PVV politician Geert Wilders is scheduled to appear in court in Amsterdam on 20 January 2010, charged with wilfully insulting Muslims and hatemongering. ‘A body blow for freedom of speech’, according to Wilders. Not at all, says Fokko Oldenhuis, professor of Religion and Law at the University of Groningen. ‘Wilders is clearly transgressing the boundaries of the law.’
Not only is Wilders a hatemonger who insults Muslims on religious grounds, he also discriminates. He discriminates against non-Western Dutch citizens and those of Moroccan descent because of their race and fosters hatred against them. This can all be found in the 21 pages of the court summons, which lists examples of Wilders’s statements in the media, on the party website and in Wilders’s movie Fitna.
‘Taking him to court is the right decision’, says Oldenhuis. ‘Society has no choice but to take action, since Wilders’s texts are walking all over fundamental rights such as freedom of speech. Although they are fundamental rights, the paradox is that they must be monitored. If that doesn’t happen, other people’s lives may be endangered. And that is exactly what is happening here – Wilders doesn’t want others to have the freedom he permits himself.’
Having Wilders defend his statements in court is exactly right from a legal point of view, according to Prof. Oldenhuis. ‘Wilders’s attitude is completely at odds with the Judaeo-Christian tradition’, Oldenhuis explains. ‘Our country has traditionally been a safe haven for people with other views. One example are the Spanish-Portuguese Jews in the late sixteenth century in Amsterdam.’ Oldenhuis points out that the tradition harks back to the founding principles of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces. At the time it was stipulated that no-one in the Netherlands would be persecuted for their religion (Art. XIII of the Union of Utrecht). ‘This is one of the mainstays of Dutch society’, Oldenhuis stresses.
The professor points out that with his statements Wilders is in fact aiming to have people with other views prosecuted. Oldenhuis refers to some of the politician’s statements that appear in the summons. Statements made by Wilders in the de Volkskrant newspaper (8 August 2007) include: ‘If Muslims want to keep living here, they’ll have to rip out half the Koran and throw it away’, and in the same article: ‘The Koran is the Mein Kampf of a religion set on eradicating others’, and: ‘A ban is a ban. Not only should selling it [the Koran] be punishable, but also its use in mosques and at home. If that cannot be realized under current law, a new prohibitory provision must be enacted.’
‘This last statement in particular I found very shocking’, Oldenhuis says, ‘but all three quotes are unmistakable examples of reprehensible intolerance. In other words, Wilders does not allow fellow human beings the freedom to have another religious standpoint. This sort of thing must be opposed since it means that citizens aren’t even safe in their own homes.’ Wilders’s call for new criminal legislation against possession of the Koran is laughed off the stage by Oldenhuis: ‘The European Court of Human Rights would immediately annul such legislation. Wilders has a staggering lack of knowledge in this regard.’
The controversial politician’s lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, has objected to part of the summons where Wilders apparently insulted a ‘group’. Moszkowicz is basing his objection on a recent decision by the Supreme Court where the legal body differentiates between insulting a religion and insulting the followers of a religion. The latter is not permitted.That ruling concerned a banner including the statement ‘Stop the tumour called Islam, Theo died for us...’ The banner writer was acquitted by the Supreme Court.
Oldenhuis: ‘The Wilders case is partly about the question of whether only Islam or also Muslims are being insulted. It goes without saying that you are allowed to criticise a religion, and that that criticism can be sharp. However, not everyone who’s anti-Judaism is automatically an anti-Semite. This point is also going to be tricky in this case. However, I think that Wilders is knowingly and structurally crossing a border and that that’s why his counsel’s objection does not hold water.’
The professor refers, inter alia, to the previously mentioned Mein Kampf quote: ‘That evokes so many associations with the obliteration of a population group that the line between religion and the people who support that religion becomes so fluid that it is crossed.’
Oldenhuis recalls that the penal provisions for hatemongering were included in the law in 1934 to protect Jews in particular, as a reaction to the events in Germany. ‘That says a lot’, Oldenhuis emphasizes. ‘I try to be careful about drawing parallels, but the creation of those laws had a clear political background.’
Prof. F.T. Oldenhuis
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