On May 6, 2002, a Dutch sociologist and writer turned politician named Pim Fortuyn was gunned down in a parking lot in Hilversum in the Netherlands. He had just come from an interview (Hilversum, outside of Amsterdam, is the headquarters of the Dutch electronic media), one of many he had given in previous weeks in advance of the general election, which was scheduled for May 15. Despite the relentless smear campaign directed against him by the Dutch political and media establishment, Fortuyn’s party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, was doing extremely well in the polls, and it looked as though, barring a major upset, he would actually become the next prime minister of the Netherlands.
The prospect was remarkable, for more reasons than one. For one thing, if Fortuyn won, he would be the first openly gay head of state or government of any country in the world, ever. But under the circumstances, his sexual orientation was barely more than a footnote. What really mattered, and what gave hope to so many voters in his country and to observers around the world, was that Fortuyn was a social scientist who had gone into politics for one reason and one reason only: because he saw that the precipitous rise of Islam in the West, and especially in his own nation, was a catastrophic development, and he was determined to do everything he could to preserve the liberty and equality that he cherished before it was too late.
An extremely intelligent, well-educated, and charismatic man, graced with humor and gifted with an extraordinary courage that enabled him to withstand the most brutal and unfair assaults from his ideological enemies, Fortuyn was poised, some of us felt, to become a Churchill – a hero of freedom who would inspire his fellow European heads of government to follow his lead. There were those of us who saw him as the man who might well save Europe. But those dreams were dashed in a moment, ten years ago last Sunday.
Time is relentless. It all seems so long ago now. Fortuyn’s murder followed 9/11 by only a few months. Throughout his election campaign, the events of that day were fresh in all of our minds. Some of us, to be sure, had been clued into the seriousness of what we were up against even before the Twin Towers were taken down – but even for us, 9/11 brought the crisis of the West into sharper relief, and made the importance of Fortuyn’s political quest even more obvious. He was the one major politician out there – not only in his country, but in any country – who was speaking, without hesitation, euphemism, or equivocation, the uncomfortable truths that needed to be spoken. And then – suddenly – he was gone.
The assassinations of certain people raise questions of historic dimensions. What would have happened with Reconstruction if Lincoln had lived to oversee it? What direction would race relations in America have taken if Martin Luther King, Jr., had not been cut down? The same kinds of questions attend upon the murder of Wilhelmus Simon Petrus Fortuyn. What would have happened to the Netherlands, to the Europe, to the West, during the first decade of the twenty-first century had he survived to become the prime minister of the Netherlands? The power of his rhetoric, of his mind, and of his personality, was beyond dispute. The power of his example as a prime minister, many of us believed, could be equally formidable. Fortuyn, we felt, might well prove to be the man who would chart a courageous, humane, and workable way forward out of the mess that Europe had gotten itself into.
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