Is Geert Wilders’ trial about Free Speech?

On October 4th, Geert Wilders went on trial for inciting racial hatred against Muslims. The trial will determine if Wilders’ comments actually incite discrimination against Muslims, which is against Dutch law. If convicted, he faces up to 16 months in jail or $10,000 in fines.

Wilders is known for his often inflammatory remarks against immigrants, many of whom are Muslims, and Islam. His comments include calling the Qur’an a “facist book” and comparing it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, referring to the hijab as “head rags” and proposing a headscarf tax, calling for a curbing of immigration from non-Western countries and a ban of the burqa. He has also said that the Judeo-Christian culture is inherently better than the “retarded Islamic culture”.

Some have been critical of the trial saying that Wilders’ comments should be protected by free speech, even a Muslim has defended this right. However, a judge ordered the case brought to court in order to investigate whether his comments lead to discriminatory acts against Muslims. At the opening of the trial, Wilders said he would not apologize for his comments.

Wilders is part of a growing trend in Europe of right wing groups gaining more political support. In this atmosphere, there have been more aggressive measures taken in relation to immigrant populations and more broadly towards Islam. In Switzerland, a ban on minarets passed. In Belguim and France, a ban on the burqa was passed. Anti-burqa legislation has also been considered in Spain, UK, and Italy. This trend worries Muslims not only in Europe but abroad.

While free speech is a right that must be guaranteed, a line has to be drawn somewhere. If a Muslim as publicly visible as Wilders were to say similar inflammatory remarks about other groups, it seems unlikely that the right of free speech would be as vigorously defended. Muslims, I would argue, are held to very different standards than other groups, which leads to distrust and negative feelings.

In this world today, we need more tolerant responses to conflict and more importantly to the diverse composition of communities.  Wilders has the right to express his opinions but not to call for actions to be taken. Not only does he offend Muslims, but his comments indicate that if he has the chance he will move to sideline the Muslim citizens of his country. This is where the line must be drawn.

What do you think of Geert Wilders’ trial? Do you think his comments incite hatred and discrimination? Do you think a Muslim would have been treated differently? If so, how? Do you think there is a difference between comments directed at Islam as a political ideology and as a faith? Please share your comments below.

2 thoughts on “Is Geert Wilders’ trial about Free Speech?

  1. I find it amazing that people actually don’t look beyond Geert Wilders rhetoric and see him for what he actually is – a fascist on a mission to try and attack Muslims in any way he can. He is a coward who hides behind the law and knows quite well that if he was to attack Muslim people directly he would be prosecuted so he pretends to attack an ideology for which he knows nothing about. If people have problems with Islam it’s their right to do so but to do so blindly does not help nurture society which is becoming more fragmented as a result. I want to see people have more opportunities to engage in open discussion to air their fears / problems about Muslims and Islam with people who are educated in such matters so there can be more balanced information in the public domain as opposed to the extreme views of either side. People in public office like Wilders should have a responsibility to do this before attacking a faith so aggressively from an uninformed point of view. He knows by attacking the ideology in the shameful way that he does this will simply lead to “racial hatred”. How could it not when he compares the Holy Koran with Mein Kampf!! They are not similar but many uninformed people may not know this so takes the hate he spreads via his position in public office as the truth. Everyone knows this sort of reaction is a common outcome from such hateful comments and can lead to racial hatred towards Muslims and further isolation. Is freedom of speech oblivious to what happens in the real world as a result of people like Wilders who abuse this right to their own personal vendettas? Wilders knows that by attacking ideology it’s the Muslim people that will suffer directly as generally society does not usually direct their anger towards an ideology when it wishes to vent. His acquittal is not a victory for freedom of speech but a victory for those who bend the law to create hate and try to isolate groups of people. Muslim people should counteract his hate by partaking in intelligent open discussion about this mis-guided fascist rhetoric. It important to not give him a further platform to attack Islam but inform people about the true nature of Islam which is a beautiful faith and them let the wider public make up their own minds. The actions of the few who claim acting in the name of Islam by attacking the West should not be allowed to tarnish a faith which has peace and understanding ingrained in it and make life difficult for actual Muslims. These people are just as uniformed and mis-guided as Wilders who all require the same education of the true Islam. It’s so important also for Muslims to learn more about the actual teachings of the faith so a greater number of people can enrich a debate that should be taking place but is not. Fascist aggression should not be countered by aggression but by the power of intellectual debate. If more Muslims were talking openly about Islam then there would not be so much fear out there generally in relation to Islam. This debate needs to start happening now.