Friday, October 15, 2010

Geert Wilders: Free at last?

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I am sorry to have neglected commenting earlier about Wilders, put on trial for speaking his mind about Islam and the Islamization of Europe. It is a welcome, and rather surprising, development that he has been cleared of two charges. But a couple of reports, including this one, suggest that even the Dutch prosecutors thought it was a dodgy case and only pursued it because they were ordered to by a judge. (Judges in Europe have more authority than their U.S. counterparts; in France, for instance, a branch of the judiciary is in charge of criminal investigations.)

It is unclear whether the whole prosecution is null and void — sorry, there I go, sounding like a lawyer — or charges remain. According to another article, "Argument continued on Friday on whether Wilders should be convicted, with three charges now remaining for inciting discrimination against Muslims and hatred and discrimination against people of non-Western immigrant origin."

The same article says:
Dutch prosecutors sought the acquittal Friday of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders on a charge of inciting hatred against Muslims, saying it was not a crime to criticise religion.
"Criticism (of religion) is allowed as long as it does not lead to incitement of hatred against people," prosecutor Birgit van Roessel told the Amsterdam district court.
This makes it sound like Wilders was banging on religion in general, but he has left no doubt he had Islam in mind. If this is in fact the basis for the prosecutors' request for acquittal (on some charges?), it is a cop-out that avoids the central issue (and leaves the whole "hatred" argument up in the air?).

We are also told:
Public prosecutors Birgit van Roessel and Paul Velleman now say his comments on the Qur’an referred to Islam and its holy book, and not to Muslim people.

In explaining their call for acquittal on the defamation charges, the prosecutors also explained that statements contained in the MP’s film, Fitna, referred to Islam as a religion and not to its followers. Even though the statements could hurt the feelings of Muslims, that was not the same as defamation of the group.
This also seems like evasion. Few Muslims would make a distinction between themselves as people and the Koran, or between the religion and its followers. The Koran is central to Muslims' identity, and while the prosecutors' argument might satisfy the Western mind's ability to split legal hairs, it is not likely to firmly establish in the Netherlands the principle of free speech about Islam.

I'd guess politics has helped turn Wilders's trial, since his PVV Party won more seats in the last election and swings weight in the coalition government. The prosecutors may have received a few firmly worded phone calls from highly placed individuals in the parliament — members of the other parties who need PVV's support.

Too bad if the case against Wilders is dismissed on a technicality rather than a ringing declaration that the law is not there to support religious grudges. But if that was the only politically feasible way to drop the charges that should never have been issued, so be it. The news could have been a lot worse.

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2 comments:

Randall said...

Rick, It is Partij voor de Vrijheid - PVV. Not PPV.

Rick Darby said...

Randall,

Partij voor de Vrijheid? Easy for you to say.

Seriously, thanks for the heads-up. I have fixed it in the text.