As the Geert Wilders case goes into pre-trial, National Review Online asked our experts: Is there any legitimate reason he’s in court? What are the implications of such a trial being held, nevermind its outcome?
Geert Wilders is a hero for those countless Europeans who cherish a free and democratic Europe — a Europe proud of its Judeo-Christian and humanistic values, its civilization, and its achievements in the field of human rights. But this is not today’s Europe. In today’s Europe, synagogues, Jewish schools, clubs, and cemeteries need to be guarded — as if going to a Jewish school or praying in a synagogue were a crime punishable by death as in Nazi-occupied Europe. Intellectuals, scholars, and those who protest the creeping Eurabization of culture and society are threatened, boycotted by their colleagues, thrown out of their jobs, forced to leave their families and go into hiding, or obliged to live with bodyguards. Wilders has devoted his life to freeing Europe from Eurabia’s clutches. To this titanic struggle he has sacrificed the security of his life and the joys of family. Threatened by a desert whirlwind blowing hatred upon Europe from the south, spending days and nights shielded by bodyguards, persecuted and tormented by his feckless Eurabian opponents, Geert Wilders incarnates the free soul of an unbending Europe.
— Bat Ye’or is author, most recently, of Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis.
The American media’s silence about the Geert Wilders trial is puzzling — the trial is explosive, much more so than most of America’s perennial “trials of the century.” Wilders, leader of the Freedom party, is arguably the Netherlands’s most popular politician, but for years he has had to live in safe houses, including on military bases. He now faces the possibility of imprisonment on charges of “group insult” and “incitement to hatred,” as defined by articles 137 (c) and (d) of the Dutch penal code, for his public speeches and op-eds criticizing Islam.
Apart from its direct and immediate threat to free speech, the trial exposes the growth of political violence and repression in the Netherlands, long lauded as the most tolerant country in Europe, if not the world. Thirty years ago, I interviewed then–prime minister Dries van Agt simply by strolling into his unguarded parliamentary office and asking his secretary if he could spare me a couple of minutes. Now it is a country where politicians and artists are targeted by vigilantes and the state.
In 2002, popular Dutch politician and gay activist Pim Fortuyn was murdered by an environmentalist who took offense at Fortuyn’s criticism of Islam. In 2004, one of the country’s leading documentarians, Theo Van Gogh, was murdered, and almost beheaded, on the streets of Amsterdam in retaliation for a film he made about Islam (Submission). In 2006, a gathering of scholars and commentators critical of Islam and Islamism led the Dutch security service to invoke an alert level just short of “national emergency.” In 2008, the prospective release of Wilders’s film Fitna led to special sessions of the Dutch cabinet. The country’s best-known member of parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for many years had to live in hiding, and even briefly fled the country. This is the situation in the heart of liberal Europe.
The media’s silence is also disturbing since it indicates their reluctance, even fear, when it comes to grappling with the West’s increasing censorship of anything that might be deemed offensive to some Muslims. So far, the effects in the U.S. are small — such as the Yale University Press’s removing the famous Danish cartoons from a book about those same cartoons — but they betray a mindset common to much of Europe: preemptive self-censorship. Media outlets that defended and lauded Salman Rushdie two decades ago, when the Ayatollah Khomeini called for him to be killed over The Satanic Verses, now cringe and shy away from those facing similar threats.
Within much of the Muslim world, political and religious debate, especially amongst Muslims, is shut down in the name of preventing anything that could “insult Islam.” Unless we strenuously defend Wilders’s right — and our own right — to speak, especially to criticize and offend, we will stumble down the same path.
— Paul Marshall is senior fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
CLIFFORD D. MAY
I used to think of the Netherlands as a land of tulips, windmills, Anne Frank, and a little boy with his finger in the dike. Increasingly, I think of it as the place where Theo van Gogh was murdered in broad daylight, Aayan Hirsi Ali was betrayed, and free speech is on trial.
Pretty much all you need to know about the prosecution of the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders was summed up in a single (if run-on) sentence attributed to the “Openbaar Ministerie,” which is not, as the name might suggest, a place that serves free whiskey to pastors. It is the prosecution service of the Dutch Ministry of Justice.
