The Corner

Some Context on the Wilders Case

Geert Wilders is the latest in a lengthening roster of Europeans who have been criminally prosecuted for criticizing Islam. Under the slogans of stopping “Islamophobia” and banning “defamation” or “insult” of Islam, for two decades a concerted demand has been made for the West to enforce Islamic blasphemy rules, as is customary in certain member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The Netherlands has been among the many EU states struggling to comply. In the name of liberalism, it has enacted laws criminalizing “hate speech,” with grossly illiberal results. A sample of the Dutch cases shows that the desire to protect minorities is a self-deluding piety in these circumstances. What really lies at the root of these vaguely defined and arbitrarily adjudicated cases is fear of Muslim violence.

One of the earliest such Western cases occurred in the Netherlands in 1992, a few years after Iran’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie triggered murders of “blasphemers” connected with his book The Satanic Verses. A Muslim cabaret artist of Pakistani background, “Zola F,” was found guilty of authoring an unflattering book about Muslim immigration, entitled The Impending Ruin of the Netherlands, Country of Gullible Fools. This created the anomaly of a white court condemning a brown immigrant for “racist hate speech.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an ex-Muslim of African heritage who became a Dutch parliamentarian, was similarly prosecuted. She was charged for criticizing the Islamic teaching on killing homosexuals. Already known for her role in co-directing Submission (the film on abuses against Muslim women that led to the 2004 murder by a Muslim extremist of her co-director, Theo Van Gogh), she announced plans for a sequel on the treatment of homosexuals in Islam. This prompted the Netherlands’ main Muslim lobby to register a complaint that her remarks were “blasphemous and have been received with a great deal of pain by the Muslim community.” In 2005, after two years of legal proceedings for “incitement” to hatred, during which time she received numerous death threats and had to go into hiding, a court finally decided that although she had “sought the borders of the acceptable,” her speech did not warrant prohibition, and she was let off.

Hate-speech arrests occurred in the aftermath of the Van Gogh murder. When an artist in Rotterdam painted a street mural that included the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” next to the date of Van Gogh’s murder, a local mosque leader complained to police that the message was “racist.” The police, on orders of the mayor, sandblasted the mural and arrested a television reporter at the scene and destroyed his film. Another Dutch man hung in his window a poster for a far-right movement that stated, “Stop the tumor that is Islam. Theo has died for us. Who will be next?” After being convicted by two lower courts, he finally prevailed on appeal.

Widespread Muslim violence and protest over the Danish cartoons of Mohammed has put Dutch officials on high alert for provocative caricaturists. In 2008, after an Internet monitoring group reported him to authorities for cartoons deemed insulting to Muslims, the edgy Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot was arrested. Police seized his computer’s hard drive and cartoon sketches. The cartoons in question opposed Muslim immigration in various tasteless ways. Nekschot remains under suspicion of “insulting people on the basis of their race or belief, and possibly also of inciting hate,” and could face two years in prison or a $25,000 fine if prosecuted. During the course of this case, it was revealed that the Dutch government had established an “Interdepartmental Working Group on Cartoons,” apparently to apprise officials of any drawings that Muslims could find insulting.

The Wilders case is not unique, but it is important. It demonstrates the continued willingness of authorities in Europe’s most liberal countries to regulate the content of speech on Islam in order to placate Muslim blasphemy demands. Few such cases end in conviction, but their chilling effect on free speech within and on Islam continues to widen.

— Nina Shea directs the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co-authored the forthcoming book Silenced (Oxford University Press), on contemporary blasphemy rules.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More