditions, within the nicest families, within ministries and parliaments. There are people who profess a faith but fail to live by its laws and spirit, who nevertheless pretend to speak for their God, a God, by the admission of their own sacred texts, they cannot know. It suits you well that these very people have spoken so loudly, so vociferously for their God recently. But this small group are not the religion they claim to represent. They are just they, themselves bitter, misguided people like you. They are just people. We are all just people, like you. We can change only by thinking through our stupidity. The backwardness you see is what misguided people have made of themselves. To blame it on their institutions is precisely what is wrong. Institutions are only ever as good as the people making them work. What people make of a religion is not the religion itself. Your Islam is not Islam. You have made your narrow view of Islam from examples that can easily be found within every institution, including your own, your hateful party of sad people proclaiming a freedom that will merely reinforce the borders of a new and hateful prison full of self-punishment. That is what you have made, a prison for yourselves. It is people we must encourage to change. What we need to get rid of is this misguidedness, this bitterness and this stupidity. But then we need to look not just at the misguided people within Islam, but also at you and your lot. Grow up! Stop showing off your pride in ignorance it certainly does not fool those who know how much the Islam has contributed to the world. It shows that you see the world in black and white. You are in fact not very good at seeing, that is your problem. You haven’t exercised your seeing adequately. You are no athlete of perception! At the same time your vision panders to all who have not the time or the inclination to educate themselves, perhaps because of their misguided pursuit of dreams that will probably prove empty. Little do they know that in education, in the generosity of thought, their dreams can be better realised than in following your imprisoned, sad view of Dutchness.
You make a mockery of democracy. By attempting to make it into a tool of the misguided and the ignorant you and by deliberately abusing the weakest part of its mechanism, namely the right of the uninformed and the misguided to have a say, you destroy the very thing that gives you your platform.. That is democracy’s strength and weakness. Democracy must be prevented from becoming a dictatorship of the majority, it has to stay a mechanism in which the government for the people and by the people, can make sure it defends the rights and duties of its minorities even if only to prepare for the eventuality that those very minorities might one day become majorities. We wouldn’t want to do unto others, what we would not want done unto ourselves. You mock the word freedom by using it in the name of your party. Freedom is not the freedom of the strong to hurt and belittle the weak. That is a very paltry freedom, the freedom of the bully. It is not a freedom that we should ever resort to. Freedom stands for the right and duty of everyone to pursue their own sense of what is good. The clever trick in that sentence is the realisation that it forces when you ask the question: how can a good be considered good if it sets out to deliberately destroy the good of others?
A healthy society can surely only be achieved only if everyone is allowed their dignity and their freedom to pursue their good, a freedom you deny a whole group of people out of hand! You thereby show your foolishness, your lack of a good grounding in ethics and justice. I can recommend a few books you might enjoy. Of course there have been excesses committed by individuals who feel themselves part of a group, part of a religion. There always are excesses. Mary Magdalen excesses and Judas excesses, Golden Calf excesses. Quite a few excesses are committed in the name of free speech. I personally hated what Theo van Gogh said in his Columns, it abused the notion and spirit of free speech even if it stayed within the letter of it. I certainly did not want him killed for it. I hated the way Pim Fortuyn tried to give extremism a human face, a face of the reasonable, but I did not want him killed for it. In the first instance because I enjoy discussion, and in the second because his martyrdom would give birth and space and nourishment to people like you. I hate what you say, but I hope you will not be killed for it. Imagine the monster that you will spawn by your martyrdom!
I try actively not to find you absurd, not to make fun of your appearance, not to mock you. I hope you see that this letter is not an exercise in cynicism and sarcasm. I genuinely hope that you will come to see that you are embarked on a road that leads to a dreary wasteland, to a country devoured by suspicion and hate. Nor will I change my tone should you ever feel the need to become as rude to me as you are to others. We have to be generous, even to the destructive forces within a society, by dealing with them fairly and squarely within the judicial system of our country, and if our judicial system is not performing adequately, we need to reform it where it needs reform, but not dismantle it! We need to encourage moral courage. The courage to give everyone their due. As Walt Whitman said: “I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.” That is not to say there are not things wrong in Holland. Of course, the crimes committed by a small group of young people, new Dutchmen, is unacceptable. But we have adequate laws and regulations in this country to deal with them and deal with them we must, but fairly, without feeling the desire to humiliate and belittle. People trying to find a better life here should be treated with the respect any person venturing out to better their life should be treated with. The desire to better your life is the main thrust of any healthy society. We must deal with such people fairly. Fairness makes us deserve the name human being. Any compromise on that score is ruinous; it lowers us to the beasts we have imagined and painted for ourselves and have subsequently become so frightened of.
Mr Wilders, you are doing serious damage to my country, a country I feel immensely proud of precisely because of its history of tolerance, its enjoyment of otherness, its ability to give concrete form to freedom, and its own weird and wonderful organisation. The 17th century was made great by the immigration of Portuguese Jews and Belgian economic refugees, by the presses which published books that could not be published elsewhere, by being amongst the most educated countries in the world at that time. The eighteenth century saw Holland investing abroad and sadly wasting what it had built up. A misplaced hubris, much like what you are exhibiting now, has too often plagued us. The nineteenth century saw us struggling with the new. The Second World War saw both the best and the worst we are capable of: heinous cowardice and disgusting arrogance as well a true heroism and generosity. The reconstruction of Holland after WWII was an extraordinary feat of will and creativity. During the 50's, 60's and 70's of the last century Holland showed how a different way of looking at people was possible. Our purple government during the nineties, far from a societal disaster, was a model of the third way; a precious culmination of that pluralism unfairly dismissed by demagoguery and jealousy, harping on the mistakes and abuses that you find everywhere, in every leaky system. Society is about muddling on, trying to find everyone a place within it. What a fool Pim Fortuyn was to destroy what was most precious, by facile arguments and marketable slogans; what a pity that we did not have the courage to reform from within that which was genuinely wrong! The Dutch, or at least some of us, let’s say 15% of our voting population, have become a truly spoilt people; too attached to our extraordinary comforts and mindless luxuries. We have let the culture of complaint, which used to keep our institutions healthy, go too far; we are forgetting what kindness and generosity mean. Now is the time to exercise our moral courage and to find that courage in applying our laws fairly, treating all people with the dignity they deserve and thereby anchoring our own dignity, our own worth; helping ourselves by helping others to build a life. Please do not destroy precisely that which you yourself profess to defend
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