Friday came the good news: Amsterdam public prosecutors Birgit van Roessel and Paul Velleman declared Dutch freedom fighter Geert Wilders not guilty of discrimination against Muslims and inciting hatred against them. But his trial continues: the prosecutors’ decision is not final. A judge will issue a ruling on November 5, and he doesn’t have to follow the prosecutors’ recommendations. So the freedom of speech still hangs in the balance in the Netherlands, as well as in Europe and the West in general.
Nonetheless, van Roessel and Velleman brought an unexpected bit of common sense to this ridiculous and ominous show trial. Regarding Wilders’ much-trumpeted call to ban the Koran, the prosecutors said, according to Dutch News, that “comments about banning the Koran can be discriminatory, but because Wilders wants to pursue a ban on democratic lines, there is no question of incitement to discrimination ‘as laid down in law.’”
Many of Wilders’ critics, and even some who would otherwise support his stand for human rights against the discrimination and oppression of Sharia, have professed to find an inconsistency in Wilders’ defense of the freedom of speech and call to ban the Koran. However, in this Wilders was actually calling upon Dutch authorities to be consistent themselves: the Netherlands has “hate speech” laws, under which Mein Kampf is banned. Wilders said in the Dutch Parliament that “the Koran is a book that incites to violence,” and that “the distribution of such texts is unlawful according to Article 132 of our Penal Code.” If Mein Kampf could be banned under that article, why not another book that manifestly incites its readers to violence and hatred?
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.
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