Don’t turn Geert Wilders into a free-speech martyr

Ben Kew

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Topics Free Speech

The Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders was put on trial last month for inciting hatred against the Moroccan community in the Netherlands. Rather than facing the cameras and fighting his case, Wilders has taken a different course of action: he has boycotted the trial.

The prosecution’s case isn’t against Wilders’ anti-Islamic views – that would be too broad. Instead, it is focusing on a specific comment he made at a rally in 2014. Wilders promised a crowd that there would be ‘fewer’ Moroccans in the Netherlands if he came to power. Rather than attacking him as someone who regularly promotes hate, the case will instead focus on a specific comment which, it can be argued, ‘crossed a line’. One of the prosecution’s principal arguments is that 6,474 complaints were made against Wilders’ remarks – as if it were a trial by numbers.

Although Wilders has deeply intolerant views – he wants to close all of the Netherlands’ mosques, ban the Koran and halt Muslim immigration – it is clear that the case against him is about more than one accusation of hate speech. Wilders’ party, the Party for Freedom, is faring well in the polls in the run-up to Netherlands’ parliamentary elections next March. The case against Wilders has revealed how frightened the political class is by his popularity. Rather than beating Wilders through open debate, Dutch lawmakers are attempting to silence him.

If Wilders is convicted of hate speech, which carries a sentence of up to a year in jail, the Netherlands, one of the world’s leading democracies, celebrated for its liberal approach to everything from drugs to gay rights, will have abandoned both liberalism and democracy. This is why Wilders’ boycott of the trial is so significant. By refusing to respect a legal system that preaches equality and liberty, but only to those they deem worthy, Wilders has shown Dutch lawmakers the contempt they deserve.

The tragedy here is that Wilders – the man who wants to ban books and clamp down on migrants – has been able to turn himself into a free-speech martyr. But this is the fault of the elites. Though they accuse Wilders of being a fascist, they are the ones trying to subvert democracy by denying Wilders his fundamental right to freedom of speech. They are the authoritarians.

Ben Kew is a writer and student.

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Topics Free Speech