A far-right politician in the Netherlands who rose to political prominence on the back of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, has shocked commentators and former party comrades after revealing that he converted to Islam.
Joram Van Klaveren had previously denounced Islam as “a lie” and blasted the Muslim holy book, the Quran, as “poison.”
Van Klaveren’s one-time mentor, the Netherlands Freedom Party (PVV) leader and Islamophobic demagogue Geert Wilders, likened the conversion to “a vegetarian going to work in a slaughterhouse,” according to RTL TV.
“It’s up to him of course. But it’s good that he left the PVV five years ago, otherwise it would have been time for him to go now.” Wilders added, “I expect a lot but I didn’t see this coming.”
However, it appears more likely that the 40-year-old’s conversion was more a case of the butcher in the slaughterhouse becoming a vegan.
Van Klaveren found solace in the religion halfway through writing an anti-Islam book, which transformed into “a refutation of objections non-Muslims have,” he told Dutch daily NRC.
“If you believe in one god and that Mohammed was a prophet, alongside Jesus and Moses, then you are a Muslim,” the former Protestant Christian added.
Van Klaveren converted last October, but his revelations come prior to the release of his new book, Apostate: From Christianity to Islam in the Time of Secular Terror.
While serving as a minister in the Dutch parliament from 2010 to 2014, Van Klaveren called for a ban on both minarets and burqas, but parted ways with Wilders and the PVV after the controversial figure asked supporters at a 2014 rally whether they wanted fewer Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands, upon which supporters responded “fewer.”
A smiling Wilders then responded: “Then we’ll fix it.”
In 2016, the bleached-blonde politician was convicted for inciting hatred and discrimination during the speech. Yet this hasn’t stopped Wilders from demanding a Europe-wide Muslim travel ban inspired by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Van Klaveren has backed away from his previous comments aimed at Islam, describing them as “simply incorrect” and the result of politics that were bent on depicting all social ills as a product of Islam and Muslims. He noted:
“But that was PVV policy: everything that did not work had to be linked to Islam in one way or another.”
Around five percent of the Netherlands’ population of 17 million people, or about 850,000, are Muslim, according to government figures. Despite that, the country has introduced partial burqa bans in certain public places, such as in hospitals and schools.
Members of the Muslim community have welcomed Van Klaveren’s conversion.
Said Bouharrou, who serves on the Board of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, told daily tabloid Algemeen Dagblad:
“It is great when somebody who has been so critical of Islam… realizes that it is not so bad or perverse. It is brave that he’s prepared to do it in public.”