Wilders Verdict: Free Speech is Not A Dutch value

by Andrew Stuttaford

Geert Wilders, the leader of Holland’s Party for Freedom (PVV), has been found guilty of, to quote a CNN report “of inciting discrimination and “insulting a group” after a trial over statements he made about Moroccans.”

CNN:

Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), was charged after inciting supporters into a chant calling for fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands in 2014. According to a court statement, Wilders asked his audience: “Do you want more or less Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?”

The audience repeatedly chanted “less.”

The court said that Wilders “singled out an entire group of citizens” and that the message “came through loud and clear.” It convicted him of insulting a group and incitement to discrimination. But the court found insufficient evidence to find him guilty of incitement to hatred. The court, which could have fined Wilders, decided that verdicts were sufficient punishment and imposed no further penalty.

Apparently (the Guardian notes) the court believed “that a criminal conviction was sufficient punishment for a politician in Wilders’ position”.

It will be interesting to see what the conviction does to Wilders’ support. Not, possibly, what the court may expect. As  it is, the PVV has being doing well in the polls of late:

Dutch News (from November 30):

After weeks of declining support, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam party PVV is once again leading the polls in the run up to the March 15 general election. The new poll of polls, a amalgam of five different opinion polls, gives the PVV  between 27 and 31 seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament or 18% to 21% of the vote, broadcaster NOS reported. The rise of four seats in PVV support has partly been at the expense of the ruling VVD, which is now down two at 24 to 28 seats, or 16% to 19% of the vote.

Research by I&O Research and published last week showed that Wilders’ ‘fewer Moroccans’ court case has boosted support for the PVV.

When I interviewed Wilders for NRODT more than a decade ago, he was living in a prison.  That was thought to be the safest place for him after the murders of politician Pim Fortuyn and the filmmaker Theo van Gogh.  It struck me then that Wilders’ position on Islam (and Islamic immigration) was, like van Gogh’s and Fortuyn’s, rooted in concern over the threat that Islamism represented to traditional Dutch freedoms. At its core, I suspect that it still is, even if his approach, and the language he uses to back it up, has moved quite some way from any sort of ‘libertarian’ model:

CNN:

Wilders has run on a party manifesto focused on a so-called “de-Islamification” of the Netherlands, in which he lays out an 11-point plan pledging, among other things, to shut down all the country’s Islamic schools and close the borders to migrants from Islamic nations.

BBC (my emphasis added):

Geert Wilders’ support has morphed beyond the core, white working-class. He hones in on, and highlights, popular concerns – the influence of non-Dutch people on Dutch society, loss of culture, loathing of mainstream parties’ apparent inability or unwillingness to acknowledge these issues. And he presents himself as the only solution, astutely showing he is prepared to venture into territory where others are afraid to tread. His approach appears to be paying political dividends, although until now he has struggled to translate high poll ratings into seats in parliament.

Wilders’ conviction is only likely to reinforce the belief of many Dutch people that there are subjects that are best not broached in their country today. There is a useful Swedish term, åsiktskorridor (the ‘corridor’ of acceptable opinion) that I have referred to before in this  Corner, and today’s verdict has made it all too clear that, in the Netherlands too, that corridor exists and that it is strictly policed.  

Back at the time of the Mohammed cartoon troubles, an article published in the embattled Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published those cartoons, included this phrase: Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.” The translation? “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”

That was right in Denmark then and, whatever one might think of the way that Wilders expressed himself, it should be true in The Netherlands today.

Free speech is not, it seems, a Dutch value.

Charlie Cooke, tweeting this morning:

Cherish the First Amendment, Americans. It’s exceptional.

It is. 

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