Visit of Geert Wilders to Australia

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician, is visiting Australia from 19th – 22nd February.

Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician, is visiting Australia from 19th – 22nd February, sponsored by the Q Society, a shadowy organization headed by Geoff Dickson but its other contact details are not given on its website except for a postal box at Altona Gate and a Sydney phone number. It is generally considered a white supremacist organization very worried about multiculturalism and Islam. The members of the Q Society claim to be “unhyphenated Australians”.

Details about the visit are sketchy as the exact locations where Wilders will speak (Melbourne (February 19th.) Perth (February 20th) and Sydney (22nd February)) have not been publicly released. The Q Society has as its motto, “Upholding Australian Values”, and describes itself as “a secular and non-party political organization” with values opposed to “moral relativism, political correctness and divisive multiculturalism”.

Who is Geert Wilders? Born in the Netherlands with a Dutch-Indonesian heritage, he will be 50 this coming September. Raised as a Catholic, he now sees himself as an agnostic. He is seen as a successful, populist far-right leader, whose party, The Party of Freedom, won 24 seats in a 150-seat Parliament, gaining 15 per cent of the vote. In a minority government situation, he has supported the main governing party in a ‘support agreement’ but in April 2012 withdrew his support because of proposed budget cuts. His overall policies call for small government, law and order and direct democracy. A seasoned political apparatchik and now a competent political leader, he worked for a long time with the Netherland’s liberal conservative party. Despite the obvious policy similarities, he refuses to be associated with Europe’s other far-right politicians such as France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen and Austria’s Jorg Haidar in order to raise his legitimacy.

According to Wikipedia, he argues that Europe has adopted the philosophy of cultural relativism which sees all cultures as equal and which manifests itself in the false ideology of multiculturalism. He suggests, “It has made us tolerant of the intolerant”. Within this framework, he is especially opposed to Islam which he sees, not as a religion, but as imbued with a dangerous totalitarianism whose ideology essentially is to conquer by the sword and then by immigration. He speaks in colourful language about “Eurabia” and “Islam is the Trojan horse of Europe”. For him, a moderate Islam practising peace and compassion simply does not exist and cannot exist. In 2010, he started his International Freedom Alliance with the slogan, “Stop Islam, Defend Freedom” but it does not seem to have taken off.

What should be our attitude to Geert Wilders? In the spirit of free speech and democratic courtesy, he should be allowed to express his point of view. He is a Member of the Dutch Parliament, and Australia’s links with the Netherlands extend back to 1606 with the landing of the Duyfken off the Gulf of Carpentaria. Even though he voices ideas that are anathema to the interfaith movement, Australian multiculturalism is sufficiently bedded down in our society to withstand direct attacks. It is strong enough and robust enough to withstand the opinions of persons such as Geert Wilders. Silencing opposition and dissent is ultimately dangerous and counter-productive.

The danger is of either over-reacting or under-reacting. If his visit leads to sensible, robust debate based on fact and good policy for a complex pluralist society such as that of Australia, that is good. It may be an uncomfortable time for the Muslim communities and their leaders, but they have already received the support of other religious and community leaders in various meetings that have recently taken place.

One of the problems in the debate about multiculturalism is defining one’s terms. What is it? In Australia, our multicultural and economic policy is built upon the two principles of (1) commitment to Australia and (2) equality of opportunity for all, and the three underpinning dimensions of (a) maintenance and development of one’s cultural, linguistic and religious heritage (b) equal and equitable access to the nation’s resources and (c) economic efficiency or productive diversity in utilizing the knowledge and skills of all Australians, including the recently arrived, for the well-being of the Australian nation.

It is a complex policy, and that is part of the difficulty in explaining it publicly. If Geert Wilders were willing, Religions for Peace Australia would welcome explaining to him Australia’s pluralist society and its multicultural policy and take him on a trip around Melbourne to show him multiculturalism in practice. It actually is working!!

Professor Desmond Cahill, OAM.

Prof. Des Cahill, OAM, Chair of Religions for Peace Australia has been an active participant in interfaith activities and has been the Chair of Religions for Peace for 11 years. He is also Professor at the School of Global Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne.

Educated in Australia and Italy, Des Cahill, Professor of Intercultural Studies at RMIT University, has been a world leading researcher and teacher in the areas of immigrant, cross-cultural and international studies for more than three decades.

Prof. Des Cahill

Since the events of September 11th 2001, he has played a major role in researching and bringing together the various faith communities in Australia and across the world through his research and community activities. He currently chairs the Australian chapter of Religions for Peace International, the world's largest interfaith organization, and represents Australia on the executive committee of the Religions for Peace Asia - in October 2008, he was elected its Deputy Moderator by the Governing Board representing the 18 member nations including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and the two Koreas. He is a member of the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (APRO) and of the Victoria Police Multifaith Advisory Council.

In 2006, he led Melbourne's successful bid, in competition against Delhi and Singapore, to host the Parliament of the World’s Religions during 3rd - 9th December 2009, the world's largest interfaith gathering. As a consequence, he has been made an Ambassador for Club Melbourne, a group of 100 leading scientists and academics, to promote the image of Melbourne around the world.

In the 2010 Queen's Birthday Honours List, he was awarded the Order of the Medal of Australia for "services to Intercultural Education and to the Interfaith Movement". Professor Cahill is Chair, Religions for Peace Australia.

Source: © Desmond P. Cahill

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