e will not be able to gauge the full impact of Pim Fortuyn's murder on European politics until we know who killed him, and why. Dutch police have arrested a Dutch-born white male in connection with the crime, but he's not talking. Whoever he turns out to be, the fact that a popular anti-immigration politician was assassinated during a campaign in one of Europe's most civil and tolerant nations is seismic on its own.
Fortuyn's legion of enemies denounced him as a fascist and a racist, partly for his tough-on-crime policies, but mostly for his belief that immigration should stop, and that immigrants particularly Muslims, whose views on women and gays he considered barbaric should be pressed harder to assimilate into Dutch life. Immigration and assimilation of Third World immigrants: These are and will continue to be tremendously important issues for Europe, particularly as its population ages with the native birth rate remaining below replacement level. Whether Fortuyn's murderer turns out to have Islamic connections or is part of the extreme Left, the sobering truth is that Europe democratic, gun-controlling Europe is a place where questioning the immigration status quo will not only get you branded a fascist by the news media, it will get you shot dead.
It is hard to overestimate the psychological impact the killing is having in Holland, a bourgeois and orderly country that prides itself on tolerance.
"We were a quiet, normal country, where we never had any big criminal things happening," says Marnix Kort, 36, of Haarlem. "This changes everything. We have become a banana republic in an instant."
"Things like this don't happen in Holland. It's like the 11th of September for us. Everybody thought this couldn't be, but we see that it is possible. I feel very insecure," said Miriam Jeurissen, 34, who lives in a suburb of Amsterdam.
A woman who answered the phone at Fortuyn campaign headquarters [http://www.pim-fortuyn.nl] last night said things were too chaotic there, and that no one would be able to speak to the foreign press until today. Through her tears, she said, "It's unbelievable that someone gets killed only for saying what they believe."
What Fortuyn said and believed rocked the normally staid world of Dutch politics, which has for many decades been built around coalitions of parties representing traditional Dutch constituencies Catholics, Protestants, Socialists, and smaller parties. In practice, this has resulted in an increasingly ossified statist government overseen by elitist political class which, as in France and other European democracies, a growing number of voters see as unresponsive to its desires.
"Pim Fortuyn was reacting strongly against a highly organized communal politics," says Erik Jones, a Netherlands expert at the University of Nottingham. "What he was arguing for was more of a sense of individualism, but within the context of a strong monoculturalism. He argued that the Dutch needed to do away with all this consensus, and just voice their opinions but to do so within the general framework of Dutch culture."
To do that, Fortuyn challenged one of the fundamental principles of liberal Dutch culture: Thou shalt not be seen as intolerant. Immigration and immigration-related crime are not new problems in the Netherlands, but the ability to speak openly about it is. For years, the ruling elite, which includes the media, has made discussion of the growing immigration problem taboo, on pain of being branded a crypto-Nazi.
As recently as last week, Fortuyn denounced this paralyzing political correctness, telling an interviewer that "everywhere in Europe, socialists and the extreme left have forbidden the discussion of the problems of multicultural society."
"Professor Pim," a 54-year-old, openly gay, ex-Marxist professor turned newspaper columnist, emerged as an unlikely spokesman for anti-immigration sentiment in the Netherlands, where immigrants, many of them Muslims from Turkey and North Africa, make up 10 percent of the densely populated nation of 16 million.
Unlike France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, to whom he was often unfairly likened, Fortuyn was a free-marketeer who preached lower taxes and deregulation. He promised to get tough on crime, return the police to local control, and impose stricter standards on the educational system. Fortuyn, who frequented gay bars in his hometown of Rotterdam, was an unapologetic libertine who stood firmly behind Dutch beliefs in a liberal, tolerant society, but he maintained that Muslims and other immigrants who refused to accommodate themselves to Dutch values were a threat to liberty.
Kicked out of his original party for anti-Islamic statements he once called Islam a "backward religion" for its treatment of women and gays, and authored a best-seller, "Against the Islamicization of our Culture Fortuyn founded his own political party, List Pim Fortuyn, and shocked political observers by taking a third of the seats in Rotterdam municipal elections this in a city where 45 percent of the electorate are not ethnically Dutch.
