Administration’s policies of Fear and Division Challenged in The Netherlands.

Peter Hoekstra, a former Republican member of Congress from Michigan, was a leading supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He was rewarded by being appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands. He recently made news by saying that Muslim-controlled “no-go-zones” existed in the Netherlands, and that a Dutch politician had been burned by Muslims.

Dutch journalists called him out for his lies. He denied that he had said these things and after he was shown on tape saying them, he denied that he had denied them.

While journalists in the United States have become accustomed to politicians, led by the President, lying repeatedly and brazenly, such behavior caused a stir in The Netherlands.

The idea of Muslim no-go-zones in Europe and the United States is a popular myth in the Republican Party. It is propagated by prominent right-wing think tanks and media outlets and, by weight of sheer repetition, it has become received wisdom. I saw this last month when I testified before a congressional committee with a respectable pillar of the Republican foreign policy establishment, Dr. John Lenczowski. His testimony included reference to no-go zones, supported by footnotes to rightwing sources like the Gatestone Institute.  He also advanced the theory that Muslim immigrants are inherently untrustworthy because they may be engaged in “re-settlement jihad,” infiltrating western societies with an “obligation” to transform them.

It is hard to know whether the propagandists and politicians who pedal these myths believe what they are saying.  It probably does not matter. They believe that it is good politics.

Trump’s election and his behavior in office reveal the enduring power of the politics of fear and division. It is a mode of governance long favored by autocrats who portray themselves as the savior of the motherland under attack from hostile forces. In Russia, that hostile force is often the United States and the liberal global order it has championed. In Iran, it is forces hostile to Islam and Iranian nationalism. In Turkey, it is those who threaten the integrity and purity of the Turkish state. For Trump and his supporters, Islam, and especially Muslim immigration, are existential threats to western, Christian values and civilization.

Such binary division of the world is self-affirming. That some Muslims carry out acts of terrorism, or support organizations with alarming plans for turning the world into a global version of the Islamic State, is sufficient reason to suggest that all Muslims are suspect and might be terrorists. There are crude and more sophisticated ways of doing this. Donald Trump will declare a total ban on all Muslim immigration, or spread invented stories designed to defame Muslims. Lenczowski and others will dress up their fear-mongering with long words and academic theories, but the root of prejudice is the same.

Hoekstra was eventually persuaded to apologize. It is bad enough that apologists and propagandists lie and repeat their lies in the face of evidence to the contrary; it was even more concerning that the State Department failed to reject his dangerous, objectionable views.  While observing that Hoekstra’s views did not reflect U.S. policy, the spokesperson declined to refute them when repeatedly invited to do so at a press briefing.

At a time when state institutions in the United States are increasingly under attack from Trumpism, it is vital that they defend American ideals—and the truth. In this case, the State Department failed.   In fairness, the spokesperson was placed in an invidious position: it would have been a big deal to directly refute the words of a recent presidential appointee.  The Hoekstra incident illustrates the threat that this administration presents to the integrity of government institutions.


Published on January 18, 2018


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