We have previously discussed the increasing criminalization of speech. Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders has been the focused of another of these past cases, which I have criticized as undermining free speech values. Now Wilders has been convicted of hate speech and inciting racial discrimination for espousing his far right views. One does not have to agree with Wilders — and many vehemently condemn his views — to see the implications of the criminalization of speech in Europe.
Wilders has advocated outlawing the Koran in the Netherlands, like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He also referred to Mohammed as “the devil.” However, past prosecutions have resulted in acquittal. Now, however, he has been found guilty though Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the court would not impose a sentence because the conviction was punishment enough for a democratically elected lawmaker. It could be, which is precisely the problem. The clear message is that certain political views are now criminal with the intent to chill such speech. It is likely that a wider array of speech is likely to be similarly chilled as people try to avoid any criminal charge.
Wilders have many critics, which is not surprising for a politicians. Some 6,500 official complaints were filed after Wilders led a party rally during a local election campaign in The Hague in March 2014, asking whether there should be “more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands.” The crowd chanted “fewer, fewer.” The sentiments are expressed are not significantly different from rallies during this presidential election, including Trump rallies. Many objected to the language of campaign but no one was seriously arguing that it should be charged as a crime. Like Donald Trump, Wilders clarifies his comments that he was speaking of a subset of criminal actors not all Moroccans. However, Steenhuis said “It doesn’t matter that Wilders gave another message afterwards. The message that evening from the podium, via the media, was loud and proud and did its work . . . The group was collectively dismissed as inferior to other Dutch people.”
The case, which has taken 20 months to reach a verdict, comes three months before Dutch general elections and Wilders’ PVV is currently leading in some polls.
Michiel Pestman, lawyer for some of the complainants who helped bring the case, said: “There is a debate in the Netherlands about whether this has given Wilders free publicity, but he has to pay his lawyers. It’s a unique decision. This is the first time that a court has said that minorities need special protection and even a politician should be very careful about what he says.”
The thousands of people who filed complaints should direct their actions to defeating Wilder in the court of public opinion — not seek to silence someone with whom they disagree through the criminal justice system. Lucien Nix, a solicitor for the council of Moroccan mosques in Holland is quoted as saying “The Netherlands can take a deep breath of relief. Moroccan Dutch people have felt robbed of their dignity and a heightened sense of discrimination. We have waited for this for a long time.” Nix is describing a true Faustian bargain. In exchange for silencing one person who Nix finds offensive, the Dutch just lost a significant level of protection for free speech.
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).
This is the latest example of how free speech is now deemed an existential threat rather than a inviolate right in Western Civilization.
What do you think?