Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders was threatened with criminal punishment for hate speech from the moment his anti-Koran film Fitna hit the internet in March 2008. Last month, a Dutch judicial oversight body ordered that he be tried anew after finding that judges in the first round of court proceedings appeared to be biased. Even if Mr. Wilders is ultimately acquitted, as his prosecutors themselves urge, he will have already been punished by years of costly and tiring legal wrangling.
But the greatest threat posed by this case is not to a lone Dutch firebrand, but to Europeans at large, whose fundamental freedoms of speech and religion are being steadily undermined. Those trying to repress these individual rights in the name of sensitivity are gaining ground with each case that upholds the state’s power to regulate the content of speech on Islam. Since Mr. Wilders’ defense does not challenge the legitimacy of hate-speech laws per se, but instead points to the specific facts of his case, even his acquittal would not alter this encroachment on core Western rights.
Former actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot has been convicted and fined in five separate French cases for intemperate comments about Muslims, many focusing on animal cruelty in halal slaughter practices. In Austria, Elisabeth Sabaditsch Wolff is currently on trial for her lecture before an anti-immigration political party criticizing Muslim practices she observed abroad. For her, Geert Wilders, Brigitte Bardot, and others, their unease about Muslim immigration reflects their negative views of Islam itself.