In response to Wilders’s request to bring in witnesses to establish the veracity of the opinions that got him in trouble with the law, that body issued this statement on January 17: “It is irrelevant whether Wilders’s witnesses might prove Wilders’s observations to be correct, what’s relevant is that his observations are illegal.”
In other words, the prosecutors believe that the truth is not a defense in the Netherlands, nor perhaps elsewhere in Europe — a continent that appears no longer to have the will to defend its values, culture, and civilization. Very sad.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and militant Islamism.
Wilders is in court because the Netherlands has no First Amendment, and so endlessly tries to figure out what speech to permit and what to prohibit. Wilders is hardly the only victim of this predicament; the arrest and jailing in 2008 of a cartoonist who goes by “Gregorius Nekschot” notoriously symbolized the state’s incoherence.
U.S. media should cover the Wilders proceedings because Wilders’s career has implications beyond one man, one party, or one country. It potentially affects all of Europe as the continent works out its response to the Islamic challenge. The U.S. media does an adequate job of informing its audience about this topic, so the near-silence about Wilders comes as a bit of a surprise.
The Islamic challenge forces Europeans to take stock of themselves in an unprecedented way. Colorful examples include the British ICONS project, which features 120 “national treasures” that help define English culture; the Dutch government’s film for potential immigrants that features a topless woman on the beach and two men kissing; and the French prime minister’s decision to expel a man from France for compelling his wife to wear a burqa.
Europe’s future is in play. Wilders’s time in court affects the outcome.
— Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
In 1989, Iran’s supreme leader issued a blasphemy fatwa against Salman Rushdie in London. It was the opening volley in a new Muslim push — later taken up by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference — to force the West to adopt Islamic-blasphemy strictures within its borders. Intimidated, the West has begun to comply. It does so mostly through self-censorship and by prosecuting those who do speak out under religious-hate-speech laws such as those invoked in the Netherlands against Wilders. These laws are the West’s proxy for blasphemy bans.
The danger has not been mass imprisonment — actual convictions have been few — but the creation of a general deterrent to criticism of Islam or anything Islamic. Europe’s leaders likely believe that banning religious hate speech is a small price to pay for greater security; if so, they are wrong. The premise that religion can be easily compartmentalized, relegated to an autonomous sphere separate from politics and culture, is a misconception. Europe’s present path has profound implications for scholarship, political progress, social and economic development, and national security. This chilling of speech, aggravated by Muslim violence, erodes fundamental freedoms of speech and religion and threatens the West’s very identity.
Such laws will not bring social harmony. Anti-blasphemy pushes in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, and elsewhere are often driven by implacable ideologues and political opportunists. Muslims who protest the radicals’ agenda are the first to be silenced. As Malaysia’s former finance minister observed, religious hate-speech laws all depend on the “elastic goo” of public sentiment. A nation that entertains such cases will be forced to go from issue to issue, “hostage to the brinkmanship of sensitivities.”
— Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
The Geert Wilders trial ought to be an international media event; seldom has any court case anywhere had such enormous implications for the future of the free world. The case against him, which has all the legitimacy of a Stalinist-era Moscow show trial, is a manifestation of the global assault on free speech sponsored chiefly at the U.N. by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). If Wilders loses, the freedom of speech will be threatened everywhere in the West.
Even if he wins, a dangerous precedent has been set by the fact of the trial itself: It is a sad day for the freedom of speech when a man can be put on trial for causing another man offense. If offending someone were really a crime warranting prosecution by the civil authorities, the legal system would be opened up to absurdities even greater than the Wilders trial.
But of course what Dutch authorities, Muslim groups in the Netherlands, and the OIC really want to accomplish is to silence Wilders’s truth-telling about jihad and Islamic supremacism. The court’s railroading of Wilders was clear from that fact that 15 of his 18 requested witnesses were disallowed, including Mohammed Bouyeri, the Koran-inspired murderer of Theo Van Gogh who would have proven Wilders’s point immediately. As Wilders himself put it Wednesday: “This court is not interested in the truth. This court doesn’t want me to have a fair trial.” The darkness descending over Europe, as indicated by this trial, may ensure that there is no fair trial there again for a long, long time.
— Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran.