A court on Jan. 21 ordered the prosecution of Geert Wilders, the controversial member of Parliament in the Hague. Wilders, who leads the Freedom Party, has been outspoken in his views on immigration, which he opposes, and Islam, which he regards as backwards and dangerous. The world’s second religion has been on the rise in the Netherlands for years. The demographic shift in the West that the writer Mark Steyn has described–in which unbelieving natives have few babies, and faithful immigrants have many–is especially visible in Holland.
Last year, Wilders made headlines around the world with his short film Fitna, essentially a 15-minute indictment of all things Islamic. The Dutch government and its embassies around the globe worked feverishly to prevent Danish-cartoon-style riots, a strategy that seems to have succeeded.
The prosecutor decided in June of last year to drop all charges against Wilders, but the court has now disagreed, after an appeal by offended Muslim groups. The court said he must be prosecuted for “inciting hatred and discrimination” and for insulting Muslims. Wilders, a supporter of Israel, has compared Islam to Nazism, which, naturally, many believers in Allah did not like very much.
If convicted, the member of parliament might get 16 months of jail time and a fine of 9866.67 euros (about $12,800). Thus calculated the national daily Volkskrant (for which I work).
And so it may turn out that Wilders’ constitutional freedom of speech is only guaranteed when he makes sure not to hurt the feelings of certain minorities. The right not to be offended may well overrule the right to speak.
To be sure, it is problematic that he has called for a ban of the Quran. But his stupid idea does not condone the equally bad plan to silence him by law. The question is not, and should not be, whether Wilders is right. It does not matter whether his ideas are crude, offensive, ridiculous or brilliant (Wilders has a huge base of support in Holland).
TheWall Street Journal put it well, the day after the court order. “Limiting the Dutch debate of Islam to standards acceptable in, say, Saudi Arabia, will only shore up support for Mr. Wilders’s argument that Muslim immigration is eroding traditional Dutch liberties.”
The ruling was, to some, stunning in its admission of obedience to the professed offendedness of the few. But it fits into a trend. The big-mouthed politician Pim Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002. The boisterous film maker Theo van Gogh was slaughtered by a Dutch-born Islamist on an Amsterdam street in 2004. The soft-spoken but clear-eyed member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali was endlessly threatened, lived behind bulletproof glass and was essentially driven out of the country in 2006; she ended up in the United States. Now Wilders will be prosecuted for speaking his mind.