A Dutch former MP and right-hand man of far-right politician Geert Wilders has shocked his supporters by announcing he has converted to Islam.
Joram van Klaveren, who once called Islam ‘the biggest disease to have hit our country in the last hundred years’ was an MP for Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) from 2010 to 2017.
During that time, Van Klaveren fought a relentless campaign against Islam in the Dutch Parliament, calling for bans of both the Muslim face-veil and minarets, which are slim towers often seen on mosques.
But the 40-year-old said he had changed his mind halfway through writing a-book criticising Islam, when he found out he had more in common with the religion than he initially thought.
Van Klaveren said: ‘I looked at the Bible on my bookshelf, on the table were books about the Prophet Muhammad.
‘The prior years I had a big aversion to Islam. When you then have to conclude that you were wrong, it is not a fun moment.
‘But while searching for God I always felt a certain unease. And that slowly disappeared. It felt a bit like coming home in a religious way.’
Van Klaveren, who grew up in a reformed protestant family, said he is ‘very sorry that he contributed to giving people a false image about Islam’.
He said that the manuscript of the Islam-critical book he initially planned to write has since been thrown into a rubbish bin and will be replaced by a book in which he will counter the arguments of critics of Islam.
Van Klaveren said that the analysis which he made as a far-right MP that most problems in the country and the world can be blamed on Islam were false.
He said: ‘That was just the policy of the Party for Freedom: everything which was not right had to be linked one way or another to Islam.’
The Dutchman said that his wife had accepted his conversion and that he does not plan to force her or their two children to make the same decision as they are free to determine their own life.
He said: ‘I never wanted to impose Christianity and I won’t do it with Islam either.’
Van Klaveren said he ‘did not suddenly become a lefty’ and still holds dear many of his old views as his conversion is purely a personal religious matter.
He said: ‘I suddenly get questions like: do you hate gays? Will you go to Syria as well? Can you pet a dog?
‘I contributed to maintaining and feeding a bad image of Islam, but you cannot realise how these prejudices work until you have to deal with them yourself.’
Van Klaveren’s former political leader Geert Wilders was critical about the conversion and tweeted an image of the Saudi Arabian flag writing ‘for all converts, read carefully’.
Wilders replaced the calligraphic script of the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith which reads ‘there is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God’ which normally features on the Saudi flag.
Instead, he wrote, in Arabic,: ‘Islam is a lie, the prophet [Muhammad] is a criminal, the Koran is poison.’
Van Klaveren split with Wilders in 2014 after the PVV leader’s controversial comments that year when asking supporters whether they wanted ‘fewer or more Moroccans in your city and the Netherlands’.
Wilders in 2016 was found guilty on discrimination charges. The sentence is currently being appealed.
Van Klaveren then went on to form his own far-right party called ‘For Netherlands’ (VNL) but left politics after failing to win a single seat in the 2017 elections.
‘If this really isn’t a PR stunt to promote his book, then it really is an extraordinary choice for somebody who had a lot to say about Islam,’ his former VNL co-founder Jan Roos told the AD.
‘But we have religious freedom in the Netherlands. He can worship whomever he wants,’ Roos added.
Said Bouharrou, who serves on the Board of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, praised Van Klaveren.
‘It is great when somebody who has been so critical of Islam… realises that it is not so bad or perverse,’ he told the Algemeen Dagblad (AD).
‘It is brave that he’s prepared to do it in public,’ Bouharrou said.
Around five percent of the Dutch population of 17 million people or some 850,000 are Muslim, according to the Dutch Central Statistics Bureau (CBS).
The Netherlands also last year introduced a partial burqa ban from some public places such as schools and hospitals, ending years of discussions on the hot-button issue.
Van Klaveren is not the first high-profile PVV member to convert to Islam, and follows in the footsteps of Arnoud van Doorn, a former Hague-based PVV city councillor who switched in 2013.
Van Klaveren could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.