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Wilders: In Defense of ‘Hurtful’ Speech
Wall Street Journal 24 June 2011
By GEERT WILDERS
Yesterday was a beautiful day for freedom of speech in the Netherlands. An
Amsterdam court acquitted me of all charges of hate speech after a legal
ordeal that lasted almost two years.
The Dutch people learned that political debate has not been stifled in their
country. They learned they are still allowed to speak critically about
Islam, and that resistance against Islamization is not a crime. I was
brought to trial despite being an elected politician and the leader of the
third-largest party in the Dutch parliament. I was not prosecuted for
anything I did, but for what I said.
My view on Islam is that it is not so much a religion as a totalitarian
political ideology with religious elements. While there are many moderate
Muslims, Islam’s political ideology is radical and has global ambitions. I
expressed these views in newspaper interviews, op-ed articles, and in my
2008 documentary, “Fitna.”
I was dragged to court by leftist and Islamic organizations that were bent
not only on silencing me but on stifling public debate. My accusers claimed
that I deliberately “insulted” and “incited discrimination and hatred”
against Muslims. The Dutch penal code states in its articles 137c and 137d
that anyone who either “publicly, verbally or in writing or image,
deliberately expresses himself in any way that incites hatred against a
group of people” or “in any way that insults a group of people because of
their race, their religion or belief, their hetero- or homosexual
inclination or their physical, psychological or mental handicap, will be
I was dragged to court for statements that I made as a politician and which
were meant to stimulate public debate in a country where public debate has
stagnated for decades. Dutch political parties see themselves as guardians
of a sterile status quo. I want our problems to be discussed. I believe that
politicians have a public trust to further debates about important issues. I
firmly believe that every public debate holds the prospect of enlightenment.
My views represent those of a growing number of Dutch voters, who have
flocked to the Party for Freedom, or PVV. The PVV is the fastest-growing
party in the country, expanding from one seat in the 150-seat House of
Representatives in 2004, to nine seats in 2006 and 24 seats in 2010. My
party’s views, however, are so uncommon in the Netherlands that they are
considered blasphemous by powerful elites who fear and resent discussion.
That’s why I was taken to court, even though the public prosecutor saw no
reason to prosecute me. “Freedom of expression fulfills an essential role in
public debate in a democratic society,” the prosecutors repeatedly said
during my trial. “That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number
of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable.”
The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world where a court can
force the public prosecutor to prosecute someone. In January 2009, three
judges of the Amsterdam Appeals Court ordered my prosecution in a
politically motivated verdict that focused on the content of the case. They
implied that I was guilty. The case was subsequently referred to the
Amsterdam Court of First Instance.
The judges who acquitted me yesterday already had a peremptory ruling from
the appeals court on their desk. They decided, however, to follow the
arguments of the public prosecutor, who during the trial had once again
reiterated his position and had asked for a full acquittal.
Though I am obviously relieved by yesterday’s decision, my thoughts go to
people such as Danish journalist Lars Hedegaard, Austrian human rights
activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff and others who have recently been
convicted for criticizing Islam. They have not been as fortunate. In far too
many Western countries, it is still impossible to have a debate about the
nature of Islam.
The biggest threat to our democracies is not political debate, nor is it
public dissent. As the American judge Learned Hand once said in a speech:
“That community is already in the process of dissolution . . . where faith
in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we dare not
enter our convictions in the open lists to win or lose.” It has been a tenet
in European and American thinking that men are only free when they respect
each other’s freedom. If the courts can no longer guarantee this, then
surely a community is in the process of dissolution.
Legislation such as articles 137c and 137d of the Dutch Penal Code disgraces
our democratic free societies. On the basis of such legislation, I was
prevented from representing my million-and-a-half voters in parliament
because I had to be in the courtroom for several days, sometimes up to three
days per week, during the past year and a half. Such legislation should be
abolished. It should be abolished in all Western countries where it
exists-and replaced by First Amendment clauses.
Citizens should never allow themselves to be silenced. I have spoken, I
speak and I shall continue to speak.
Mr. Wilders is a member of the Dutch Parliament and the leader of the
Party for Freedom.