Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders has been hailed worldwide as a hero of free speech after Dutch authorities announced that they were going to prosecute him for insulting Islam and Muslims. However, not everyone sees him as a hero. Ian Buruma said it in the New York Times:
Whether Mr. Wilders has deliberately insulted Muslim people is for the judges to decide. But for a man who calls for a ban on the Koran to act as the champion of free speech is a bit rich.
It’s worth considering. Is supporting Wilders as a champion of free speech “a bit rich”? Is he just a totalitarian book-banner?
In fact, no. Wilders made a speech in the Dutch Parliament about banning the Qur’an in September 2007. In it, Wilders outlines some of the incitement to violence that is contained in the Qur’an -- here is part of his argument:
Madam Speaker, I acknowledge that there are people who call themselves Muslims and who respect our laws. My party, the Freedom Party, has nothing against such people, of course. However, the Koran does have something against them. For it is stated in the Koran in Sura 2, verse 85, that those believers who do not believe in everything the Koran states will be humiliated and receive the severest punishment; which means that they will roast in Hell. In other words, people who call themselves Muslims but who do not believe, for example, in Sura 9, verse 30 [actually 9:29], which states that Jews and Christians must be fought, or, for example, in Sura 5, verse 38, which states that the hand of a thief must be cut off, such people will be humiliated and roast in Hell. Note that it is not me who is making this up. All this can be found in the Koran. The Koran also states that Muslims who believe in only part of the Koran are in fact apostates, and we know what has to happen to apostates. They have to be killed.
Then he goes on to call for consistency in the application of Dutch laws that restrict speech that incites to violence, but which have never been applied to the Qur’an or to the hate-filled imams who preach jihad and Islamic supremacism in obedience to Qur’anic dictates:
Madam Speaker, the Koran is a book that incites to violence. I remind the House that the distribution of such texts is unlawful according to Article 132 of our Penal Code. In addition, the Koran incites to hatred and calls for murder and mayhem. The distribution of such texts is made punishable by Article 137(e). The Koran is therefore a highly dangerous book; a book which is completely against our legal order and our democratic institutions. In this light, it is an absolute necessity that the Koran be banned for the defence and reinforcement of our civilisation and our constitutional state. I shall propose a second-reading motion to that effect.
In calling the Qur’an hate speech with reference to the Dutch Penal Code, Wilders is simply asking for consistent application of the Dutch law. As Andrew Bostom points out, this call for consistency from Wilders recalls the Calcutta Quran Petition of the 1980s: “Wilders, like his Hindu predecessors, was fed up with Muslim abuse of similar Indian laws...and simply saying if one bans hate speech, in accord with existing Dutch Law, then the Koran is hate speech.”
At the same time, however, Wilders wants restrictions on speech removed. According to a report by Adriana Stuijt in Digital Journal:
This ban also is ironic: only a week earlier, Wilders spoke up strongly in favour of widening freedom of speech laws in Europe, writing in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. He reacted to his possible participation in a Danish congress about islam and freedom of speech. He would if invited, he said, “plead for a nearly 100 percent total freedom of speech. Everything should be possible except to issue calls for violence. All the EU laws against blasphemy should be scrapped as soon as possible,” he said….
“Everything should be possible except to issue calls for violence.” Of course, that is the key difference between what Wilders is being prosecuted for and the Qur’an. The Qur’an issues calls to violence -- you can find long lists of relevant verses here and here. Wilders, by contrast, has issued no calls for violence at all, but merely pointed out the calls for violence in the Qur’an and from Muslim preachers. The Dutch authorities have chosen to prosecute him. They have chosen not to examine the contents of the Qur’an or the beliefs of those who consider it to be the eternal word of Allah, applicable for all time and in all places. It is thus the Dutch authorities, not Wilders, who are being inconsistent.
I myself don’t support “hate speech” laws or the banning of any book. While there is no justification for speech that is genuinely and legitimately hateful -- racial slurs, etc., “hate speech” laws are simply tools in the hands of those who are entrusted with deciding what constitutes “hate speech” in the first place: the powerful can all too easily use them to label their opposition “hateful” and thereby silence dissent. But as long as The Netherlands has such laws, Dutch authorities should not apply them selectively, and Wilders is not self-contradictory in standing up for the freedom of speech while calling for these laws to be applied consistently, not in a self-serving and politically manipulative manner.