In a recent interview with the country' s business newspaper NRC Handelsblad, one of the former leading men from the Dutch right-wing Freedom Party (PVV) and a reported right-hand man to its head Geert Wilders, Joram van Klaveren has revealed his reasons for converting to Islam. The politician joined the community of Muslim believers, Umma, in October 2018 when he pronounced the so-called shahada.
Before this van Klaveren had been a vocal critic of Islam as a PVV member, supporting a burqa- and minaret-ban in the country’s parliament and referring to Islam as an ideology of terror, death, and destruction. He is also known for initiating the “Moroccan debates” in the House of Representatives over the high proportion of criminals of Moroccan descent. Although van Klaveren broke with the PVV following controversial remarks by its leader Wilders, who asked if his supporters wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and the Netherlands", in 2014, he remained a member of an Islam-critical group and stuck to his right-wing stance on the religion.
The conversion came after he quit politics to write a book that was initially intended to be an anti-Islam work, unmasking violence, anti-Semitism, contempt of women, homophobia, assumed to be justified in Islam.
But as NRC reports, citing the author, then a Protestant that halfway through his research, he had to rewrite it as his views had drastically changed. The final release, branded a refutation of objections that non-Muslims have against Islam, is called “Apostate: From Christianity to Islam in the Time of Secular Terror”.
According to van Klaveren, the realisation was not a happy moment for him, as he had “developed a great aversion to Islam”, by then, but in the end, it “felt a bit like coming home, in a religious sense”. Van Klaveren said that his wife had accepted him being a Muslim, pointing out that she was not so happy with him being a member of the PVV. When asked about his former political allies, he said that he anticipated that many people would not react enthusiastically.
Speaking about criticism against Islam, including anti-Semitism, women's oppression, violence, he insisted that many of these negative believes originated in medieval Europe, when “Christians saw Islam as a competitive religion”. He also agreed that he thought Islam to be an enrichment for the Netherlands, pointing out, however, that “much of Islam that you see now is coloured by Wahabism”.
“It is very unfortunate because that is a very puritan view of Islam, extreme in the eyes of many people. The majority of Dutch Muslims are of course not Wahabitian. They do not withdraw from social life and do not think that everyone who is non-Muslim is wrong or scary.There are so many prejudices about real Islam”, he said in the interview, admitting that he is responsible for painting Islam in dark colours and saying he could not brush that aside.
Despite his conversion, he still referred to Christianity as a beautiful belief and denied he had made “a left turn”, pledging allegiance to right-wing values, including low taxes and minimal government interference as well as the immigration policy aimed to let in people who can add something to society. He also denounced the idea that Islam should be banished from the Netherlands, which he once submitted a motion for.
He also refuted his assumptions in the “Moroccan debates” when he linked Islam to the high crime rate, saying it was his party's policy that he describes as “connecting everything that does not work to Islam in one way or another".
However, contemplating a possible attack in the country, he concluded that “if an attacker calls himself a Muslim and looks for legitimacy in Islam, then you cannot say that it has nothing to do with it”. He traced Daesh's* roots back to the movement against moderate Islam, originating in the seventh century.
"It is not only the historical doctrine of Islam. It is important to explain that extremists are wandering. Again and again. That is difficult. People want bite-sized answers. Or have their judgment ready", he admitted, pointing out that education, including teaching Dutch, would help them to become a part of the community.
Van Klaveren’s former party ally, Wilders, who heads the Netherlands' opposition PVV, is internationally known for his anti-Prophet Muhammad remarks and controversial statements about migrants as well as promises to ban the Koran and close down mosques. In August 2017, he announced his decision to cancel a planned Prophet Muhammad cartoon competition, referring to death threats from Muslims and concerns that other people might be in danger. Wilders' plans for the cartoon contest sparked fierce opposition from the Muslim world, especially Pakistan, given that physical depictions of God and the Prophet Muhammad are forbidden in Islam.
*Daesh (IS/ISIS/ISIl/Islamic State) and Taliban — terrorist groups banned in Russia