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INTERVIEW: I miss freedom, says Dutch Islam critic Geert Wilders

By Rachel Levy, dpa

   The Hague (dpa) - Rightwing Dutch politician and Islam critic
Geert Wilders has made a name for himself with harsh one-liners about
Muslims, migration and remarks about the "Islamization of the
Netherlands." Speaking to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa, the 44-year old Freedom
Party leader, vilified as populist, prides himself on his "clear cut"
expressions. He wants to end the "so-called pragmatic consensus
mentality" that characterizes Dutch national culture.

Wilders says his goal is "preserving Dutch identity and Dutch
values" - this is why he opposes continued immigration as well as
far-reaching European integration.

   Contradictions surface during the conversation.

   While referring to problems Wilders says migrants have caused
the Dutch welfare state, he also argues the welfare state often
destroys people‘s personal drive to succeed, applauding the US for
"not pampering" its citizens, particularly its migrants.

   Likewise, Wilders supports the NATO-led International Security and
Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan as a means to tackle Islamic
fundamentalism and maintain international stability, but does not
expect "modernization of Islam within the next several thousand

   Despite saying he supports the ISAF mission, Wilders voted against
the extension of the Dutch ISAF mission to Afghanistan until 2010
back in November. "It is high time other countries also take
responsibility and contribute to NATO," he says.

   Wilders originally made a career in the Liberal VVD party, which
removed him late in 2004 due to his "rightist" positions.

   He subsequently established the Freedom Party and won nine of
the 150 parliamentary seats in the 2006 elections. Many polls have
suggested that he might receive up to 13 seats if elections were held

   "Freedom starts with the law and also includes embracing local
norms and values," Wilders says, "including to act against a backward
culture like that of Islam, an ideology which in my view wants to
take our freedom away from us."

   Asked whether it is possible to discuss issues that do not have
any relationship with Islam and migrants, Wilders responds: "That is
impossible, because migrants do exist, and their hypothetical absence
from Dutch reality may be my Utopia, but is not realistic."

   "Ultimately many fundamental problems in the Netherlands are
directly related to migrants, like infrastructure, traffic jams,
housing problems, the welfare state."

   Removing international trade barriers plays a fundamental role in
Wilders‘ approach towards migration.

   "I propose to stop all development aid and simultaneously ensure
developing countries can compete fairly on the world market. The
European Union should also stop its subsidies to the Polish and
French farmers.

   "Only then can developing countries build healthy, competitive
economies. This will remove the incentive to migrate to Europe."

   But Wilders does not expect the European Union to play such a
role: "The Polish and French farmers are too powerful and besides,
European migration policies are too lenient."

   The Dutch politician opposed the European constitution and also
the recently signed European treaty, believing that the EU "limits
national sovereignty."

   "I want to enter the European Parliament in the next elections - I
expect to gain one or two seats - primarily to abolish (it)."

   Wilders cannot name any European politician he feels close to.

   "As a liberal, I feel close to the conservatives and liberals, but
I am not sure they want to cooperate with me. I definitely would not
like to work with Le Pen and like-minded parties - fascists - in
whose category many people mistakenly place my party."

   Following his call in August to ban the Koran as a "fascist book,"
Wilders recently announced he is producing a film about the Muslim
holy scriptures which will be released later this month.

   "I receive death threats daily. My opinions are strong, but I am
not violent. Still, I have to live with personal security guards
around the clock.

   "I lost several friends because they feared to become a target
too. It also affects my family. That is particularly painful. What I
miss most in my life today? Freedom."