Former far-right Dutch MP van Klaveren tells of reactions to his conversion to Islam
Nalan Koçak – ISTANBUL
Joram van Klaveren spent several years serving far-right and anti-Islam politics in the Netherlands. But van Klaveren, once a right-hand man to Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, took the world by surprise when he announced his conversion to Islam recently. “You are like a vegetarian working in a slaughterhouse,” Wilders told van Klaveren upon his shift to his newfound faith, the former MP recalled in an interview with Hürriyet Daily News on Feb. 12.
Van Klaveren was a lawmaker for the Party of Freedom (PVV), led by the Dutch populist Wilders, from 2010 to 2014. He was seen as Wilders’ right-hand man and was also the party’s spokesperson on Islam.
“I favored Wilders’ policies especially on economy because he promised very low taxes, a smaller government etc. Of course he was critical of Islam, I was too. Because in 2004 an artist, Theo van Gogh, was killed by the people who called themselves Islamists. 9/11 and other attacks added to that. Also in my studies Islam was taught very superficially, thus I developed a wrong view on Islam. I was thinking all Muslims wanted to kill Christians,” he said, recalling the time he joined the PVV.
Van Klaveren fought a relentless campaign against Islam for many years. “I studied comparative religion at university, that’s why I took that position, but I was the spokesperson of the party on Islam. So after Wilders I was the main person who could talk about Islam. That had lasted seven-eight years.”
But his views drastically changed during a party rally in 2014.
“Wilders asked supporters ‘do you want more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands?’ Then the crowd shouted back ‘fewer, fewer, fewer.’ Wilders smiled and answered: I’ll make sure that it will happen. Then I thought it’s not about political ideology anymore, but the idea of getting rid of an ethnic group. A lot of people thought he sounded like the Nazi [Joseph] Goebbels. I thought he was crossing a line. Then I left the party,” he said.
Van Klaveren, 40, said he had changed his views halfway through writing an anti-Islam book, which morphed into a defense of the religion.
“While I was writing the book I started to make researches, then I wrote to Timothy Winter from Cambridge University, who got the name Abdul Hakim Murad after he converted to Islam. I thought he would not answer me because I was a far-right politician. But he did. After some conversations, he said: ‘The Islam you think you know is more like Wahhabism.’ I asked him: ‘What is real Islam then?’ He gave some book names that he wanted me to read; he sent me some other books. He answered my questions and opened the gates for me. I started re-writing my book,” van Klaveren added.
He said that all the stereotypes he had about Islam, including how they treat women “badly” or wanted to take over the world through terrorism, vanished in the months he read about Islam.
He said he discovered that many anti-Islam stories had no basis at all. “Then I started reading about Prophet Mohammad and his life. I discovered another Prophet Mohammad who was very gentle, very helpful, very understanding towards people who were not Muslims at all. Then I thought what I knew was not the real Islam,” he said.
“When I started socializing with imams in the Netherlands they said that I slowly turned into a Muslim, ‘believe it or not you are a Muslim,’ they told me after several conversations,” van Klaveren, who grew up in an orthodox Protestant Christian environment, said.
He took the shahadah, an oath which means “There is no God but Allah and his prophet is Mohammed,” last November. Since then he has learned some of the essential prayers. His next target is to pray five times a day. “I have to learn everything as I am a religious baby, I have the intention in the heart,” he said.
When asked how his family reacted to his decision, he said: “Some thought I went crazy. But my brother and my wife said that they feel happy for me. My grandfather is very religious. He is in sick bed now that’s why I hesitated. But he woke up one day and I was all over the news. He was in shock. Old political friends were not happy. Wilders told me that he sees me as a vegetarian working in a slaughterhouse.”