Geert Wilders could yet bring about the collapse of Holland's fragile coalition government – and his Islam-hating is part of a wider European trend
In the old days, the Dutch word for tolerance was applied to benign things like cannabis-selling coffee shops. It now has a darker use. This week a minority centre-right coalition signed a "tolerance" agreement with Geert Wilders, Europe's leading Islam-hater. The deals hacked out between the Dutch Christian Democrats and the rightwing VVD party do not mean that Wilders' Freedom party will get seats in cabinet. But the minority coalition will depend on the support of the anti-immigration party's 24 seats in parliament.
What does Wilders get in return? Stricter immigration controls, a ban on burqas, and conditional passports for new immigrants (which may violate EU regulations). As to the rest of Wilders' loathsome menu – mass deportations of Muslims, banning the Qur'an, and taxing headscarves – the new coalition agrees to disagree. Hence the use of the word tolerance.
This is a recipe for political instability. As it is, a coalition which commands a majority of one in parliament is made up of two Christian Democrat dissidents, one of whom said recently: "In a divided country, we mustn't give Wilders a platform with this construction to preach his message of hatred against Islam." This is exactly what is about to happen. The moment Wilders opens his mouth in parliament again on his pet topic, the new coalition could be on the brink of collapse.
Wilders, meanwhile, has another platform of which he has been making good use this week. On trial for five charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims, for likening the Qur'an to Mein Kampf and describing Islam as fascist, Wilders tried and failed to get the judge dismissed for bias. The trial has no bearing on the parliamentary maths, because even if he is convicted – and most likely fined – he will keep his seat. But it does allow Wilders to portray himself as a martyr for free speech, even if in reality he is the bane of freedom of religion.
The nuances of Dutch parliamentary politics are likely to be lost on the wider Muslim world, especially where it matters in the blogosphere. The last time Wilders tried to create a storm of Danish-cartoon dimensions with a film, Fitna, which accuses the Qur'an of inciting violence, Muslims active on the web were prevailed upon to douse the flames of anger. Would they do this the next time around, now that Wilders has written himself such a central role in the script of Dutch politics? Wilders is not a new phenomenon. As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek wrote in the Guardian this week, he is part of a European trend in which centrism is being challenged by populist neofascism. What happens in the Netherlands in the coming months deserves a wider audience.