Today, Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders went on trial for alleged hate speech for his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrants comments. While I strongly disagree with those comments, I believe the trial is a threat to free speech and part of a growing crackdown in the West on critics of religion.
For a prior column on this issue, click here. You will also find a long line of such cases by searching “blasphemy” on this blog.
There is no question that Wilders has made disturbing comments about immigrants and Muslims, including comparing Islam to Nazism and fascism. He has also referred to head scarves as “head rags.” However, in my opinion, he has a right to state such views — which are apparently shared by many voters in the country. Free speech allows for such comments to be combatted through debate and countervailing speech. It is a threat to all free speech for such comments to be punished by a year in jail, which is the maximum under Dutch law. Moreover, even the more common criminal fine in such cases is an unacceptable intrusion on free speech.
Mohamed Rabbae, chairman of the moderate National Moroccan Council, has been quoted as saying that his group does not want jail time to merely to “correct” Wilders. Such corrections can occur through the exercise of free speech — not through government censoring unpopular views or comments on religion. This is precisely the danger of “hate speech” laws raised by civil libertarians. It can easily mutate into a regulation of speech where unpopular speech is defined as a crime.