Geert Wilders has long been a thorn in the side of Holland’s politically correct powers that be. In an era of rigid multiculturalism, the gadfly politician has persisted in asking uncomfortable questions about the compatibility of Islamic mores and European values – an often-lonely campaign that has earned him death threats from Muslim fanatics and the disdain of the Dutch political class, media, and civil authorities. But rather than challenge Wilders in the court of public opinion, the Dutch establishment has decided to put him on trial.
This Wednesday the Dutch Court of Appeals in Amsterdam ordered a criminal prosecution of Wilders on charges of “incitement and hatred and discrimination.” His specific crime: statements that he has made about “Muslims and their belief.” Citing Wilders’s comparisons of Islam with Nazism, the Court of Appeals claims that criminal prosecution is the “obvious” response to this allegedly intolerable insult.
To understand just how outrageous is the court’s order it is necessary to consider the substance, such as it is, of the charges against Wilders. It does not exaggerate the case to say that Wilders is being accused of nothing more than holding an opinion with which the court’s judges disagree. (One cannot call it an unpopular opinion since, if recent polling is any guide, majorities of the Dutch public share Wilders’s apprehensions about Islam and Muslims' ability to assimilate.) Thus, the court cites Wilders’s “insulting statements” and complains that his “presentation is characterized by biased, strongly generalizing [sic] phrasings with a radical meaning, ongoing reiteration and an increasing intensity.” In fact, the only truly “radical” idea is the notion that having a “biased” opinion, even one that some consider “insulting,” constitutes a crime. According to this absurdly open-ended standard, any Dutch citizen who has ever expressed an opinion has potentially committed a crime. “Apparently this is the Netherlands today,” Wilders darkly observed yesterday. “If you speak out you might be prosecuted. To participate in public debate has become a dangerous activity.”
Indeed, it may be even worse than that. In effect, Wilders is being prosecuted for stating the obvious. It is telling that in deploring his comparison of Islamic extremism to Nazism, the court pointedly omits to mention that Wilders has produced ample evidence for the charge. In Fitna, his March 2008 film about Islamic radicalism, Wilders included images of Muslim demonstrators wielding placards declaring “God bless Hitler,” calling for “another Holocaust” and paying tribute to Adolf Hitler. In another scene from the film, a 3-year-old girl is seen reciting Koranic verses calling Jews “apes and swine.” When Wilders likens the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf – yet another criminal offense, according to the Dutch court – it is this observable context that he has in mind.
But one need not take Wilders’s “biased” word for it. As even the most casual news reader would have noticed, pro-Nazi imagery and anti-Semitic incitement have become a staple of Muslim demonstrations across the world. At a January 2001 rally for Hamas and Hezbollah in Amsterdam, Muslim protestors shouted what has become a familiar slogan in the Netherlands: “Hamas, Hamas, Joden aan het gas” (Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas). In Copenhagen, Denmark, earlier this month, Muslim demonstrators’ chants of “Alla-hu Akbar!” were punctuated with “Heil Hilter!” salutes and calls for the deaths of Jews. Similar examples are legion. When a prominent Dutch lawyer praised the court’s decision this week as “a happy day for all followers of Islam who do not want to be tossed on the garbage dump of Nazism,” he missed the point entirely. No one has done more to make Wilders’s parallels between Nazism and Islam plausible than Muslims themselves.
What makes the legal war on Wilders all the more stunning is that the court seems in part to agree with the thrust of his arguments. Allowing that immigration and integration are valid subjects for debate, the court noted in its decision this week that “Islamic immigrants may be expected to have consideration for the existing sentiments in the Netherlands as regards their belief, which is partly at odds with Dutch and European values and norms.” This of course is the very point that Wilders’ has been making all along, if in a more provocative fashion. Supposing that some will find it “insulting,” what is to stop Dutch magistrates from being brought to trial on the basis of their own court orders? As Wilders points out, “If I have to appear in court, not only I will be prosecuted, but also hundreds of thousands of Dutch citizens who reject the Islamisation of the West.”
The travesty of the Dutch court’s decision goes beyond the Orwellian illogic of its reasoning. While only Wilders will be prosecuted, at least for the moment, the court’s decision is really an attack on his rebel Freedom Party (PVV), which holds nine seats in the 150-seat Dutch lower house of parliament. The expected legal fees – and the prospect of years of dragged-out litigation – could prove fatal to the PVV. “We depend on small donations,” Wilders points out. “The Freedom Party is the only party in Parliament that does not accept any government funding. This court decision jeopardizes the very existence of the Freedom Party. We simply cannot afford the enormous legal expenses.”
This is not the first time that Wilders has found himself in legal trouble. In June 2008, a Jordanian prosecutor charged Wilders with “blasphemy and contempt of Muslims” and ordered him to stand trial in the country. Just a few days later, Wilders was cleared of similar charges in his native country by the Dutch public prosecutor’s office, which ruled that Wilders’s views of Islam should be considered part of a legitimate debate on Islam in Dutch society and that the he had committed no criminal offense. “Thankfully, our legal system is still not like that of Jordan,” Wilders observed at the time. He may have spoken too soon.
From a free-speech perspective, 2008 proved a disappointing year. While Wilders battled with the courts in the Netherlands, the writer Mark Steyn went on trial for “Islamophobia” in Canada. As in Wilders’s case, the fact that Steyn’s most “Islamophobic” writings were direct quotations from Muslims was deemed immaterial. Like Wilders, too, Steyn ultimately prevailed, but the state of free expression in the West was tarnished. With Geert Wilders in the dock, 2009 is shaping up to be another banner year for the self-appointed censors of debate.