Dutch Freedom Party unable to form coalition

Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) abandoned attempts to form a majority coalition in the town of Almere after it emerged the largest party in municipal elections March 3. No other party was willing to accept the party’s controversial agenda. As a result, the Freedom Party will stand in the opposition. The party also enjoyed success in the Hague during the recent elections, and local leader Sietse Fritsma announced that it is open for “all constructive proposals” from other parties in the city to form a ruling coalition.
Divisive issues preventing a coalition include the party’s demand for urban “commando” presence on the city’s streets, a headscarf ban in public buildings, and local tax cuts.
Earlier this week Wilders faced opposition from the mayor of the German town Monschau after spending the weekend in the region. Mayor Margareta Ritter said that the politician was not welcome in the town, as she was concerned that his presence would “tainted her town with the suspicion that it was sympathetic to his views”, DPA reports

Ex-Muslim joins rightwing Freedom Party

Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders confirmed Thursday that ex-Muslim Ehasan Jami, 24, has joined the party, which is highly critical of Islam. DPA reports that the self-identified ex-Muslim and critic of Islam may run for a council seat in The Hague in the upcoming 2010 local elections, or may enter politics following the general elections of 2011.

Jami was previously a member of the left-wing Labour party, but was expelled in 2007 after writing an op-ed essay together with Wilders in which they compared Mohammed with Adolf Hitler.

Wilders Proposes “Headscarf Tax”

Controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders told parliament on Wednesday that Muslim women should pay to wear a headscarf. He suggested that any Muslim woman who wants to wear a headscarf should have to apply for a license and pay 1 000 euros for the privilege, Radio Netherlands and DPA report. Wilders says the money raised would go toward women’s emancipation programmes. He added the fine was meant to “demotivate” people from wearing Muslim attire. Wilders, leader of the liberal-right Freedom Party PVV, made his remarks during a parliamentary debate about the government’s budget plans.

DutchNews and Euranet covered the angry responses of other politicians to the proposal, reporting that Liberal Democrat leader Alexander Pechtold “asked himself if Wilders was serious”. The politician called Wilders’ proposal xenophobic and racist. GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema said the speech was “vulgar” and Minister of Housing, Communities and Integration Eberhard van der Laan called it “hysterical”.

Travelling Iftar Dinners Bring Together Muslims and Non-Muslims

Thousands of non-Muslims are to dine with Muslim families during the month of Ramadan as part of an intercultural dialogue festival in the Netherlands. The dinners are a central component of the Ramadan Festival, which has staged public events throughout the month of Ramadan in several Dutch cities for the past five years. The festival has seen overwhelming public response and is supported by, among others, the Chamber of Commerce and the Amsterdam municipality.

Hospitality iftar dinners were initially offered by Muslims who invited non-Muslims to their homes in small gatherings because “most non-Muslims have never had dinner with Muslims or vice versa,” Aicha Lagha, chairwoman of the Ramadan Festival, told DPA. With increasing interest, those who want to join an iftar dinner can now apply for a seat at the festival website, where Muslims can also sign up as hosts for others. And this year an iftar caravan, a bus decorated in the famous traditional Dutch Delft-blue colors, will travel from town to town to offer iftars to thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims.

Neo-Nazis and their opponents protest in Cologne

The West German city of Cologne experienced two demonstrations today. One was a gathering of several hundred promoters of the extreme right protesting against Muslims in Germany and a planned mosque in Cologne. Several thousand people also gathered for a counter-protest called by politicians, church officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations. No serious incidents were reported. The events were monitored by 5 600 police officers, including police on horseback.

The promoters of the extreme right were convening a so-called “Anti-Islamic Congress”. In their speeches, they called Germany a “dictatorship of political correctness”. Extreme left-wing individuals tried to disrupt the gathering, but police did not let the anarchists reach the neo-Nazis, preventing a repeat of the violence of September 2008 that accompanied the first “Anti-Islamic Congress”. This time police did not permit the right-wing radicals to come near Cologne House and told them they had to hold their event at a different place in Cologne. A march to the Cologne mosque, now under construction and a particular thorn in the side of the neo-Nazis, was also forbidden. Both bans were upheld by first-instance courts and, in the early hours of Saturday, by the German Constitutional Court as well. According to DPA, experts are warning against the neo-Nazis’ “undemocratic and xenophobic ideology.” This was also why the counter-protest of several thousand people took place, refusing “to leave the streets to the brown birds”, a reference to the brown shirts worn by members of the “Hitler Youth”, the erstwhile youth organization of the fascist NSDAP.

“Today’s signal is clear: Democrats are united against right-wing radicalism, racism and instigation,” Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the German Green Party, told DPA. Mayor Fritz Schramma declared that there is no room in Cologne for an extreme-right ideological platform.

Muslims to overtake Protestants in Austria, study says

Austria’s Muslim community continues to grow, and according to a study by the Austrian Society for International Understanding, Islam will overtake Protestantism as the country’s second-largest religious group by 2010. Christian religions had to suffer a massive decline in membership over the last 30 years, the study said. According to the 1971 census 6.49 million Austrians were Catholic. By 2006 that number had shrunk to 5.63 million. The number of Protestants went down by 120,000 to 326,000 faithful during the same period. At the same time, the number of Muslims in Austria increased 15-fold – from 22,200 in 1971 to around 400,000 in 2006, the study was quoted by DPA as saying.

Germans release Iraqi Kurd terrorist after four years (DPA)

An Iraqi Kurd convicted on a terrorism charge after his arrest in 2003 has been released early on parole after assisting police in other terrorism cases, a German judge said Tuesday. The man has been named only as Lokman M, aged 33, and is reported to be the first member of a foreign terrorist organization to be convicted in Germany. Arrested in December 2003, he was sentenced to seven years in January 2006 by a Munich court for membership of the Ansar Al Islam group, which is based in northern Iraq along the border with Iran. Lokman M was convicted under a law that was passed in August 2002, following the September 11 attacks the previous year.