Joram van Klaveren, a Dutch former far-right MP and right-hand man of anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, set tongues wagging in the Netherlands on Tuesday after revealing he has converted to Islam.
For years Van Klaveren fought a relentless campaign in the Lower House against Islam in the Netherlands as a lawmaker for Wilders' party.
At the time, the “hardliner pleaded for banning the burqa and minarets, saying 'we don't want any Islam, or at least as little as possible in the Netherlands',” the daily tabloid Algemeen Dagblad (AD) said.
But the 40-year-old Van Klaveren said he had changed his mind halfway through writing an anti-Islam book.
The work “became a refutation of objections non-Muslims have” against the religion, he told the respected NRC daily on Tuesday.
“If everything I wrote up to that point is true, and I believe that, then I am a de facto Muslim,” he told the NRC.
Van Klaveren converted to Islam on October 26 last year, the NRC added in the interview piece ahead of the release of Van Klaveren's book titled: “Apostate: From Christianity to Islam in the Time of Secular Terror.”
The former politician who grew up in a Protestant Christian environment said of his conversion that he “has been searching for a long time.”
“It feels a bit like a religious homecoming for me,” he told Dutch newspapers.
Van Klaveren could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.
I have no words,” Wilders told RTL television news.
“It's up to him of course. But it's good that he left the PVV five years ago, otherwise it would have been time for him to go now.
“I expect a lot but I didn't see this coming.”
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.
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Van Klaveren 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 AD.
“It is brave that he's prepared to do it in public,” Bouharrou said.
Around five per cent of the Dutch population of 17 million people, or some 850,000, are Muslim, according to the Dutch Central Statistics Bureau (CBS).
Despite Wilders' objections, the religion is growing, with experts expecting that number to double by 2050.
The Netherlands also last year introduced a partial burqa ban in 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.
He follows in the footsteps of Arnoud van Doorn, a former Hague-based PVV city councillor who switched in 2013.