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social sciences

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Fortuyn, Pim (1948-2002)  
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Political Fall and Rise

Fortuyn identified with a wide political spectrum. He was a one-time communist and Marxist, became a member of the Dutch Labor Party, and eventually joined the Leefbaar Nederland (Livable Netherlands), a populist anti-establishment party that advocated greater democratic participation, less bureaucracy, and more civil liberties. For the federal election in May 2002, Fortuyn was chosen to be the party's leader.

Three months before the election, Fortuyn gave a controversial interview to the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant. In this interview, he was quoted as favoring the end of Muslim immigration. He also was said to want to discard the first article of the Dutch constitution, which outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other characteristics.

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Amid charges that he had come close to hate speech in this interview, Fortuyn was dismissed from the party ticket.

Fortuyn himself later clarified that he did not want to discard the first article of the Dutch constitution, but that he valued article 7, which guarantees free speech, more highly than he did the anti-discrimination clause. He also pointedly distanced himself from extremist politicians who attacked Muslims.

The day after being dismissed as leader of Leefbaar Nederland, Fortuyn formed his own party, the Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF). His platform called for deporting immigrants unwilling to assimilate in Dutch society, dismantling parts of the welfare state, eliminating subsidies for immigrant community centers and other programs, improving health care, hiring more teachers, increasing efforts against crime, and implementing mandatory service--either military or civilian--for all young people.

In local elections in Rotterdam (a Labor Party stronghold) in March 2002, Fortuyn's party won 36% of the vote. For the first time since World War II, the Labor Party was forced from power in Rotterdam. The success of the LPF there was particularly remarkable, for almost half the population of Rotterdam is foreign, suggesting that Fortuyn also drew considerable support from ethnic voters. For example, a black woman from Surinam was elected to the local government on Fortuyn's ticket.

A huge victory in the federal election in May seemed a foregone conclusion, and even a Fortuyn administration was discussed. During the pre-election debates, the smug and complacent old guard politicians could hardly hide their frustration with and contempt for Fortuyn, which only heightened his maverick appeal to many voters.

As the LPF rose in the polls, some politicians and journalists began to demonize Fortuyn and compared him to such right-wing European leaders as France's Jean-Marie Le Pen or Austria's Jörg Haider. Fortuyn's political orientation, however, was far more complicated than these attacks suggested and the comparisons were patently unfair.

Fortuyn never talked about "fatherland" or traditional family values. Nor was he a conservative ideologue. In fact, he blended his suspicion about foreign influence with a decidedly liberal attitude on a number of issues. This is why, for example, some openly gay teachers supported him because they were afraid of the hostility of Muslim students they faced in Dutch schools. Moreover, Fortuyn repeatedly rejected the "right-wing" label, insisting that his ideology was pragmatism.


Fortuyn's views on Islam, which are expressed in his book Against the Islamisation of 0ur Culture (first published in 1997, with multiple new editions and reprints but not available in English translation), sparked the greatest controversy. In this book, Fortuyn dismisses Islam as a "backward" religion, speaks of waging a "war" against that faith, and proposes strict restrictions on immigration from Islamic countries.

Many people wondered why an openly gay person would be so critical of another minority. The answer is that Fortuyn saw several tenets of Islam as threatening the liberal secular society of the Netherlands, particularly the country's celebrated support of women's rights, glbtq issues, and the separation of church and state.

Many agreed with Fortuyn that Islamic fundamentalism posed a threat. Moreover, what else than "backward" should one call a society that executes gay people by public hanging or stoning? (Of course, Fortuyn was being selective here, focusing on the most extremist Muslim regimes, notably Iran and the Taliban, rather than on the more moderate Islamic societies.)

Still, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism came not only from abroad. In May 2001, for example, a radical Moroccan imam preached in Rotterdam that homosexuality was a contagious disease that threatened the Dutch population with extinction. Not surprisingly, soon afterwards there were a number of gay bashings by Muslim youths. Another imam, featured on the cover of Fortuyn's book, declared that gay people should be put to death if at least four people witnessed them engaging in sodomy.

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