Anti-Islam group launched

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — An anti-Islam lawmaker in the Netherlands is forming an international alliance to spread his message across the West in a bid to ban immigration from Islamic countries, among other goals.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — An anti-Islam lawmaker in the Netherlands is forming an international alliance to spread his message across the West in a bid to ban immigration from Islamic countries, among other goals.

Geert Wilders told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday he will launch the movement late this year, initially in five countries: the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Germany.

“The message, ‘stop Islam, defend freedom,’ is a message that’s not only important for the Netherlands but for the whole free Western world,” Wilders said at the Dutch parliament.

Among the group’s aims will be outlawing immigration from Islamic countries to the West and a ban on Islamic Sharia law. Starting as a grass-roots movement, he hopes it eventually will produce its own lawmakers or influence other legislators.

Ayhan Tonca, a prominent spokesman for Dutch Muslims, said he feared Wilders message would fall on fertile ground in much of Europe, where anti-Islam sentiment has been swelling for years.

“So long as things are going badly with the economy, a lot of people always need a scapegoat,” Tonca said. “At the moment, that is the Muslims in Western Europe.”

Tonca called on “well meaning people in Europe to oppose this.”

Known for his bleached-blond mop of hair, Wilders is a shrewd politician who has won awards in the Netherlands for his debating skills and regularly stands up for gay and women’s rights.

But he rose to local and then international prominence with his firebrand anti-Islam rhetoric that has led to him being charged under Dutch anti-hate speech laws and banned from visiting Britain — until a court there ordered that he be allowed into the country.

He said he hopes to position the alliance between traditional conservative parties and far-right wing groups, saying that in Britain there is “an enormous gap” between the ruling Conservative Party and the far-right British National Party.

“The BNP is a party that, whatever you think of it, it’s not my party — I think it’s a racist party,” Wilders said.

Wilders, who calls Islam a “fascist” religion, has seen his support in the Netherlands soar in recent years, even while he has been subjected to round-the-clock protection because of death threats.

His Freedom Party won the biggest gains in a national election last month, coming third with 24 seats in the 150-seat Parliament, up from the nine before the election.

However, mainstream parties will not form a coalition with Wilders, leaving him on the margins of Dutch politics for the next parliamentary term.

Wilders is due to stand trial in October on hate speech charges stemming from his short Internet film “Fitna,” which denounced the Qur’an as a a fascist book that inspires terrorism. The film aroused anti-Dutch protests around the Muslim world, and he was banned for several months from entering Britain.

But he is unrepentant and said he now wants to take his message outside the Netherlands.

“The fight for freedom and (against) Islamization as I see it is a worldwide phenomenon and problem to be solved,” he said.

Wilders declined to name any of the other founders of the organization he is calling the Geert Wilders International Freedom Alliance. He said he would hold speeches in the five countries where the alliance will first launch in coming months to drum up support.

Wilders has been criticized in the Netherlands for running his party as a one-man show that is shrouded in secrecy because he holds all the reins.

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