Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician, is in court on trial for his opinions. He leads the Freedom party, known by its Dutch initials as the PVV, which in the general election this June won 24 seats in the parliament. Dutch politics is confusingly too fragmented to throw up a clear winner. Wilders and the PVV are lending their support to the Conservatives, and can expect to be in a government coalition with them. I can’t recall any other elected politician in a democracy being put on trial for anything he’s said. No matter what, they’re supposed to debate issues and ideas, are they not?
Wilders likes to repeat that Islam is as dangerous as Nazism, and that the Koran is comparable to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He’s also made a short film bringing out anti-Jewish verses in the Koran, and hilighting terrorism in New York and London as an Islamist phenomenon. Quite likely, this was electioneering and he knew the appeal his words would have. The Dutch, hitherto famously tolerant, have experienced Islamist acts of terror. The murder of film director Theo van Gogh, related to the great artist, and the flight to the United States of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a very public critic of her Islamic faith, in order to escape death threats, have changed attitudes radically. Muslims are probably about 15 percent of the population, and immigration is a very immediate issue in the Netherlands. The PVV got 1.5 million votes, and Wilders is evidently right to say in court, “I am on trial, but on trial with me is the freedom of expression of many Dutch citizens.”
This case might seem to be about hate speech and therefore some sort of jamboree of political correctness. The underlying question, though, has a far greater implication: On what terms are the Muslims going to settle in our midst? Every country in Europe is looking for its solution. The Danes, an even softer touch than the Dutch on handing benefits to all comers, have elected politicians more determined than Wilders to restrict immigration. Thilo Sarrazin, an eminent German banker, has gone just as far as Wilders, stirring up his country with a book criticizing Islam as a source of violence and blaming Muslims for their refusal to integrate. Bans on burkas and minarets reveal how attitudes are changing everywhere.
In Britain, it turns out, lamb sold in a number of supermarkets is halal, that it is to say slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. New Zealand provides much of the lamb for sale, and it is almost all halal. The Daily Mail has revealed that schools are serving halal meat. Halal meat has not been identified as such, in other words, customers cannot know that they are having to integrate with the practices of Muslims, and not Muslims with their practices. Food suppliers are making special concessions to Muslims in secrecy, just as special concessions permit Muslims to go to sharia courts where Islamic law applies and they avoid English law.
The estates of the Prince of Wales supply lamb to Waitrose, a chain store, and its spokesman says this will no longer be halal. Well, that lacks the in-your-face thrust of the Wilders trial, but it may signify that the fight for identity is happening even in supine Britain.