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.