Geert Wilders and the Death of Free Speech

During his State of the Union address, Barack Obama criticized the Supreme Court for overturning major portions of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act. But the Supreme Court was upholding the freedom of speech: when the high court struck down key McCain-Feingold provisions last month, its ruling declared that “if the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”

This was a key victory for defenders of the First Amendment. But now, from the Netherlands, comes a threat to the freedom of speech that is much more serious and destructive than anything John McCain and Russ Feingold ever contemplated: the trial of Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

Wilders, the Dutch Parliamentarian who produced the film Fitna, went on trial January 20 for charges including having “intentionally offended a group of people, i.e. Muslims, based on their religion.” Fitna is a film which compellingly links images of terrorist attacks with passages from the Koran which incite Muslims to jihad. 

The idea that intentionally offending someone is a criminal offense should be a matter for Kafka or comic opera, but such is the advance of multiculturalism in the Netherlands today, and the rest of Europe is not all that far behind. The real purpose of the Wilders trial is twofold: first, the Dutch political establishment hopes to use it to stop the meteoric rise of the upstart Wilders, who challenges so many of the core assumptions upon which current Dutch and European Union policy are based. And since one of those policies is unrestricted immigration from Muslim countries, they hope to discredit Wilders’s work in exposing how Islamic jihadists use violent passages of the Koran to justify violence and supremacism.

There’s only one problem with this scenario: Islamic jihadists really do use the Koran to justify violence and supremacism, and as I show in my book The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, there is plenty in the Muslim holy book that they can use in this way. The multiculturalist Dutch authorities have a pliant media on their side, and they have much more money and much more political clout than Wilders could even dream of having. Yet for all their power, they cannot engage Wilders in honest debate and prove him wrong — and so in order to silence him they have to resort to the legal thuggery of this show trial.

And a show trial is exactly what it is. This became clear last week, when the Amsterdam District Court disallowed fifteen of the eighteen witnesses Wilders had hoped to bring forward in his defense. “This Court is not interested in the truth,” Wilders commented on the decision. “This Court doesn’t want me to have a fair trial.”

I was among the fifteen disallowed witnesses.  Much more important was that Wilders was not allowed to call Mohammed Bouyeri, who murdered filmmaker Theo Van Gogh on an Amsterdam street on November 2, 2004 in revenge for Van Gogh’s film Submission, which criticized the oppression of Muslim women.

Bouyeri stabbed a note into Van Gogh’s body, threatening other Dutch public figures (including Wilders) and quoting from the Koran. Bouyeri also quoted the Koran frequently during his trial, and explained in no uncertain terms that he murdered Van Gogh because he believed it his Islamic responsibility to do so, and thus he had no regrets. “Kill them, and Allah will help you and guide your hand,” he said at one point. “There’s no room there for doubt or interpretation there.”

On the stand in the Wilders trial, Bouyeri would demonstrated that what Wilders has said about Islam’s capacity to incite Muslims to violence is indisputably true. Wilders was banking on the likelihood that the Dutch court would not and could not find him guilty of “hate speech” for making true and accurate statements — but now they have hindered his ability to demonstrate that the things he have said about Islam are indeed true and accurate. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Geert Wilders stands about as much of a chance of getting a fair trial as did Nikolai Bukharin.

Wilders has stated the problem plainly: “I am being prosecuted for my political convictions. The freedom of speech is on the verge of collapsing. If a politician is not allowed to criticise an ideology anymore, this means that we are lost, and it will lead to the end of our freedom.” And not just in the Netherlands.