"If you look at his electoral list [of candidates], it was a case study in ethnic diversity," Jones says. "He sounded right-wing, but at the end of the day he was more about individual responsibility versus collective responsibility, as opposed to 'we hate foreigners.'"
Indeed, Fortuyn polled surprisingly well among ethnic voters, particularly small businessmen worried about crime brought by newer immigrants. Twenty percent of the votes at one Rotterdam mosque that served as a polling place went for Fortuyn. Said Kort, "We had black people on TV saying they will vote for him because he's doing something for black people who work for a living. He was against freeloaders."
"If anything, he was a libertarian, and that flew in the face of 50 years of collectivist tradition in the Netherlands," says analyst John Huslman of the Heritage Foundation.
The telegenic Fortuyn's media skills ("Imagine a gay Pat Buchanan," says Jones) sometimes slipped into demagogy, but were effective. In a recent televised debate with an imam, Fortuyn baited the Muslim cleric by flaunting his homosexuality. Finally the imam exploded, denouncing Fortuyn in strongly anti-homosexual terms. Fortuyn calmly turned to the camera and, addressing viewers directly, told them that this is the kind of Trojan horse of intolerance the Dutch are inviting into their society in the name of multiculturalism.
"They effect was galvanizing," says Jones. The September 11 attacks in America also made voters more open to Fortuyn's warning about the danger Islam poses to the open society.
"I'm not anti-Muslim, I'm not anti-immigration; I'm saying we've got big problems in our cities," Fortuyn said last month. "It's not very smart to make the problem bigger by letting in millions more immigrants from rural Muslim cultures that don't assimilate."
Though Muslim extremists seem the natural suspects in the killing, Fortuyn had many enemies. The Dutch press demonized him as "the Dutch Haider," even though Fortuyn distanced himself from the controversial Austrian rightist, denouncing anti-Semitism and vowing strong support for Israel.
To some on the left, the rise of Fortuyn in the polls some analysts expected him to emerge from the May 15 elections as a major player in the next coalition government signaled the advent of fascism. To understand how hysterical this view is in an American context, you have to realize that Fortuyn is to the left of most Democrats here.
In his obituaries, Fortuyn is being described as a "far right" or "hard right" politician, which is nonsense. Fortuyn routinely made the point that it was inaccurate and foolish to put all anti-establishment politicians in Europe into the same "far-right" camp.
He was right, but it's in the interest of the political establishment in Europe to demonize challengers like Fortuyn as neo-fascist, thus delegitimating their ideas without having to engage these ideas democratically. A Belgian government official reacted to the Fortuyn murder by cautioning politicians to be more careful about how they campaign implicitly blaming Fortuyn for his own assassination. This will not last, particularly when the average voters believe people like Fortuyn are a liberating presence in the stultified, statist world of European politics.
"I wouldn't have voted for him, but he was a fresh breeze through the whole political scene," says Jeurissen, a stay-at-home mom. "If somebody has a different view, and makes people aware that there's a different way to think about things, that's okay."
The fact that that anodyne opinion that freedom of speech is an acceptable part of democratic society is enough to get a man killed in today's Europe should shock the conscience of the continent. Fortuyn may or may not be a martyr in the war against fundamentalist Islam, but he is almost certainly a martyr in the war on political correctness. European populations are aging, and cannot maintain their welfare states without massive immigration; immigration from Islamic countries threatens to change European values inalterably. Fortuyn said Europe cannot avoid confronting these realities. He may be a more powerful force for change by the way he died than he would have been had he lived.
"The clock is ticking in Europe, and is ticking in a democratic way," says Hulsman. "Maybe now is the time to begin real dialogue about immigration, crime and culture, because if a real one isn't begun, these impulses that can't be processed through democratic institutions are going to have ugly manifestations. This is the problem in Europe: nothing of real significance is ever discussed by the political elites."