In Human Events this morning I discuss the implications of Geert Wilders’ narrow victory last week:
It is still legal to tell the truth in the Netherlands: Geert Wilders has been cleared. Wilders is the leader of the third-largest party in that country, and the protagonist in the largest Islamic challenge yet to the Western notion of the freedom of speech. He made a number of statements about Islam that, while entirely true and accurate, got him hauled into court on charges of “inciting hatred,” and the Netherlands came quite close to criminalizing the speaking of unpleasant truths. But Wilders was acquitted last week, and this bullet was dodged. Challenges to the freedom of speech, however, are still very much with us, and will only grow more virulent.
“It is my strong conviction,” Wilders remarked, “that Islam is a threat to Western values, to freedom of speech, to the equality of men and women, of heterosexuals and homosexuals, of believers and unbelievers.” These things are all true and rather obvious: Every day brings fresh stories about the oppression of women and homosexuals in countries ruled by Islamic law. Then there is the escalating persecution of Christians in Muslim countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Indonesia, and the suppression of free speech and open debate about Islamic supremacism and jihad violence all over the Islamic world””in accord with the provision of Islamic law that makes criticism of Islam and Muhammad a capital offense.
Nonetheless, this is the sort of statement that got Wilders prosecuted in the first place. And even as he was acquitted, the Dutch court affirmed the false and dangerous premises that made for that prosecution, including the idea that one could and should face legal action for saying things that others deemed offensive. Amsterdam Judge Marcel van Oosten said Thursday: “The bench finds that your statements are acceptable within the context of the public debate. The bench finds that although gross and denigrating, it did not give rise to hatred.”
Apparently van Oosten would not have hesitated to fine or jail Wilders if he had determined that his words gave rise to “hatred.” This is an extraordinarily dangerous legal concept. Who decides what constitutes “hatred”? If Wilders” words were accurate, and yet Muslims nonetheless found them offensive, would van Oosten have fined Wilders anyway? It seems so. Yet if offending someone and inciting hatred is a crime, then anyone can claim that he was offended by speech that he would like to suppress….