An interview with Filip Dewinter caused a stir this week. Our editor Joël De Ceulaer thinks the outrage is justified, but he no longer always sees the difference with other parties.
Outrage is a great drug, one I often inhale myself. Particularly in groups, heavy ingestion leads to what I would dare to call a moral orgasm: one feels so superior to the target of indignation that one believes oneself to be eligible for immediate canonization. The devil has been condemned!
Joël De Ceulaer is editor at this newspaper and author of Hooray, democracy is not perfect! (2019) and The tragedy of power (2020).
This week that devil was called, as has been the case in recent decades, Filip Dewinter. After reading a very clever interview in Humo by colleagues Raf Liekens and Sam Ooghe, part of the left immediately became as stoned as a shrimp with pure outrage at so much rancid talk. Not unjustified. Colleague Bart Eeckhout also pointed out that the Antwerp leader of Vlaams Belang had added “a nasty pearl” to “a circle of racist statements”.
In particular, the statement that “one pack of condoms in Africa” a few years later leads to “twenty fewer illegal immigrants and ten fewer criminals” in our country, came straight from the well – although he substantiated that remark with the ecological error that we there are many on this planet. As far as Dewinter is concerned, all Palestinians may immediately leave Israel and live in one of the Arab neighboring countries. His meeting with Syrian dictator Assad was “a strategic mistake”, and he considers the fact that his idol Vladimir Putin started war “the biggest geopolitical disappointment” of his career. Well. Bah.
Political reactions came mainly from green quarters. For example, co-chair Nadia Naji talked about “a cesspool” that opened. Again: rightly so. Naji also warned that other parties – read: N-VA – are opening the door to Dewinter’s “extremist club”. And that is also correct. On what used to be called the Great Wall of China between the two parties, a mating dance has been taking place between Tom Van Grieken and Bart De Wever for months now. That doesn’t bode well.
The man who wanted to civilize Flemish nationalism by saving it from the clutches of a racist party has achieved exactly the opposite. Vlaams Belang, once again fattened by N-VA in 2019 with an election about migration, will probably soon become the largest party. The cordon will no longer hold. Certainly not locally. Maybe not Flemish either.
While we wait for the dike to break, let me throw a provocative question to the group: is the difference between what Vlaams Belang wants and what our governments are already doing today still so fundamental? Or can we gradually speak of a rather gradual distinction? To ask the question is to answer it. One does not need to have power to exert influence, and Dewinter is the most influential Flemish politician of the last thirty years. It’s not just me saying that, the late Jan Blommaert, anti-racism fighter and anti-fascist from the very beginning, also thought so.
The VB has set new standards and massaged minds. Not all ghosts, but many. Enough to infect other politicians and parties with ideas that they would have condemned in a fit of indignation if Dewinter had suggested them.
A couple of things. In Humo Dewinter says that he does not want a Muslim on a VB list. Phew. But would someone like to ask in due course whether N-VA would ever put a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf on a list? For Dewinter, someone with migration roots does not simply belong. Gosh, for N-VA, maybe? Dewinter wants to amend the Geneva Convention. Phew. But can anyone listen to De Wever’s speech at Ghent University again in 2015? Dewinter harbors unsavory, illegal ideas when it comes to asylum. But, cough cough: Vivaldi, with Groen on board, is pursuing an illegal asylum policy. Chases single men seeking asylum onto the streets. Plays hide and seek when the judge imposes penalty payments. Supports the deal with Tunisia, where migrants are chased into the desert to die.
Vooruit, once known as a social democratic party, wants to lock up children and have the police raid homes where undocumented people live. Vooruit chairman Conner Rousseau wants to link economic sanctions to the willingness of countries to take back their nationals. And because he does not want us to write it, we have to write that he apparently also thinks that the police in Sint-Niklaas should more often bring out the matrak on certain people, because they do not understand another language. They understand the language of money and the language of the matrak, those foreigners! If Dewinter had said it before, every socialist would have been glued to the ceiling.
Filip Dewinter is a racist. But hey, according to senior socialist Louis Tobback, we all are a bit like that, we recently read The last news. So anyone who thinks that things will only go wrong with Dewinter hasn’t been paying attention. If the interview in Humo shows anything, it is this: his mission is accomplished.