Last Friday Geert Wilders said: “I view Islam not as a religion, but as a dangerous, totalitarian ideology -- equal to communism and fascism. Aren’t I allowed to say so?”
No, he isn’t allowed to say so. For statements like these, on Wednesday the Court of Appeal in Amsterdam ordered that Wilders be prosecuted for “incitement to hatred and discrimination based on his statements in various media about moslims [sic] and their belief. In addition, the Court of Appeal considers criminal prosecution obvious for the insult of Islamic worshippers because of the comparisons made by Wilders of the islam [sic] with the nazism.”
So Wilders is facing criminal prosecution for “incitement to hatred and discrimination” as well as “the insult of Islamic worshippers.” If insulting someone is a crime, there is going to be an explosion of lawsuits in the Netherlands against ex-spouses and surly waiters – not to mention the fact that Wilders himself has a good case against his detractors, for all the hateful speech they have directed at him.
The very idea of trying someone for insulting someone else is absurd, and unmasks the Dutch initiative as an attempt by the nation’s political elites to silence one of their most formidable critics. The one who judges what is an actionable insult and what isn’t is the one who has the power to control the discourse – and that’s what the prosecution of Wilders is all about.
It was not always thus. Imagine if such laws had been in place in Britain during the time of William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898), who was Prime Minister of Great Britain four times: 1868–74, 1880–85, 1886 and 1892–94. He called the Qur’an an “accursed book” and once held it up during a session of Parliament, declaring: “So long as there is this book, there will be no peace in the world.”
Now the votaries of the book he saw as such an impediment to peace have triumphed: an Islamic reading room is being set up at the library Gladstone founded near his home in North Wales. In a BBC audio report about this, Gladstone’s great grandson Christopher Parish and Professor Richard Aldous, head of history at University College Dublin, tie themselves into knots trying to come up with a reason why Gladstone would have approved of this reading room. Gladstone, you see, was a man of his time, but he actually made favorable comments about Muhammad in the margins of a biography of the founder of Islam, and his remarks weren’t as extreme as those of some of his contemporaries....
But if Gladstone had made his remarks today, he would be vilified and possibly prosecuted. The same thing can be said of one of Gladstone’s successors, Winston Churchill, who once famously wrote:
How dreadful are the curses which Islam lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live….
Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.
No stronger retrograde force exists in the world.
Churchill also warned that “were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science,” then “the civilisation of modern Europe might fall.” And now it might indeed fall, since the guardians of Europe have turned their attention to protecting Muslims in Europe from insult rather than dealing forthrightly with the elements of Islam that led Gladstone and Churchill to their conclusions – and these elements continue to exist. The text of the Qur’an and the teachings of Islam have not changed from the late 19th century to the early 21st. What has changed is the prevailing attitude toward the book. Now it has become a manifestation of bigotry and hatred to see in the Islamic holy book anything but peace and tolerance. But the text of the book and the teachings of the religion remain the same. If the Qur’an was an impediment to peace in Gladstone’s day, it is now. If it is an uplifting exhortation to peace and tolerance now, then it was in Gladstone’s day, as well.
If Geert Wilders had been born two hundred years ago, he might have become Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Instead, he is a hunted man. Likewise Gladstone or Churchill, were they miraculously transported to the House of Commons in 2009, would be excoriated for “hate speech” if he dared to repeat his view of the Qur’an today.
But the Qur’an remains the same. Eventually, Europe and America are going to deal with the implications of that fact, one way or another.