Geert Wilders goes on trial

As reported by today’s New York Times, Geert Wilders, Dutch politician and filmmaker, is going on trial for inciting hatred against Islam.  He’s probably most famous for his 2008 movie Fitna, which calls attention to the violent excesses of Islam. (Do watch the 17-minute movie, which is here, and judge for yourself. Note that some of the scenes are not for the squeamish.)  I’m not going to defend Wilders in general, because I haven’t followed all his doings, but it seems to me that the movie, at least, doesn’t incite hatred so much as call attention to Muslims who incite hatred.  (There are a few dodgy right-wing bits that decry rising Islamic influence in the Netherlands.) Indeed, Wilders has lived under police protection ever since making Fitna, fearing that he’d meet the fate that befell Theo van Gogh, who was murdered by a radical Muslim after criticizing Islam.  Who’s inciting the hatred?

While Wilders supporters see the trial as an attack on of freedom of expression, immigrant groups see it as a test of whether the Dutch government is willing to support minority rights, including freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination — guaranteed in the first words of the Dutch constitution.

Anti-racism groups have long sought Wilders’ prosecution, saying his remarks go beyond being offensive and compound ethnic tensions in the Netherlands, a country once regarded a beacon of tolerance.

”Racist incidents in the workplace are rising, and the labor unions say that too,” said Rene Danen of Nederland Bekent Kleur — Dutch for ”The Netherlands Shows Its Colors.” The group was one of several that filed a formal complaint against Wilders. ”One in three Muslims here now say they are considering leaving.”

He said Wilders’ remarks clearly violate hate speech laws and his case is no different from many other discrimination suits filed each year.

The Netherlands is not the US: here we can criticize religion as much as we please, so long as we don’t incite violence. I think that’s a better way to arrange things.

UPDATE:  Russell Blackford has a defense of Wilders’s right to speak on his website.

21 Comments

  1. Sigmund
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    “the Netherlands is not the US: here we can criticize religion as much as we please, so long as we don’t incite violence.”
    In most parts of Europe the same holds true – the incitement to racial violence is usually an offense distinct from criticism of religion – which is regarded as a free speech issue. Apart from Ireland, of course, where it is now considered blasphemy.

  2. Sean
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    The OIC is behind this http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2010/01/request-dharmapalas-to-protect-geert.html

  3. MadScientist
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    What are the authorities doing about the death threats – or are they not to be taken seriously because Geert is a known bigot and hates islam to boot?

    • Posted January 21, 2010 at 4:19 am | Permalink

      The state is providing permanent protection to Wilders. Several people have already been arrested and convicted over the years for issuing threats to him. I think they’re taking it seriously.

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Geert Wilders should be given a Pulitzer prize for public service, not be prosecuted.

    How can they contort pointing out the truth of what Muslims say as racism? Many of the Muslim speeches are the racism, not the 17 minute movie I just watched.

    • Posted January 21, 2010 at 4:23 am | Permalink

      Wilders advocates for different treatment based solely on religious affiliation. He’s suggested putting a tax on head scarfs because “everyone’s sick of them”. He’s said that Muslims should be deported from Europe on Danish TV once. That goes a little bit beyond criticizing religion, doesn’t it?

  5. Dutchguy
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Wilders is on trial for alleged hate speech against minorities, not for inciting hatred against Islam. And there is a fair point in there. He made some very disgraceful, offending comments in plain vile language against ordinary people -not just muslims- and he is cheered by extreme-extreme right people for that. People he doesn’t like as he says but somehow show up wherever he goes. Wilders is not a poor liberal who is haunted by mean do-gooders. He is just an opportunistic politician like the majority of politicians.

    Get your facts straight. I dislike Islam like any other totalitarian movement that hurts people, reason and common sense, but Wilders is on trial because he wants it. He begged for it.

    • Posted January 21, 2010 at 5:34 am | Permalink

      I dislike Islam like any other totalitarian movement that hurts people, reason and common sense, but Wilders is on trial because he wants it. He begged for it.

      At the very least he’s happily using the free publicity to continue playing the martyr for free speech.

  6. Posted January 20, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    There are a few dodgy right-wing bits …

    I will do anything I can to support that man’s right to make that movie and for others to do likewise, and yet, Wilders holds some pretty ugly views on race-relation issues that I don’t think anyone would want to be painted with, personally.

    Someone’s politics are their own business and it is never my business to tell someone what to think.

    At the same time, you know Hitchens still hasn’t lived down that whole David Irving situation from well over a decade ago. It isn’t fair but it is fact.

    Yes, this is a good cause but one that it is very easy to get a little bit too carried away with

  7. Insightful Ape
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I think this is a blatant violation of freedom of expression. And saying that his “crime” is saying vile things about ordinary people doesn’t make it any better. As long as there are no direct threats involved.
    That said, Wilders is not a bigger defender of freedom of expression than those bringing him to trial. He wishes to ban the Koran-which is mo more excusable than the actions of those who try to silence him.

    • Posted January 21, 2010 at 4:40 am | Permalink

      I think this is a blatant violation of freedom of expression.

      He’s not convicted of anything yet, so no freedom has been violated yet. People who say this apparently don’t have much trust that our courtrs will carefully weigh the impact on free speech (as well as on minorities) that any verdict will have.

  8. Arthur
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Wilders is a racist popularist of the lowest order. He’s exploiting people’s distrust of Islam to further his career and his far right agenda. Don’t fall for it and don’t give him the oxygen of publicity. Ignore the joker, just as the Dutch prosecution should have done.

