Edition 8 March, by Lorre Luther
Joram van Klaveren, a former member of Geert Wilders’ Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) recently announced his conversion to Islam. He was a member of the Tweede Kamer, the Dutch House of Representatives, from 2010 until 2017. Before his conversion, Van Klaveren frequently criticized Islam, once calling the religion “the biggest disease that has struck our country in the last hundred years.” He now sees the faith as something that enriches the Netherlands.
Early in his political career, Van Klaveren was a member of the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD). Between 2006 and 2009 he held a seat on the municipal council of Almere. In 2010, he left the VVD, became a member of the PVV, and began representing Geert Wilders’ party in the Tweede Kamer. Four years later, in 2014, he left the PVV after Wilders’ “fewer Moroccans” speech. He remained a member of parliament and joined Louis Bontes in the two-person Van Klaveren/Bontes faction. The two subsequently formed VoorNederland (VNL), a right-of-center party that embraced traditional continental liberal ideals, including limited government and the reduction of taxes. He left the Tweede Kamer in 2017 after VoorNederland did not gain enough votes to qualify for a seat.
According to Van Klaveren, who comes from a Reformed Protestant background, his conversion was part of a search for meaning that began when he was a teenager. His engagement with Christian theology continued during his university years, when he studied religion at the Free University of Amsterdam (VU). Concepts like the Trinity made it difficult for Van Klaveren to feel spiritually at home with Christianity. Converting to Islam, he stated, was more in line with the lived reality of his religious experience. “It felt a bit like coming home, in a religious sense,” he said during an interview with newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
The path to his conversion started when Van Klaveren decided to write a book that aimed to criticize Islam. His goal was to prove the faith itself led to violence, terror and the abuse of women. Research for the book required him to critically engage with and systematically think about Islamic religious texts. This process led him to change his mind about the nature of the religion. Instead of a work providing evidence of Islam’s harmfulness, Van Klaveren wrote a book that attempts to refute the political right’s most common criticisms of the religion.
Several former colleagues expressed surprise at the announcement of the ex-politician’s conversion. Jan Roos, former head of VNL, said: “Look, I also fell in a dark hole after my failed political mission. At that point, I thought of just about everything, except converting. That just didn’t occur to me. It’s kind of like if Marianne Thieme of the Party for the Animals organized a barbecue. Or if a black man joined the Ku Klux Klan.” Hero Brinkman, a former PVV member, suggested that the conversion might be attributable to Stockholm syndrome. “It’s as if a vegetarian decided to become a butcher. What a story, eh. I really don’t know what to say,” offered Wilders.
Van Klaveren is not the first former PVV member to convert to Islam. Arnoud van Doorn took a similar step in 2013. According to Van Doorn, the PVV’s opposition to Islam creates conditions that lead to conversion. “If you study Islam to prove that it’s dangerous and evil, you’re going to automatically engage with the religion on a deeper level. Then it’s almost impossible not to see how beautiful this religion is,” he said.
Van Klaveren takes responsibility for his role in contributing to prejudice against Islam in the Netherlands, and has expressed regret for his behavior. He now believes he was wrong to identify violence as an inherent part of the religion. “When I was a member of the PVV, I argued that the faith caused that kind of behavior, but it doesn’t. I only looked at the faith politically, not religiously. And yeah, that was polarising, it’s regrettable. In hindsight, I certainly see the role I played.”
Van Klaveren is currently head of the Adam Smith Instituut, a think tank that works on political and economic issues. He’s also a regular commentator on “Dit is de Dag,” a radio program on NPO Radio 1.