Politics & Policy

A New European Assault on Free Speech

(Adam Berry/Getty)
Dutch authorities go after a politician for “incitement” again — when he’s more necessary than ever.

They’re going after Geert. Again.

Free-speech watchdogs will remember the founder and head of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, and his 2011 show trial.

Three years ago, Wilders was brought up on charges of “inciting” hatred and discrimination for comments about Muslims and certain sections of the Netherlands’ immigrant populations. He compared the Koran to Mein Kampf; he contended that Moroccan youths in the country were violent; when asked what his party, also known as the PVV, would do if they took power, he said that he would end “non-Western immigration” to the country. Despite certain authorities’ machinations, he was acquitted of all five charges.

This year, Wilders is again being charged with “insulting a specific group based on race and inciting discrimination and hatred.” But the result this time may be different.

In March of this year, Wilders  appeared at a nationally broadcast rally in the Hague, where he proceeded to ask supporters if they would prefer more or fewer Moroccans in their city. “Fewer! Fewer!” they chanted. Wilders replied: “We’ll arrange that.”

More than 6,000 complaints flooded local police, many from Moroccans who said that they felt discriminated against. A short while later, in a television interview, Wilders referred to “Moroccan scum.”

In his previous trial, a court found that, while “some of Wilders’s statements were insulting, shocking and on the edge of legal acceptability . . . they were made in the broad context of a political and social debate on the multi-cultural society.” A Dutch court is unlikely to rule that “Moroccan scum” similarly advances the debate.

Of course it is absurd, to those who revere free speech, that Wilders’s comments are subject to litigation at all. The case against him would never stand up under the robust free-speech protections afforded in the United States — but approximately nowhere else, unfortunately.

“Incitement to hatred” is precisely the sort of nebulously defined crime one expects to find in societies where an ill-considered dedication to multiculturalism seems to have become the supreme legal value. Which is not to say this has quelled hatred: Wilders, because of what he has said about Islam, must be accompanied by a private around-the-clock bodyguard and reside in a bulletproof safe house. Yet Wilders was afforded less security by the Dutch authorities at his 2011 trial than was Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch-Moroccan Muslim who assassinated filmmaker Theo van Gogh. That is “free speech” in the Netherlands.

#page#How has such a situation come to pass? Largely for the reasons Wilders cites: Muslim immigrant communities moved to the Netherlands but failed, or refused, to assimilate — abetted, crucially, by a native population that did not demand it — and now communities with little in common beyond geography are scraping against one another.

There is, in fact, reliable evidence that Dutch Moroccans pose a particular problem. Writing for the Gatestone Institute, Dutch columnist Timon Dias notes, “65% of all Moroccan male youths between 12–23 years of age have been detained by police at least once. One third of this group has been detained five or more times. Moroccan criminals are convicted four times more than Dutch suspects.”

That is no justification for dismissing Moroccan immigrants in toto as “scum,” as Wilders seems to have done. But not to be lost in his impoliteness is the point he has spent his career making: that serious ills accompany social fragmentation. In societies where ethnic groups are divided in customs, values, and mores, where the centripetal forces that gather segregated peoples together into something that can be called “Dutch” (or “French” or “American”) are no longer operative, it can come as little surprise that conditions seem increasingly tribal.

The problem is hardly restricted to the Netherlands. Consider the ghettos of Brussels or the riot-prone banlieues of Paris. Or consider Rotherham, England, where political correctness enabled two decades of sexual predation by members of the local Pakistani Muslim community.

Wilders is squarely facing an enormously difficult question: When a society that has renounced its identity under the guise of multiculturalism begins to suffer the consequences, what can be done? One hopes that he can pursue an answer without stooping to demagoguery and demonization — and that Dutch authorities, and Dutch politics at large, will finally realize what an important question he is asking.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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