The assassination of someone few of us ever heard of until this week may be the most portentous event in European politics since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
While the America media treated the better-than-expected showing of aging French rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen in the French presidential elections as an event of world historical proportions, so far it has treated the cold-blooded murder of Pim Fortuyn as a relatively minor story.
The overplaying of Le Pen and the underplaying of Fortuyn stem from the same elite ignorance about what is going on in Europe, and to a certain extent, in America. Mass immigration, especially from Muslim countries, is dividing Western societies across the ideological spectrum.
Pim Fortuyn, who was shot five times on Monday apparently by a fringe environmentalist left-winger, was a rising political star who championed homosexual rights, favored the legalization of many drugs and the further liberalization of Holland's euthanasia laws.
Yes, Fortuyn was also for lower taxes and looked at the European Union with skepticism, but those positions alone don't get you called a "fascist," even in Europe. Indeed, Fortuyn was an openly gay man, something you don't normally associate with the forces of reaction. But Fortuyn was called a fascist - and worse - simply because he took a hard line on immigration.
"I'm not anti-Muslim, I'm not anti-immigration; I'm saying we've got big problems in our cities. It's not very smart to make the problem bigger by letting in millions more immigrants from rural Muslim cultures that don't assimilate," he recently told London's Daily Telegraph. "In any case," he said, Holland "is already bursting. I think 16 million are quite enough."
Fortuyn couldn't stand being compared to France's Le Pen, and no doubt the staunch Catholic reactionary Le Pen took little joy in being compared to a gay guy who bragged about his sexual exploits with men of all ethnicities. Still, the two were linked in countless dispatches simply because they both were called right-wing extremists by their detractors and because they argued that immigration is a problem for their respective societies.
In Europe, immigration is far more of a taboo subject than it is here in America. Those who hoped to keep it that way were delighted when Le Pen was crushed in an electoral landslide over the weekend. Le Pen is old, pious and nostalgic for the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazis. His defeat was inevitable in increasingly secular France.
Fortuyn, however, was funny, clever and socially liberal. Central to his campaign was his desire to start a debate on the problems, real and perceived, of immigration for a small, tolerant, nation like Holland. His murder may further stifle such a debate or it may force it into the open.
The Associated Press reported on April 29 that Fortuyn was "out of place" in a country "which has a reputation for liberalism." Fortuyn would have reversed that formulation. It was his argument that he was the indispensable Dutchman. Fortuyn liked to call himself the "Samuel Huntington of Dutch politics" because he endorsed the thesis of Huntington's famous 1996 book "The Clash of Civilizations."
Fortuyn believed that poor immigrants, primarily from Muslim countries, were a threat to the qualities that made Holland earn its reputation for liberalism. So in a sense, Fortuyn was denounced as "ultra-conservative" solely because he was such a devoted defender of liberalism.
Indeed, it's ironic that Fortuyn invoked Huntington. In a 1957 essay titled, "Conservatism as an Ideology," Huntington noted that conservatism lacks an inherent ideal. "No political philosopher has ever described a conservative utopia," wrote Huntington. Unlike socialism, Marxism and Islamic fundamentalism, conservatism merely aims to preserve that which is deemed worth preserving in a given society. As Huntington noted, bona fide "conservatives" in America, Great Britain and Portugal each want to conserve very different things.
This dynamic has long driven American conservatives nuts. Hard-line communists in Russia and China, for example, are always called "conservatives" even though they believe the exact opposite of what American conservatives believe. This is why Huntington and other thinkers such as Friedrich Hayek, argued that conservatives in America are true lovers of liberty because we want to conserve those institutions that guarantee freedom.
Indeed, a "conservative" within a liberal institution is often that institution's biggest defender. Liberal college professors, for example, often learn this lesson when they stand up for academic standards and free speech against the leftwing radicals who wish to silence opponents and establish speech codes.
Similarly, you can think of Fortuyn as a gay college professor (actually, he
was a gay college professor) at a very liberal school called "Holland." Fortuyn believed that admitting too many people who don't respect Holland's rules was a bad idea. Though he never said anything derogatory about any racial or ethnic group, he argued that contemporary Islam is grossly intolerant of women, gays and cultural liberalism in general.
One can disagree with Fortuyn's view of Islam or Muslim immigrants or the threat either pose to Dutch culture. But you can't say that he was an enemy of tolerance; instead, he was a martyr to it.