Monday, January 26, 2009

Wilders, Freedom of Speech or Discrimination?


NRC HANDELSBLAD: Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician who has been very vocal in expressing his negative opinions about Islam, is to be prosecuted for alleged hate speech and discrimination, the appeals court in Amsterdam decided on Wednesday.

Calls to try Wilders for his statements that violence is inextricably linked to Islam and that the Quran and Hiltler’s Mein Kampf are similarly fascists books, had previously fallen on deaf ears. But the court’s ruling reverses a decision made last year by the public prosecutor’s office, which said Wilders’ comments had been made as a contribution to the debate on Islam in Dutch society. His remarks may have been painful for Muslims, but they could not be deemed criminal, the prosecutor decided in response to dozens of cases filed against Wilders after he launched his anti-Islam film Fitna.

The judges, however, said they had weighed Wilders’ anti-Islam rhetoric against his right to free speech, and ruled he had gone beyond the normal leeway granted to politicians. Prosecution of Wilders is in the public interest, the court decided, because in a democratic legal system a clear line about hate speech in the realm of public debate needs to be drawn.

The Netherlands long had a reputation for tolerance towards its - largely Moroccan and Turkish - immigrant population, but the tone of the debate has changed radically in the past decade. After right-wing populist politician Pim Fortuyn, filmmaker Theo van Gogh and Somali refugee and former member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Geert Wilders is the strongest voice against what he calls, “the islamisation of the Netherlands.” Join the debate! >>> NRC International | Thursday, January 22, 2009

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