  9. Sigmund
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    Having watched the film now I think the movie played close to the line of racism but didn’t quite cross it. It is, however, absolutely biased and doesn’t reflect the reality of the Islamic religion in Europe. Most peoples experience of european muslims is not of blood curdling fanatics intent on murdering us in our beds but rather of fellow co-workers, friends, shop-keepers, doctors, dentists etc – pretty much the same as those of other religions. That’s not to say that a majority islamic Europe wouldn’t be bad for us – it certainly would – but a majority evangelical Europe would be no walk in the park either.

  10. Posted January 21, 2010 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    Be careful what you say about this guy. He is a blatant populist, who wants to tax headscarves (the ‘head-rag tax’), chuck all Moroccans out of Holland and get rid of mosques. He and his party members are fond of insulting others, thereby gaining popularity among the less-educated. The country will be in a huge mess if they get the number of votes that they are predicted to get.
    And Theo van Gogh was not killed by a Muslim, but by a radical environmentalist.

  11. Posted January 21, 2010 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    Sorry, Theo was killed by a muslim; I was thinkng about Pim Fortuyn, that other populist. Still…

    • Posted January 21, 2010 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      “Still” what? I can’t imagine what point you think stands. The fact is that Theo van Gogh was killed by a Muslim extremist, and his collaborator on Submission, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is now in constant fear for her life from such people.

      Geert Wilders seems to have a lot of faults, but that’s not a reason to wash our hands of him. Free speech is free speech for flawed people like he seems to be as well as for saints.

      • Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        My apologies for the hasty comment, I should have had another cup of coffee before posting it. I am not suggesting we should let freedom of speech be hijacked by murderers and terrorists. I am not religious in any way and consider the right to criticize any religion self-evident. What I am trying to say is that we should not let freedom of speech be used as a justification for any disrespectful, inflammatory garbage that people might like to contribute. That is the point of this exercise: to draw the boundary between freedom of speech and inciting violence. Don’t forget we are living with 17 million people on a piece of land the size of a postage stamp. Things can get pretty heating. It would help if Moroccans, Moluccans and other immigrants would be made to feel welcome and accepted. Calling muslims ‘goat-fuckers’ (van Gogh) and calling for a tax on ‘head-rags’ (Wilders) really isn’t helping.

        It works the other way as well. If we can show that freedom of speech is not the same as a verbal free-for-all, that might help controlling extremist Imams who are calling for young, disgruntled muslims to blow themselves up.

        Don’t mistake Wilders for some kind of freedom fighter who is being tormented by those trying to control what we believe. Wilders is advocating a change to our constitution to replace anti-discrimination laws by something along these lines: ‘the Christian and humanist tradition should always be the dominant culture in The Netherlands’. In other words, he wants to control what we believe (the Bible, not the Quran).

  12. Posted January 21, 2010 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    As far as most Muslims in the Netherlands was concerned, Fitna was pretty much a non-event. If you read the summons (sorry, it’s in Dutch), you will indeed find a description of Fitna, but it’s far from the worst part of it. Instead, you will find references to his comments where he compares the Quran to Mein Kampf and says that it should be banned. You will also find quotes saying that we should close the borders to all Muslim or “non-Western” immigrants. He’s said that Maroccan boys are violent. And so on. This is clearly discriminatory language, based on religion and etnicity.

    The Netherlands is not the US: here we can criticize religion as much as we please, so long as we don’t incite violence.

    Uhm, we can do that here too. We just also happen to have anti-discrimination laws here. And Wilders may well have been inciting the breaking of those laws.

    I think we’ll just have to trust the courts to carefully weigh the rights of minorities to not suffer from discrimination with the rights of politicians to speak their mind.

    (As an aside: Wilders, who is always raging against what he calls the “political elite”, is now arguing that he, as a member of parliament, should be given more freedom of speech than an ordinary citizen. Seriously.)

  13. dersk
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    As a Dutch immigrant, I give +1 for the opinion that Wilders is an unmitigated prick. He’s not anti-Islamist, he’s anti-Islam. And in general anti-brown person and anti-immigrant.

    What’s worse, I don’t think he really believes it. I think he’s probably just cynically looking to get power, much like Rita Verdonk (another jerk) did with her “Proud of the Netherlands” party.

    BTW, @Dutchguy: “against ordinary people -not just muslims-” is a perfect description / example of the problem of racism in this country (Nederland, bedoel ik).

  14. Drosera
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Dutch prosecutors at first didn’t even want to put Wilders on trial, but they were forced to do so by a court order (complicated story).

    Most commenters above are right, Mr. Wilders is a racist, hypocritical douchebag who doesn’t really care about free speech. What he says about the Koran can just as well, and perhaps with even more justification, be said about the Bible (which in part reads like a manual for genocidal maniacs), but he will never do so.

    Nevertheless, I hope and expect that he will be acquited.

  15. James Heron
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    There is an interesting thing happening here with respect to right-wing voices (e.g., Wilders) who are happy to condemn Islam, finding themselves in league with secularists and atheists, who (speaking as an atheist myself), I think, generally lean to the left and are more even-handed in their critique of all religions. I first noticed this when Ayaan Hersi Ali came to the US at the invitation of the very conservative American Enterprise Institute.

    This is an interesting association and I wonder if anyone has explored it. It surely has something to do with the liberal tendency to be less comfortable with intolerance in general, and to be more comfortable with doubt.


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