Anti-Islam groups helped fund Dutch politician
American anti-Islam groups assisted Dutch politician Geert Wilders financially.
NEW YORK - Anti-Islam groups in America have provided financial support to Dutch politician Geert Wilders, an anti-immigration campaigner who is seeking re-election to the Dutch parliament this week.
While this is not illegal in the Netherlands, it sheds light on the international connections of Wilders, whose Freedom Party is the least transparent Dutch parliamentary group and a rallying point for Europe's far right.
Wilders' party is self-funded, unlike other Dutch parties that are subsidised by the government. It does not, therefore, have to meet the same disclosure requirements.
Groups in America seeking to counter Islamic influence in the West say they funded police protection and paid legal costs for Wilders whose party is polling in fourth place before the Sept 12 election.
Wilders' ideas - calling for a total halt to non-Western immigration and bans on Muslim headscarves and the construction of mosques - have struck a chord in mainstream politics beyond the Netherlands. France banned clothing that covers the face in April 2011 and Belgium followed suit in July of the same year. Switzerland barred the construction of new minarets following a referendum in 2009.
The Middle East Forum, a pro-Israeli think tank based in Philadelphia, funded Wilders' legal defence in 2010 and 2011 against Dutch charges of inciting racial hatred, its director Daniel Pipes said. The Middle East Forum has a stated goal, according to its website, of protecting the "freedom of public speech of anti-Islamist authors, promoting American interests in the Middle East and protecting the constitutional order from Middle Eastern threats". It sent money directly to Wilders' lawyer via its Legal Project, Pipes said.
Represented by Dutch criminal lawyer Bram Moscowitz, Wilders successfully defended himself against the charges, which were brought by prosecutors in Amsterdam on behalf of groups representing minorities from Turkey, Morocco and other countries with Muslim populations. The case heard in October 2010 was filed in response to Wilders' comments in the Dutch media about Muslims and his film "Fitna", which interlays images of terrorist attacks with quotations from the Koran and prompted protests by Muslims in Islamic countries worldwide. The court found he had stayed within the limits of free speech.
Pipes declined to say how much his group paid for Wilders' defence.
Moscowitz declined to discuss payments for Wilder's defence citing client confidentiality.
Wilders said in an emailed statement that his legal expenses were paid for with the help of voluntary donations from defenders of freedom of speech. "I do not answer questions of who they are and what they have paid. This could jeopardize their safety," Wilders said.